Rose of Tralee (festival)
The Rose of Tralee festival is an international competition which is celebrated among Irish communities all over the world. The festival, held annually in the town of Tralee in County Kerry, takes its inspiration from a nineteenth-century ballad of the same name about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called The Rose of Tralee. The words of the song are credited to C. (or E.) Mordaunt Spencer and the music to Charles William Glover, but a story circulated in connection with the festival claims that the song was written by William Pembroke Mulchinock, a wealthy Protestant, out of love for Mary O'Connor, a poor Catholic maid in service to his parents.
The festival has its origins in the local Carnival Queen, once an annual town event, fallen by the wayside due to post-war emigration. In 1957, the Race Week Carnival was resurrected in Tralee, and it featured a Carnival Queen. The idea for the Rose of Tralee festival came when a group of local business people met in Harty's bar in Tralee to come up with ideas to bring more tourists to the town during the horse racing meeting and to encourage ex-pats back to their native Tralee. Led by Dan Nolan, then managing director of The Kerryman newspaper, they hit on the idea of the Rose of Tralee festival. The competition started in 1959 on a budget of just £750.
The founders of the organisation were: Billy Clifford – an accountant with the Rank Organisation who was one of the first recipients of the Golden Rose award (which was inaugurated to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Festival of Kerry); Dan Nolan, the owner of The Kerryman newspaper and involved with Tralee Races; Jo Hussey, a shopkeeper in Tralee and Teddy Keane.
Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to compete; in the early 1960s it was extended to include any women from Kerry, and in 1967 it was further extended to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry.
The Rose of Tralee festival is held annually in August in Tralee, County Kerry, to choose a young woman to be crowned the Rose. The winner is the woman deemed to best match the attributes relayed in the song: "lovely and fair". She is selected based on her personality and should be a good role model for the festival and for Ireland during her travels around the world. In contrast to beauty pageants, there is no swimwear section in the contest and the contestants are not judged on their appearances but on their personality and suitability to serve as ambassadors for the festival. The festival bills itself as a celebration of the "aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage" of modern young women.
Each of the 32 counties of Ireland select a Rose and there is also a Rós Fódhla representing the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking areas in Ireland. Regional finals are held in June in Portlaoise, where six Irish women are selected to take part in the International Rose of Tralee festival. Roses from Kerry, Dublin and Cork automatically qualify for the festival held in August.
There are international Roses chosen from around the world who also participate in the qualifying rounds. They are chosen from Birmingham (UK), Boston (US), Darwin, Dubai, France, London, Luxembourg, Leeds, Newcastle, New York, New Orleans, New Zealand, Melbourne, Perth, Philadelphia, Queensland, San Francisco, Southern California, South Australia, Sunderland, Sydney, Texas, Toronto and many more centres. A regional final is held in Portlaoise, County Laois each year in early June to select the contestants that are not automatically sent to the International Festival; currently, only Kerry, Cork, Dublin, London, and the Australian Roses bypass the regional competition.
The Main Evening Weather is hosted live from the event after main evening news before the second half of the competition each night.
The contest, which is broadcast over two nights by RTÉ has been hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé since 2010. It was previously presented for 17 years by Gay Byrne. Other previous presenters include Ray D'Arcy, Ryan Tubridy, Marty Whelan and Derek Davis. The first presenter of The Rose of Tralee (prior to it being televised) was Kevin Hilton.
The festival has had financial difficulties in recent years, however the number of people who view the live broadcast of the programme remains high.
In 2003 Sinéad De Roiste was the first "African Irish American", as she called herself, to win, which she did while representing Philadelphia.
In 2008, unmarried mothers were allowed to enter the contest for the first time.
The Channel 4 comedy Father Ted parodied the festival in the episode "Rock-a-Hula Ted" where the eponymous character is asked to host the local "Lovely Girls" competition. Will Scally produced and directed a Channel Four documentary called Rose of Tralee.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival in 2009, 50 Roses took part in the 2009 competition rather than the approximately 30 who take part every other year.
In 2014, Maria Walsh came out as gay after being crowned the Rose, thus becoming the first openly gay Rose. 
Michele McCormack (1985 Chicago Rose) has gone on to win an Edward R. Murrow Award in her chosen profession of broadcast journalism. She hosts selection contests both in Philadelphia and the Midwest. (She credits her interview technique to Gay Byrne, who hosted the contest when she was in Tralee.) Other notable roses include Aoife Mulholland of Galway (2003) who went on to achieve acclaim as an actor, and Noreen Culhane (New York Rose 1970) now Executive Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange.
|Dáithí Ó Sé||2010–present|
|1966||Lorraine Stollery||New Zealand|
|1974||Maggie Flaherty||New York|
|1976||Marie Soden||New York|
|1988||Mary Ann Murphy||New Zealand|
|1993||Kirsty Flynn||Midlands UK|
|2000||Róisín Egenton||New York|
|2005||Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin||Mayo|
|2006||Kathryn Anne Feeney||Queensland|
|2007||Lisa Murtagh||New York|
By number of wins
|Dublin||5||1959, 1962, 1969, 1989, 2003|
|New York||4||1974, 1976, 2000, 2007|
|London||3||1975, 2009, 2010|
|Cork||1961, 1991, 1999|
|Galway||1980, 1992, 1998|
|Belfast||1965, 1973, 1979|
|New Zealand||1966, 1988|
Winners by region
|Ireland||23 titles won by Dublin (5), Cork, Galway and Belfast (3), Limerick and Waterford (2), Tipperary, Mayo, Kilkenny, Clare and Tralee (1)|
|North America||14 titles won by New York (4), Chicago and Boston (2), Toronto, Pennsylvania, Miami, Holyoke, Philadelphia and Texas (1)|
|England||8 titles won by London (3), Birmingham (2) and Midlands UK, Leeds and Peterborough (1)|
|Australasia||6 titles won by Queensland (2), Perth (2) and New Zealand (2)|
|Europe||5 titles won by Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg (1)|
Notes and references
- "The Rose of Tralee Story". Rose of Tralee website. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
- "'Lovely Girl' festival going strong after half a century despite changing times". Irish Independent. 22 January 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
- "Ó Sé is new Rose of Tralee host". RTÉ Entertainment. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
- "Record Audiences in a time of challenges". The Kerryman. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
- "Unmarried mothers can be Roses". BBC News. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
- Official site – Rose of Tralee
- Official site – Dublin Rose of Tralee Centre
- Official site – Philadelphia Rose of Tralee Centre
- Binchy, Maeve. "Rose festival from behind dark spectacles". The Irish Times. 3 September 1969.