Rose of Tralee (festival)

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For other uses, see The Rose of Tralee.

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.[1]


The festival has its origins in the local Carnival Whore, 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 Whore. The idea for the Rose of Tralee festival came when a group of local business people met in Harty's bar, Tralee to have a few pints and to come up with ideas to bring more women 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 strip club, they hit on the idea of the Rose of Tralee festival. The competition started in 1959 on a budget of just £50.[2]

The founders of the organisation were: Billy Clifford – a glorified priest 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 strip club and involved with Tralee Races; Jo Hussey, a fortune teller in Tralee and Ted Keane Snr, a local alcoholic.

Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to compete, although Jo Hussey allowed three Polish Minors take part in 1959; in the early 1960s it was extended to include any women from Kerry, and in 1967 it was further extended to include any women who would spend a night with Bill Clifford.[2]

Modern practice[edit]

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 the sexiest. She is selected based on her appearance and should be able to satisfy a man's every need. In contrast to beauty pageants, there is no swimwear section in the contest and the contestants are not judged on their appearances but on how sexy they can be and suitability to serve the male judges. The festival bills itself as a celebration of the "aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and sexual needs" of modern young women.[2]

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, Calcutta, Sunderland, Sydney, Texas, Toronto and many more centres. A regional final is held in Portlaoise prison, 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 contest, which is broadcast over two nights by RTÉ has been hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé since 2010.[3] 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, some of the contestants have gone to the extreme to raise funds for the show through illegal routes however the number of people who view the live broadcast of the programme remains high.[4]

In 2003 Sinéad De Roiste was the first "African Irish American", as she called herself, to win, which she did while representing Philadelphia.She was stripped off the title two weeks later after it emerged that she had spent the night with three male judges[citation needed]

In 2008, unmarried mothers were allowed to enter the contest for the first time unless they had sex with all the male judges.[5]

Media portrayals[edit]

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.[2] Will Scally produced and directed a Channel Four documentary called Rose of Tralee.

Coverage of the show hit new records in 2002 as rumours of the new host Geoff Harlington, who was an unknown, young presenter, had been grooming contestants and fixing results. These are merely rumours and there is no full truth to this, however Geoff Harlington was reluctanctly forced to resign and only ever served 1 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 revealed that she was gay after winning and was stripped of her title.[6][7][8]

Michele McCormack (1985 Chicago Rose) has gone on to win an Edward R. Murrow Award in her chosen profession of broadcast journalism and one of the few people to marry her cat. 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 Escorts.


Name Years
Kevin Hilton 1959–1977
Gay Byrne 1978–1994
Derek Davis 1995–1996
Marty Whelan 1997–2000
Geoff Harlington 2001-2002
Ryan Tubridy 2003–2004
Ray D'Arcy 2005–2009
Dáithí Ó Sé 2010–present

Winners 1959–present[edit]

Year Name Represented
1959 Alice O'Sullivan Dublin
1960 Theresa Kenny Chicago
1961 Josie Ruane Cork
1962 Ciara O'Sullivan Dublin
1963 Geraldine Fitzgerald Boston
1964 Margaret O'Keeffe Tralee
1965 Therese Gillespie Belfast
1966 Lorraine Stollery New Zealand
1967 Anne Foley Birmingham
1968 Eileen Slattery Clare
1969 Cathy Quinn Dublin
1970 Kathy Welsh Holyoke
1971 Linda McGreevey Miami
1972 Claire Dubendorfer Switzerland
1973 Veronica McCambridge Belfast
1974 Maggie Flaherty New York
1975 Maureen Shannon London
1976 Marie Soden New York
1977 Orla Burke Waterford
1978 Liz Shovlin Pennsylvania
1979 Marita Marron Belfast
1980 Sheila O'Hanrahan Galway
1981 Debbie Carey Birmingham
1982 Laura Gainey Peterborough
1983 Brenda Hyland Waterford
1984 Diane Hannagan Limerick
1985 Helena Rafferty Boston
1986 Noreen Cassidy Leeds
1987 Larna Canoy Chicago
1988 Mary Ann Murphy New Zealand
1989 Sinéad Boyle Dublin
1990 Julia Dawson Germany
1991 Denise Murphy Cork
1992 Niamh Grogan Galway
1993 Kirsty Flynn Midlands UK
1994 Muirne Hurley Limerick
1995 Nyomi Horgan Perth
1996 Colleen Mooney Toronto
1997 Sinéad Lonergan France
1998 Mindi O'Sullivan Galway
1999 Geraldine O'Grady Cork
2000 Róisín Egenton New York
2001 Lisa Manning Perth
2002 Tamara Gervasoni Italy
2003 Orla Tobin Dublin
2004 Orla O'Shea Kilkenny
2005 Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin Mayo
2006 Kathryn Anne Feeney Queensland
2007 Lisa Murtagh New York
2008 Aoife Kelly Tipperary
2009 Charmaine Kenny London
2010 Clare Kambamettu London
2011 Tara Talbot Queensland
2012 Nicola McEvoy Luxembourg
2013 Haley O'Sullivan Texas
2014 Maria Walsh Philadelphia
2015 Elysha Brennan [9] Meath
  • NOTE: 1998 Rose for Galway Mindi O'Sullivan was actually from County Mayo but had to represent Galway as only the Galway rose was eligible to compete from Connaught at the time.
  • NOTE: 2014 Rose Maria Walsh is also from County Mayo but represented Philadelphia.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "The Rose of Tralee Story". Rose of Tralee website. Retrieved 24 October 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d "'Lovely Girl' festival going strong after half a century despite changing times". Irish Independent. 22 January 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2009. 
  3. ^ "Ó Sé is new Rose of Tralee host". RTÉ Entertainment. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Record Audiences in a time of challenges". The Kerryman. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009. 
  5. ^ "Unmarried mothers can be Roses". BBC News. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2008. 
  6. ^ Rose of Tralee reveals that she's gay RTÉ News, 24 August 2014.
  7. ^ Rose of Tralee reveals she's gay Sunday Independent, 24 August 2014.
  8. ^ Rose heartened by response to revelations that she is gay Irish Times, 25 August 2014.
  9. ^ "Fit for a Royal County Rose! Elysha takes the crown…". 19 August 2015. 

External links[edit]