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In defence of The Rose of Tralee, from a former Kerry Rose
Image / Living / Culture

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In defence of The Rose of Tralee, from a former Kerry Rose


by Edaein OConnell
21st Aug 2023

The end of the summer is nigh and that means only one thing – The Rose of Tralee is back in town. Édaein O'Connell, last year's Kerry Rose, on why she'll always defend our national institution's importance to her hometown.

Say what you want about The Rose of Tralee, but it is a national institution.

The viewership figures show that from Donegal to Roscommon and right through to Cork, there is an Irish mammy lighting a candle in a church, praying that their county’s Rose does the business.

It has everything you could want from a television extravaganza. First, there’s Dáithí Ó Sé. A Kerry man so full of potatoes and fresh air, he would put Michael Healy-Rae to shame. Then there is the Irish dancing, the recitations, the famine songs, and the odd proposal.

It is unadulterated and uncaring. The reason it has kept its success is that The Rose of Tralee knows exactly what it is. It has no airs or graces and it never pretends to be something it’s not.

Each year you tell yourself you will not watch it, but at 8pm on a late August Monday you find yourself sitting in front of the television with a packet of Kimberly biscuits and a cup of Barry’s tea. Then without warning, you are clapping along to a slip jig and thinking to yourself, “isn’t Dáithí great?”

In its 60 years, The Rose of Tralee has seen it all; love, death, Marty Whelan and everything in between. In 1983, the original Dome – which was like a Big Top – was blown down. Thankfully, the contest had ended and no Roses were lost in the making of the programme.”Marty told reporters some of the Roses could not hear themselves singing due to the howl of the strong winds.”

However, in 1997, part two of the contest was postponed due to high winds. Marty told reporters some of the Roses could not hear themselves singing due to the howl of the strong winds. Nevertheless, it went ahead and battled against the treacherous conditions and this is a fitting euphemism for the Rose of Tralee as a whole.

Us Irish are preconditioned to possess grievances about most things. In the case of The Rose of Tralee, there are three sides. The first adore and idolize it unconditionally. The second is indifferent and could take it or leave it behind. The third despise it and will get into a debate about its outdatedness and how it is debilitating the fight for women’s rights.

For the purpose of this article, I won’t entertain the latter. Maybe it is bias on my part, but since I was a young girl all I ever did was admire the women who went on stage. They were all self-assured, successful and unlike other competitions, their credentials were what the final result was based on.

No matter what opinion you hold regarding The Rose of Tralee, there is no denying the importance it holds for the Kerry town. It’s the link between the changing seasons and makes the darkness of winter less intimidating. Festivals like this, for towns like Tralee, are vital. And in the midst of the grumblings and Twitter rants, the begrudgers fail to realise how very special it is for the people of the town.

I could tell you more about the Dome flying away. Or the mysterious and unsettling story of the Rose who was last seen on the back of a motorcycle (she was never heard from again). But I won’t.

I will tell you how the locals of Tralee say the best place to watch the parade is outside the Slieve Mish bar in Boherbee. It is here you meet people you might not have seen for years, but in those moments, the years fall away. Times change but then everything seems to stay the same.

I will tell you about how tourists go straight to Denny Street after the parade has ended to watch the fireworks, but the locals go to the Green Rooster for the finest chips in Tralee. Then they drive out of town up into the hills and watch them light up the sky at a height. Kerry people are cute, and will never fail to not tell you about the best secrets.

I will tell you about the families who cut pictures of the Roses out of newspapers and pick a Rose each out of a hat. It’s €2 a pick and the winner gets the entirety of the pot.

And I will tell you that for the people of Tralee, there is nothing like watching their town come alive. Whether you are eight or 80, watching the town you were raised get the dues it deserves is vindicating.

Before you decide to launch into a tirade, forget about the spectacle and the lovely ladies and think about the festival in its entirety. Think of the economic boost and the morale lifter it brings. And how it creates moments of magic.

It only comes once a year and our Irish summer would not look the same without it. So, all hail Dáithí and long live The Rose of Tralee.