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The Rose of Tralee Festival
Edited and adapted by Bridget Haggerty
This annual event takes its inspiration from a nineteenth century ballad of the same name about a woman called Mary. 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.*
How the festival began
The festival has its origins in a local pageant called the Carnival Queen which fell by the wayside after the second world war when many Irish people were leaving ireland to look for work. The idea for a Rose of Tralee festival came about when a group of local business people met in Harty's bar in Tralee to brainstorm about how to bring more tourists to the town during the horse racing meeting and to encourage ex-pats back home for a visit. In 1957, the Race Week Carnival was resurrected and it featured a Carnival Queen. In the meantime, Dan Nolan, then managing director of The Kerryman newspaper, headed up a group who came up with the idea of a festival named after the famous ballad. The newly named event competition started in 1959 on a budget of just £750.
Back then, only women from Tralee were eligible to compete, but in the early 1960s the competition was extended to include any women from Kerry; in 1967 it was further extended to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry and in 2008, unmarried mothers were allowed to enter the contest for the first time.
How the Roses are selected
Each of the 32 counties in 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 where six Irish girls are selected to take part in the International Rose of Tralee festival. Roses from Kerry, Dublin and Cork automatically qualify for the festival. There are also international Roses chosen from centres around the world who participate in the final. These include the centres of Birmingham, Boston, Darwin, Dubai, France, London, Luxembourg, Newcastle, New York, New Orleans, New Zealand, Perth, Queensland, San Francisco, Southern California, South Australia, Sydney, Texas, Toronto.
Choosing the Winner
The winning Rose is the woman deemed to best match the attributes relayed in the song: "lovely and fair". The winner 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 Rose of Tralee contest and the contestants are not judged on their appearances but rather their over-all personality and suitability to serve as ambassadors for the festival. The festival bills itself as celebration of the "aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage" of modern young women.
The festival is by its very definition closely associated with the town of Tralee and has strong cultural and historical links with the area. It is also fundamentally about bringing together the global Irish community in a celebration of Irish culture and a sharing of the experience of Irish people and their descendants throughout the world.
As well as street theatre, family entertainment, live music and concerts, the Festival incorporates the Rose of Tralee Selection which takes place over two nights during the last week of August. The event is televised live from the Festival Dome on RTÉ and is also webcast live to festival followers across the globe on both evenings.
The host of the show interviews each contestant. Then, it’s the turn of the judges to make their final decision, and while the festival has had financial difficulties in recent years, the number of people who view the live broadcast of the program remains high.
Since 2005 the host was Ray D'Arcy. When he decided to step down in April, 2010, Dáithí O'Sé was chosen to take his place.
In summary, the Rose of Tralee International Festival is steeped in history and continues to remain in the hearts of the Irish community both in Ireland and overseas. Always filled with fun, spectacle and glamour, highlights include the Rose Ball and the International Rose Parade.
* To read our article 'The Rose of Tralee - How the Ballad Came To Be', please click Rose of Tralee.
Rose of Tralee official web site
Main Photo Credit: Official web site for Rose of Tralee
Wed, Mar 22, 2017
The Galway Hooker
This unique vessel, with its distinctive curved lines and bright red sails, originated in the village of Claddagh. During the 19th century, hookers supported a significant fishing industry and also carried goods, livestock and fuel. Seán Rainey is remembered for building the last of the original boats, the Truelight, for Martin Oliver who was to become the last king of the Claddagh; as king, he was entitled to white sails on his boat. Since the mid seventies, many of the old sailing craft which were on the verge of extinction have been lovingly restored and new ones have been built. During the summer months they can be seen at festivals such a Cruinniú na mBád - the Gathering of the Boats - in Kinvara.
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Rose of Tralee
The Séan O’Neill Band
In addition to the title track, this great collection also ifeatures other romatic Irish rose favorites including My Lovely Rose of Clare, My Lovely Irish Rose, Rose of Akkendale, Rose of Mooncoin and more.
Click here for The Rose of Tralee.