Everything you need to know about the Rose of Tralee

rose of tralee hero

If you’re not Irish, you may not have heard of the Rose of Tralee. Firstly, Tralee is a beautiful town in County Kerry, in southwestern Ireland.

Being in Ireland, it doesn’t by any means lack the beautiful landscapes comprising rugged rocky green hills, medieval castles deteriorating over time, showcasing all of Ireland’s rich history.

Yet, Tralee is most famous for the “Rose of Tralee”. While it may sound like a mythical, enchanted rose trapped in a glass casing like the one found in Beauty and the Beast, the Rose of Tralee is an Irish Heritage festival in celebration of women of Irish descent from all over the world.

It is an annual event where women from across the globe with Irish ancestry compete for the chance to be the “Rose of Tralee”.

People often mistake this for being another beauty pageant, but it is stated that the organisers of the event try their level best to ensure that this does not happen, and it does, in fact, offend many people when it gets called such.

Candidates are lovely girls chosen from all over the world, with one representing each city or continent. This International event is then televised across the globe for two days.

Being Irish is the centre of the picture here, so the candidates are often put under the spotlight to show off their Irishness through various exercises, from games to answering questions posed by their host Daithí Ó Sé, a former TG4 weatherman.

what is rose of tralee

The Rose of Tralee is an Irish Heritage festival and beauty pageant held annually in August in the town of Tralee. In 2019 the festival celebrated its 50th anniversary and that year saw 50 candidates when the usual number of participants would usually be only about 30. There are a lot of Irish American girls who take part, especially from Ohio ( Ohio Rose ), Chicago (Chicago Rose ) and Philadelphia. All women have to get through the Rose Selection Event during the Tralee Selection. 

When did Rose of Tralee start

The first festival took place in 1959 and has since then taken place annually. The festival is said to have begun to bring more tourists to the town of Tralee and showcase the Irish culture all over the world.

The legend has it that the Rose of Tralee is inspired by a 19th-century ballad by the same name by William Pembroke Mulchinock.

The story is that a wealthy merchant fell in love with Mary O’Connor, a beauty of Tralee, but unfortunately his parent’s maid. The two were not allowed to marry due to the difference of class the families belonged to, so they had to part ways. William is said to have emigrated and ones he returned he had found out that Mary had died of tuberculosis. With a broken heart, he then wrote the song which would set this tradition in motion.

Rose of Tralee Festival

While this festival may seem like merely a beauty pageant, it is far from it. It is in fact, a place where the Irish culture is put on display and celebrated through the beauty of women of Irish descent. It showcases their diverse nature and culture based on where they have been brought up, and mainly shows off how the Irish culture in their blood truly bonds them even while being strangers, which is an ode to the strength of the Irish culture. Initially, the festival only allowed women from Tralee to take part, which later, in the late 1960s expanded to include women from Kerry. In 1967, it invited women of Irish birth or ancestry from all over the world. Since then, candidates have come from all over the world, USA, Ireland, Britain, Europe, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. The internationally picked roses compete with the 32 candidates chosen from the 32 counties of Ireland in the qualifying rounds. The festival is then broadcasted over two nights on RTÉ One.

It has been hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé, a former TG4 weatherman and local celebrity, since 2010. The candidates will be put to the test over the course of two nights where they will be required to chat to him about various topics that display their personality and character, achievements, life goals, their families, their loves, spirituality and most of all their Irish origins. While the entire competition may very much resemble the Miss World pageant, with the participants being, of course, all beautiful in their own way, with great personalities and also expected to look good and show off their beauty in glamorous dresses, they are steered away from any political conversation. While it may be expected of Miss World to raise and shine a light on political and pressing issues such as world peace, hunger and poverty, the Rose of Tralee is asked to keep things closer to heart and revolve around the Irish culture, so discussing Irish dancing and traditions may be more commonly heard.

The candidates will showcase their talents through singing and dancing. Eventually, the winner is expected to make public appearances such as attending sporting events and promote good causes as a representative of Ireland, for the twelve months to come.

One difference between Miss World and the Rose of Tralee is also that there are in fact, some men behind the scenes, who also get recognition and praise, and not just as cameramen. These are the “Escorts”. These are the men who volunteer to help out the Roses during the week preceding the festival, attending and helping them out with their needs and ensuring they stay safe while being out and about. We can safely say that some traditions have not been let go of regardless of the passing of time. The most hardworking and committed Escort is awarded the title of “Escort of the Year”.
Some rules which have not changed over the years are that all participants must be under the age of 29, unmarried and not mothers.

Some winners across the years have been Filipino-Irish, Indian-Irish and Zambian-Irish, celebrating the beauty of globalisation and belonging to different cultures, which in a world so fixated in using difference in cultures to tear each other apart, may be a breath of fresh air.

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