Rose of Tralee (festival)

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Rose of Tralee
Rose of Tralee (festival) logo.jpg
Formation1959;61 years ago (1959)
Type Beauty pageant
Headquarters Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland
Official language
Floral display with festival logo, 2014 Rose of Tralee.JPG
Floral display with festival logo, 2014

The Rose of Tralee International Festival is an international event 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 19th-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 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 International Festival came when a group of local business people met in Harty's bar, Tralee to come up with ideas to bring more tourists to the town during the horse racing meeting and to encourage expats to return 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 event started in 1959 on a budget of just £750. [2]

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, involved with the Tralee Races; Jo Hussey, a shopkeeper in Tralee; and Ted Keane Snr, a local restaurateur.

Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to take part; 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. [2] Recent winners have included three women of mixed heritage, namely Mindy O'Sullivan (Filipino-Irish), Clare Kambamettu (Indian-Irish) and Kirsten Mate Maher (Zambian-Irish). On winning the title in 2018 Maher said "There is no 'typical Irish woman'. We're all different and we all come in all shapes and sizes and skin colours... We're such a diverse community, and we need to embrace that". [3]

In 2004 the Rose of Tralee Regional Finals were introduced to offer more people an opportunity to participate in the Rose of Tralee International Festival. It was held every year until 2015 in Portlaoise, Co. Laois on the June Bank Holiday weekend.

In the inaugural Regional Final 14 girls competed for 3 places in the Rose of Tralee International Festival in August. It became bigger each year and in 2015 the Regional Finals brought together 56 Roses from the USA, Ireland, Britain, Europe, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Over three selection nights, seven Irish Roses and sixteen International Roses were then selected to progress and join the other 9 Roses at the Rose of Tralee International Festival in August.

From 2004 to 2015, the number of Rose Centres grew to more than 65. The Regional Finals became well-established and was a prestigious part of the process to finding the next Rose of Tralee. In 2014 it was announced that the 2015 Regional Finals would be the last, in favour of a revamped selection process held in Tralee.

Modern practice

The Rose of Tralee festival is held every August in Tralee, County Kerry, to choose a young woman to be crowned the Rose. The winner is the woman deemed best to match the attributes relayed in the song: "lovely and fair". She is selected on the basis of personality and should be a good role-model for the festival and ambassador for Ireland during her travels around the world. It is not a beauty pageant and the participants (Roses) 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. [2]

Each of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland selects a Rose, and the international Roses, chosen from around the world, also participate in the qualifying rounds now staged in the Festival Dome in Tralee. Ultimately, 32 Roses are selected to appear in the televised selection finals on RTÉ One, out of whom one is crowned the Rose of Tralee.

The selection, which is broadcast over two nights by RTÉ, has been hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé since 2010. [4] It was previously presented for 17 years by Gay Byrne. Other previous presenters include Terry Wogan, Brendan O'Reilly, Michael Twomey, Kathleen Watkins, Ray D'Arcy, Ryan Tubridy, Marty Whelan and Derek Davis. The first presenter of The Rose of Tralee (before it was televised) was Kevin Hilton.

The festival overcame financial difficulties in 2004, and has strengthened with growing visitor numbers and maintaining strong viewer figures. [5]

Until the year 2008, unmarried mothers were not allowed to enter the contest. [6]

Men also participate in the show in the form of Rose Escorts, who assist the Roses during their time in the festival. The escort who works hardest is named "Escort of the Year", and is invited back to the festival the following year.

Media portrayals

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.


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival in 2009, 50 Roses took part in the 2009 competition; usually there are around 30.

In 2014, Maria Walsh revealed that she was gay after winning. [7] [8] [9]

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 in Philadelphia and in the Midwest of the USA. (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.

Gabby Logan, the BBC TV sports presenter, was the Leeds Rose in 1991. [10]

Winners 1959–present

1959 Alice O'Sullivan Dublin
1960Theresa Kenny Chicago
1961Josie Ruane Cork
1962Ciara O'Sullivan Dublin
1963Geraldine Fitzgerald Boston
1964Margaret O'Keeffe Tralee
1965Therese Gillespie Belfast
1966Laraine Stollery New Zealand
1967Anne Foley Birmingham
1968Eileen Slattery Clare
1969Cathy Quinn Dublin
1970Kathy Welsh Holyoke
1971Linda McCravey Miami
1972Claire Dubendorfer Switzerland
1973Veronica McCambridge Belfast
1974Maggie Flaherty New York
1975Maureen Shannon London
1976Marie Soden New York
1977Orla Burke Waterford
1978Liz Shovlin Pennsylvania
1979Marita Marron Belfast
1980Sheila O'Hanrahan Galway
1981Debbie Carey Birmingham
1982Laura Gainey Peterborough
1983Brenda Hyland Waterford
1984Diane Hannagen Limerick
1985Helena Rafferty Boston
1986Noreen Cassidy Leeds
1987Larna Canoy Chicago
1988Mary Ann Murphy New Zealand
1989Sinéad Boyle Dublin
1990Julia Dawson Germany
1991Denise Murphy Cork
1992Niamh Grogan Galway
1993Kirsty Flynn Midlands UK
1994Muirne Hurley Limerick
1995Nyomi Horgan Perth
1996Colleen Mooney Toronto
1997Sinéad Lonergan France
1998Mindi O'Sullivan Galway
1999Geraldine O'Grady Cork
2000 Róisín Egenton New York
2001Lisa Manning Perth
2002Tamara Gervasoni Italy
2003Orla Tobin Dublin
2004Orla O'Shea Kilkenny
2005 Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin Mayo
2006Kathryn Anne Feeney Queensland
2007Lisa Murtagh New York
2008Aoife Kelly Tipperary
2009Charmaine Kenny London
2010Clare Kambamettu London
2011 Tara Talbot Queensland
2012 Nicola McEvoy Luxembourg
2013 Haley O'Sullivan Texas
2014 Maria Walsh Philadelphia
2015 Elysha Brennan [11] Meath
2016 Maggie McEldowney [12] Chicago
2017 Jennifer Byrne [13] Offaly
2018 Kirsten Mate Maher [14] Waterford
2019 Sinéad Flanagan [15] Limerick

See also

Related Research Articles

Tralee Town in Munster, Ireland

Tralee is the county town of County Kerry in the south-west of Ireland. The town is on the northern side of the neck of the Dingle Peninsula, and is the largest town in County Kerry. The town's population including suburbs was 23,691 as of the 2016 census making it the 8th largest town, and 14th largest urban settlement in Ireland. Tralee is well known for the Rose of Tralee International Festival which has been held annually in August since 1959.

Kerry GAA governing body of Gaelic games in County Kerry

The Kerry County Board of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is one of the 32 county boards of the GAA in Ireland, and is responsible for Gaelic games in County Kerry. The county board is also responsible for the Kerry inter-county teams.

Austin Stack Park is a GAA stadium in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. It is one of the stadiums used by Kerry GAA's Gaelic football team and the stadium of the hurling team.

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin Irish academic and broadcaster

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin[ˈiːvʲɪnʲ nʲiː ˈhuːlʲəwaːnʲ] is an Irish academic and broadcaster. She is also a past winner of the Rose of Tralee contest, and a musician.

Róisín Ryan Egenton, a 23-year-old woman representing New York, was crowned the Rose of Tralee in the Festival Dome, Tralee, in front of a live audience of over 2,000 on 22 August 2000. Over 1.3m viewers watched the first half of the selection on television Monday night and an estimated 1.5m tuned in again for the second half on Tuesday, the biggest audience ever breaking all records for RTÉ Ireland.

Dáithí Mícheál Ó Sé is an Irish television presenter. He currently hosts RTÉ One's Today, alongside Maura Derrane. He is also the current host of the Rose of Tralee and hosts a chat show on TG4 every Thursday night Seal Le Dáithí.

Alice O'Sullivan is the first ever winner of The Rose of Tralee, having been crowned in 1959. In 2009, she was one of the judges for the fiftieth anniversary of the festival. Rosita Boland of The Irish Times commented on O'Sullivan's admission that she had not watched any of the television coverage of the event in the years since her win: "This has to make her perspective tonight and tomorrow—on the annual mini-dramas of frocks, party pieces and lovely girls—unique among all past and present Rose of Tralee judges".

"The Rose of Tralee" is a nineteenth-century Irish ballad about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called The Rose of Tralee. The Rose of Tralee International Festival had been inspired by the ballad.

Chicago Rose of Tralee is a part of the Irish international competition Rose of Tralee (festival) in which one young woman, of Irish ancestry, is crowned the Chicago Rose of Tralee. The winner of the Chicago Rose of Tralee is based on personality, integrity, intellect and whether or not they would be a good role model and representative of Irish heritage and culture. This Chicago event is held each March at the Irish American Heritage Center and has been previously held at the Beverly Arts Center.

The 2012 Rose of Tralee was the 53rd edition of the annual Irish international festival, held on 20–21 August 2012 at the Festival Dome, in Tralee, County Kerry. Dáithí Ó Sé returned as host for the third time, just a matter of weeks after marrying the 2008 New Jersey Rose, Rita Talty. 32 contestants participated in the 2012 pageant, with Nicola McEvoy, representing Luxembourg, ultimately crowned the winner. Going into the show, the Dublin and Mayo Roses were tipped as the favourites to win with McEvoy not far behind them. The background music for the event was composed by the Garda Síochána Orchestra.

The 2013 Rose of Tralee was the 54th edition of the annual Irish international festival. The festival ran for a total of 7 days; two additional days were added due to The Gathering Ireland 2013. The festival ran from 14–20 August; concluding with the televised event on the final two nights. Many acts performed in Tralee during the festival, including; JLS, Ryan Dolan, The Coronas, Sharon Shannon and The Stunning. Shane Filan made his debut solo performance during the televised selection show on 20 August.

The 2014 Rose of Tralee was the 55th edition of the annual Irish international festival held on 15–19 August 2014. The international finals of the competition were broadcast live by RTÉ One television on 18–19 August.

The 2016 Rose of Tralee was the 58th edition of the annual Irish international festival held on 22–23 August 2016. The competition was televised live on RTÉ television. 65 women from all over the world took part during the Rose of Tralee festival with 32 going on to the live shows. This was the first year that all 65 roses were invited to Tralee before being reduced to 32 for the live shows.

Tralee Racecourse was a horse racing venue in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. It was located at Ballybeggan Park about two miles to the north east of Tralee town centre. It ceased to operate in 2008 with fixtures transferred to other racecourses.

The 2017 Rose of Tralee was the 58th edition of the annual Irish international festival held on 21–22 August 2017. The competition was televised live on RTÉ television. 65 women from all over the world took part during the Rose of Tralee festival with 32 going on to the live shows. This was the first year that there is a Hong Kong Rose in the competition.

The 2018 Rose of Tralee was the 59th edition of the annual Irish international festival held on 20–21 August 2018. The competition was televised live on RTÉ television. 57 women from all over the world took part during the Rose of Tralee festival with 32 going on to the live shows.

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Maria Walsh is an Irish politician who has been a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Ireland for the Midlands–North-West constituency since July 2019. She is a member of Fine Gael, part of the European People's Party. Outside of politics, she is known for winning the 2014 Rose of Tralee pageant.

Housewife of the Year was an annual contest for housewives in the Republic of Ireland between 1968 and 1995.

The 2019 Rose of Tralee was the 60th edition of the annual Irish international festival held on 26–27 August 2019. The competition was televised live on RTÉ television. 57 women from all over the world took part during the Rose of Tralee festival with 32 going on to the live shows.


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  2. 1 2 3 4 Heffernan, Breda (22 January 2009). "'Lovely Girl' festival going strong after half a century despite changing times". Irish Independent . Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  3. "New Rose calls on Ireland to embrace its diversity". RTÉ . 22 August 2018. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  4. "Ó Sé is new Rose of Tralee host". RTÉ Entertainment. 17 May 2010. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  5. "Record Audiences in a time of challenges". The Kerryman . 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
  6. "Unmarried mothers can be Roses". BBC News . 3 April 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  7. "Rose of Tralee reveals that she's gay". RTÉ Entertainment. 25 August 2014. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  8. "Rose of Tralee reveals she's gay". Sunday Independent . 24 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  9. McGreevy, Ronan (25 August 2014). "Rose heartened by response to revelations that she is gay". The Irish Times . Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  10. "Leeds Rose Gabby Logan Wants To Be A TV Presenter 1991". RTÉ. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  11. "Fit for a Royal County Rose! Elysha takes the crown…". 19 August 2015. Archived from the original on 21 August 2015.
  12. "The Chicago Rose has just been crowned the Rose of Tralee". TheJournal . 23 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  13. Blake Knox, Kirsty (22 August 2017). "'I don't know what to say' – Offaly Rose makes history by winning the 2017 Rose of Tralee". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  14. McGreevy, Ronan (16 August 2018). "Rose of Tralee 2018: Waterford Rose takes the crown". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  15. "Limerick entrant Sinead Flanagan wins 2019 Rose of Tralee". The Irish Times. 28 August 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.