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Rose of Tralee (festival)

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Title: Rose of Tralee (festival)  
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Language: English
Subject: Gay Byrne, Culture of Ireland, Languages of Ireland, Irish people, The Late Late Show
Collection: Annual Events in Ireland, Beauty Pageants in Ireland, Infobox Templates, Recurring Events Established in 1959, Rose of Tralee
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Rose of Tralee (festival)

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]


  • Origin 1
  • Modern practice 2
    • Media portrayals 2.1
    • Commemoration 2.2
    • Hosts 2.3
  • Winners 1959–present 3
    • By number of wins 3.1
    • Winners by region 3.2
  • See also 4
  • Notes and references 5
  • External links 6


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 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 ex-pats back 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 competition 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, the owner of The Kerryman newspaper and involved with Tralee Races; Jo Hussey, a shopkeeper in Tralee and Teddy Keane.

Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to compete; 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]

Modern practice

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 to best match the attributes relayed in the song: "lovely and fair". She 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 contest and the contestants 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 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, Sunderland, Sydney, Texas, Toronto and many more centres. A regional final is held in Portlaoise, 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, 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.

In 2008, unmarried mothers were allowed to enter the contest for the first time.[5]

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 rather than the approximately 30 who take part every other year.

In 2014, Maria Walsh revealed that she was gay after winning.[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. 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 Stock Exchange.


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

Winners 1959–present

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.

By number of wins

Region Titles Winning years
Dublin 5 1959, 1962, 1969, 1989, 2003
New York 4 1974, 1976, 2000, 2007
London 3 1975, 2009, 2010
Cork 1961, 1991, 1999
Galway 1980, 1992, 1998
Belfast 1965, 1973, 1979
Queensland 2 2006, 2011
Perth 1995, 2001
Limerick 1984, 1994
New Zealand 1966, 1988
Chicago 1960, 1987
Boston 1963, 1985
Waterford 1977, 1983
Birmingham 1967, 1981
Luxembourg 1 2012
Tipperary 2008
Mayo 2005
Kilkenny 2004
Italy 2002
France 1997
Toronto 1996
Midlands UK 1993
Germany 1990
Leeds 1986
Peterborough 1982
Pennsylvania 1978
Switzerland 1972
Miami 1971
Holyoke 1970
Clare 1968
Tralee 1964
Texas 2013
Philadelphia 2014
Meath 2015

Winners by region

Region Winners
Ireland 23 titles won by Dublin (5), Cork, Galway and Belfast (3), Limerick and Waterford (2), Tipperary, Mayo, Kilkenny, Clare, Tralee and Meath (1)
North America 14 titles won by New York (4), Chicago and Boston (2), Toronto, Pennsylvania, Miami, Holyoke, Philadelphia and Texas (1)
England 8 titles won by London (3), Birmingham (2) and Midlands UK, Leeds and Peterborough (1)
Australasia 6 titles won by Queensland (2), Perth (2) and New Zealand (2)
Europe 5 titles won by Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg (1)

See also

Notes and references

  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"'".  
  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".  
  5. ^ "Unmarried mothers can be Roses".  
  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

  • Official site – Rose of Tralee
  • Official site – Dublin Rose of Tralee Centre
  • Official site – Philadelphia Rose of Tralee Centre
  • Binchy, Maeve. "Rose festival from behind dark spectacles". The Irish Times, 3 September 1969.
  • BBC Four, TV documentary programme by Sir Terence Wogan OBE celebrating Ireland, broadcast, 21 October 2015.
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