Ulster finalists defend annual Rose of Tralee contest
It’s as quintessentially Irish as Guinness or Gay Byrne.
For over 50 years now the Rose of Tralee — a beauty pageant with a difference — has been going strong, attracting thousands of hopefuls from various countries across the globe.
Such is its importance in the Irish social calendar, the writers of the award-winning comedy Fr Ted even parodied it in its ‘Lovely Girls' episode.
But despite its critics, who claim the competition is outdated and doesn't represent modern women, the Rose of Tralee shows no signs of losing its appeal — or its two-day coverage on RTE.
This week 32 finalists — including two from Northern Ireland — will set off on a national tour before arriving in the Co Kerry town of Tralee at the weekend for the “celebration of Irish heritage”.
Of the 32, 10 are Irish (Dublin, Cork and Kerry automatically qualify). The others come from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the rest of the world. Each Rose must perform a party piece and display qualities which must reflect the “collective aspirations, social responsibilities and ambitions of young Irish women”.
Representing Co Down is 22-year-old accountancy student Nicole Curran, who, along with Derry Rose Catherine Feeney, won her place in the grand final at the regionals in Portlaoise in June. Nicole, who was entered by a local hairdressing business, said the pageant was not a beauty competition.
“It's a celebration of Irish heritage,” she said. “The girls have to show they are accomplished, they have to show what they've achieved and what their ambitions are. It's about beauty from within, really.
“So far it's been amazing. I've met a brilliant friend in Catherine and all the girls are lovely. I'm only the second Rose from Co Down to get through to the final, so I'm really delighted. The nerves haven't kicked in yet, but I know they will on the night when we have to take to the stage.”
Craigbane physiotherapist Catherine Feeney (27) intends to recite a poem written especially for her by local veterinary surgeon John Hood.
“It's a poem about the area I live in, so it means something to me,” she said.
“I'm really excited but apprehensive about the televised bit. I've never done anything like this before.”
Catherine's family and friends had been trying to persuade her for years to enter, so she finally succumbed this year.
“To be representing Derry in the final of the Rose of Tralee is such an honour for me,” she said. “We were down in Tralee for the Rosebuds ball and were treated like royalty. It was pretty overwhelming.”
Former Armagh Rose Joan Burney Keatings, who is now chief executive of Cinemagic, said she hoped the Rose of Tralee would never change.
“For me, it would lose the essence of what it's about if it were to change,” she said.
“Taking part was an amazing experience. I made a lifelong friend in PR girl Michelle McTernan (former Belfast Rose), it taught me to have more confidence in myself and it opened doors as well.
“It's not a beauty competition, there are plenty of those held every year in Ireland. It's a celebration of Irish culture.”
The Rose of Tralee began in 1959 on a budget of £750. At first, each Rose had to be a native of Tralee, but this condition was relaxed in the early 1960s to include any native of Kerry. By 1967 a prospective Rose had merely to be of Irish ancestry. Several years ago, it was opened up to single mums. The Rose of Tralee celebrates modern young women in terms of their aspirations and Irish heritage.
A harmless, non-sexist institution
By Michelle McTernan
I represented Belfast in the Ulster final but didn't make it as far as the final in Tralee. However, taking part was a wonderful experience.
As well as making a friend for life in the Armagh Rose Joan Burney Keatings, I also met other girls from around the world and gained more confidence in myself. I can see why people might think it's outdated, but the |truth is it's an Irish institution |now, with the emphasis on |personality and talent, rather than looks. There's no swimwear |section, so it's not sexist in any |way, and many of the girls who take part go on to land top jobs.
I have no regrets about taking part. It was a fabulous opportunity.
Michelle McTernan is a PR girl and former Belfast Rose.
It’s naff and pointless
By Joe Lindsay
The Rose of Tralee is irrelevant to modern Irish life and doesn't reflect Irish women. In fact, I find it pretty condescending, this whole ‘beauty from within' ethos. The Fr Ted ‘Lovely Girls' episode got it right, it's naff and pointless and people only watch it for the kitsch factor. In saying that, I don't think RTE will get rid of it. The Rose of Tralee is as much a staple of RTE's scheduling as The Angelus.
Joe Lindsay is a presenter, DJ and promoter.