With the Rose of Tralee festival kicking off in County Kerry this weekend, we’re taking a look at what makes this *not a beauty pageant* such a huge event in the Irish-American calendar. Whether you’re new to the festival or an established fan, our 11 facts will get you in the mood to cheer your favorite Rose to victory in the final next Tuesday, August 18th.
1. The festival that put Tralee on the map
Every August for the past 55 years, a young woman has been crowned Rose of Tralee at the festival hosted by the capital town of County Kerry. It began quietly, when a group of locals met in Harty’s Bar in 1957 to dream up ways of encouraging expats back to their hometown. With a budget of £750, the Rose of Tralee was launched, later becoming Ireland’s best-known and longest-running festival. It’s still big news in Ireland today. The live TV finale tops the poll of most-watched shows, with up to a million – a quarter of the Irish population – tuning in to see who is crowned Rose of Tralee!
2. It’s not (just) a beauty pageant
With tiaras, sashes, plenty of tears and pretty waving women, the Rose of Tralee might look like a beauty pageant. But as our top facts attest, it’s a whole lot more. Most importantly, physical beauty is not the deciding factor. There are no ladies in swimwear to be seen at the Rose of Tralee! So what makes a winning Rose? According to the festival organizers, every Rose must represent the “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage” of women today.
3. Formula for a winning Rose
Suspecting you might be a Rose candidate? There’s one surefire way to find out. The secret to landing the coveted crown is hidden in the lyrics to the Rose of Tralee ballad that gave its name to the festival. The panel of judges choose their winner based on how much they resemble the Mary captured in the song, so listen close:
To be crowned the Rose of Tralee, a woman of Irish heritage must, as the song goes, be:
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
4. It also helps if you’re brunette
The results are in! After analyzing the “make up” of Roses past, it’s been found that a stunning 85% of winners have been brunette. Blonds come in at 13%, with the traditional Irish redhead only winning on 2% of occasions.
5. Magical onstage moments
Broadcast live on Irish TV, anything can happen during the Rose of Tralee. Last year’s fan favorite moment saw the New Orleans Rose receive a marriage proposal from her boyfriend live onstage. She said yes, if you’re wondering!
6. Bringing all kinds of Irishness together
Love has always been central to the Rose story. The original song is believed to have been written by the wealthy Protestant William Pembroke Mulchinock for Mary O’Connor, a poor Catholic maid in his parents’ household. So celebrating Irishness of all forms has been an important part of the festival from the beginning.
7. Roses have changed a little
I’m not sure Mary O’Connor would recognize some of today’s Roses. Still as “lovely and fair” as ever, these ladies also have moves. One of the most popular Roses of recent years broke out fresh Hip Hop steps to captivate the public in a whole new way.
7. Does your city have a winning Rose?
The USA has more winning roses than any other country, Ireland included! This year’s New York Rose will be hoping to push her city into the record books. A win would equal Dublin’s all-time best of 5. Chicago and Boston are next highest with 2 each, while Toronto, Pennsylvania, Miami, Holyoke and Texas all have 1 claiming the title of Rose of Tralee.
8. Competition has gotten fierce
In its first years, the competition was only open to women from Tralee, leaving entrants with a good shot at the title. Competition grew slowly. In the early 1960s, women from other parts of Kerry could enter. Since 1967, the competition has extended to include any woman of Irish birth or ancestry (under the age of 28!). While the first Roses only had to compete against local women, competition now includes women of Irish ancestry from all over the world. With a global population of 80 million people celebrating Irish heritage, that leaves a lot of competition fighting it out for the crown.
8. James Brown headlined the Rose of Tralee
Backing up its claim to be “more than a beauty pageant”, the Rose of Tralee has hosted record-breaking superstars from the world of music. Top pick must go to soul legend James Brown who brought funk to the town’s Denny Street in 1999.
9. Roses are high achievers
Many Roses have gone on to accomplish other equally impressive feats. 1985’s Chicago Rose, Michele McCormack, won an Edward R. Murrow Award, a top prize in journalism. Noreen Culhane (New York Rose 1970) holds the super impressive job of Executive Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange. Genevieve O’Reilly, 1996 Adelaide Rose, starred in blockbuster Hollywood movies, including Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions films.
10. Steal a Rose’s Style with Newbridge Silverware
Newbridge Irish Vintage Style Watch
While some of us are a little over the upper-age limit of 28, we can still accessorize like a Rose with jewelry by Newbridge Silverware, the festival’s most stylish sponsor. Treat yourself to a piece of classic Irish jewelry design updated for The Irish Store
11. Watch in the USA
If you can’t make it to Tralee for the festival, check out the RTE player to catch the highlights. And check with your local Irish pub – Rose of Tralee screenings are popular nights with locals and expats alike. YouTube is also a reliable source of the year’s funniest and most tearjerking moments.
Best of luck to all of this year’s Roses. The Irish Store will be watching too!