NEW COURSE LESSON 12. The Rose of Tralee
The Rose of Tralee was originally a poem. The poem was written in Ireland in the mid 19th century. The poem was composed by William Pembroke Mulchinok. Tralee is a town in the Irish county called Kerry. A county is an area of a country. There are 32 counties in Ireland.
The poem was later set to music. The exquisite words, the enchanting melody and the heartrending story behind the poem can reduce a strong man to tears.
The story behind the composition of the poem is about a wealthy young man named William who lived in Tralee. A poor young woman named Mary O’Connor worked as a servant in his family’s house. The girl’s name was Mary O’Connor. William had romantic feelings for this working class girl. He wondered if he should tell Mary of his emotions. But he dismissed the idea. William’s family would never approve of such a marriage. There was a huge class difference between them. In those days many working class people were illiterate. There was another chasm between them. There are two main denominations in Christianity. These are Protestant and Catholic. In Ireland the Protestant minority held most of the power. The Catholic majority had little political power. It was very unusual for a Catholic to marry a Protestant in those days. People sometimes hated those of the other religious denomination. If this youngster married Mary from the opposite religious denomination his family would never speak to him again. He had no idea if this young woman reciprocated his feelings. If Mary O’Connor did agree to marry him they would have to elope and marry. Her family would surely disown her.
The young man went away on a business trip while he considered whether or not to declare his feelings to this servant girl. After a few weeks William returned. William discovered that Mary had fallen ill and her health had deteriorated very fast. She had died while still a teenager. The young man was in mourning for the rest of his life. He traveled to India to work thinking the change of environment would help him forget his grief. But he could not forget the one he loved. William could never forgive himself for not taking the chance to tell Mary of his feelings for her.
The poem writes of Mary ‘she was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer.’ The poem declares that Mary O’Connor was ‘the Rose of Tralee’. It is also made plain that it is not just her appearance that cast a spell over the man. ‘Twas not her beauty alone that won me but the truth in her eyes.’
In 1959 the town council of Tralee considered how they could boost tourism. They decided that they would hold a Festival called ‘the Rose of Tralee’ in August. Young ladies from the town could dress up in their finest clothes and be interviewed on stage. Whoever judges believed was most like the description ‘lovely and fair as the rose of the summer’ would be awarded the title ‘The Rose of Tralee’. The Rose would then hold this title for one year. The following summer the competition would be held anew. The previous Rose would have to retire from her position and hand over to the next young woman to be chosen. The festival garnered lots of media attention in newspapers and on the radio. There was no television in Ireland back then.
The Rose of Tralee Festival was so successful that the organisers decided to open it to women from the rest of County Kerry. By 1967 the organisers of the festival announced that any woman from anywhere in Ireland or with any Irish ancestry was eligible to contest the title. So a lady who enters the competition can be half Irish, a quarter Irish, one eighth Irish or have any fraction of Irish ancestry. She does not have to live in Ireland nor does she have to have ever visited Ireland. She can be a citizen of any country.
People wishing to be the Rose of Tralee should be intelligent, polite and a good example of morality and healthy living. They will be a good role model for little girls.
Contestants have to be between the ages of 18 and 28. The rules originally stated that the contestants must not have married. The idea was that men watching the competition could imagine that they could marry one of these pulchritudinous young ladies. A woman who had given birth was ineligible. In those days Ireland was very judgmental. To be an unwed mother was considered disgraceful.
Over time the rules were relaxed. If a lady had married but her husband had died then she would be allowed to enter. The Republic of Ireland did not recognise divorce until 1994. In 2008 the rules were changed and unmarried mothers were permitted to be contestants. Societal mores had moved on.
How does someone get to contest the title Rose of Tralee? She must apply to her regional centre for to be the rose for that region. Each of Ireland’s 32 counties is a region for the purpose of the Rose of Tralee. There are regional centres for the Rose of Tralee in many overseas locations with a significant Irish population such as London, Leeds, New York, Chicago, Boston, Texas, Dubai, Queensland, Germany, Florida, Southern California, New Zealand and so on. If you wish to be the Queensland Rose – for example – then you must have lived there for at least a year.
In each regional centre there is a competition. It has the same format as the Rose of Tralee. The young ladies wear their most splendid evening dresses. They appear on stage one by one. Each one is interviewed. If she has a talent such as an ability to dance or play a musical instrument then she can perform. She has about ten minutes on stage. Each centre will elect a rose. So the London Rose, the New Zealand Rose and the roses from each of Ireland’s 32 counties are chosen. There are about 65 roses!
The 65 roses come to Tralee, Ireland in August.
Over the week of the festival there are lots of social events – parties and dances. These ladies are accompanied by young men called ‘escorts’. The escorts must be between 21 and 31. These young gentlemen do not have to be Irish but most of them are.
A contestant will be accompanied by a different escort each night. She will walk arm in arm with Alan on Monday, with Brendan on Tuesday and with Colm on Wednesday and so forth. Changing the escort every night is better for both men and women. If Suzy hates the man who is walking around with her on Monday she will be glad that she does not have to be accompanied by him all week. The escorts all have to wear a black dinner jacket.
The escorts have to pay 1500 Euros to be an escort. On top of that these boys have to pay for their travel, hotel, clothes, meals and other costs. Only affluent young men can do it. The escorts have to go to boot camp which means they go jogging, swimming in the sea, marching like soldiers and kayaking. This is to ensure they are physically fit. But this also builds a bond. Moreover, it keeps them occupied and entertained when the ladies are at the beauty salon. The young ladies are having their hair done every day for a week so it is very time consuming.
Previously a contestant could bring her own escort. Her boyfriend could be her escort. The rules have changed now. The contestants are not allowed to have had any previous relationship with the escorts.
It would seem very expensive to be a rose. She has to have a different outfit for 7 afternoon events and 7 evening events: a total of 14 outfits. She has to fly to Ireland, pay for a hotel, pay for hair styling and beauty treatments. There are sponsors. Businesses pay the costs for these ladies.
There are early events which narrow down the 65 rose contestants to only 20 or so roses.
Over three nights about 20 roses are interviewed live on national television. There are about 7 interviewed per night. In the end judges announce which one of them is the Rose of Tralee. The festival ends with a live rendition of the song The Rose of Tralee.
The lady who is crowned Rose of Tralee then goes around the world. There are various charity events that she takes part in. She is an ambassador for the title Rose of Tralee.
- Where is Tralee?
- Is Kerry a county?
- Is Kerry in Ireland?
- How many counties are in Ireland?
- Who wrote the Rose of Tralee?
- Is the Rose of Tralee originally a poem?
- Was it set to music?
- Which woman was the Rose of Tralee in the song?
- Why did William believe he could not marry Mary?
- Did William tell Mary about his feelings?
- When William came back from his trip what bad news did he hear?
- Which country did William travel to?
- What is the description of Mary physically?
- When did the Rose of Tralee Festival start?
- Which month is the festival held?
- How old do contestants have to be?
- Do contestants have to have some Irish stock?
- Can a contestant have a child?
- Can a contestant be married currently?
- What is an escort in this competition?