The Rose of Tralee is more than just a “little ladies show” and is a reflection of the “modern woman”, participants have said.
The annual festival returned to the Co Kerry town this week after a two-year, Covid-induced hiatus, and comes to a conclusion on Tuesday night.
Thirty-three Roses took to the stage in the Kerry Sports Academy in Tralee over the course of two nights, displaying various talents and hobbies for the 62nd staging of the festival.
Often critiqued for being dated or old fashioned, some of this year’s Roses have defended the tradition, adding it has “consistently moved with the times over the years”.
This year, the organisers extended the eligibility criteria to include women up to the age of 29, married and trans women. No trans or married Rose featured in this week’s line-up but for these groups to be included is a “huge thing”, said Kerry Rose Édaein O’Connell.
“The festival is so open to trans women coming in and taking part. And even to do with the age: a lot of the girls are a bit older this year. But I actually think it’s a bit better because of life experience; a lot of the girls are looking after the younger ones,” she said.
“As things continue to change, and conversations change, and the way the world around us changes, I think the Rose of Tralee will change and they’re going to become open to becoming even more diverse than it is now. It’s just about keeping those conversations going and making sure everything keeps moving.”
Derry Rose Áine Morrison, who opened the show on Tuesday, said even the range of jobs among the Roses this year illustrates how much the show has changed.
“You see all the tweets saying, ‘Here we go, all the lovely ladies and the teachers’. But we have such a range of different jobs. I think this year really reflects the modern woman,” she said.
“One of the things we were talking about was if the Rose of Tralee was make-up-free. There are days when I can’t be bothered, so I just put on a wee bit of concealer, but then you have girls who come down and they’re full glam.”
Ms Morrison said it is “so nice” to have that mix, because it shows little girls that they can do either and still be who they want to be.
Shane McHugh, who was named the Rose Escort of the Year at Monday night’s ceremony, said the festival has “consecutively” adapted with the times over the years.
“It has changed, society changed. Is it outdated? Is celebrating womanhood outdated? I don’t think so. I don’t think it can ever be outdated,” he said.
“The focus is on the talents, the strengths of these fantastic ladies who put themselves forward to represent their relative areas and be their ambassador.”
In his 11th year presenting the show, Dáithí Ó Sé said there was scope to expand eligibility even further in the future, and perhaps there was a need to sit down and see who else needed to be invited “to the party”.
Tuesday night’s antics end almost two weeks of festivities, with Ó Sé saying this was the busiest show he has ever taken part in.
Monday’s show featured him getting into an ice bath, while Tuesday saw an unsuccessful attempt at breaking a world record by getting the almost 1,200 attendees to partake in Riverdance.
Music was a key point throughout Tuesday’s show, with Ms Morrison, the Derry Rose, playing a piece on the piano she composed herself, entitled Release, Cavan Rose Tara Rogers singing Bright Blue Rose, Toronto Rose Maysen Tinkler playing the drums to a melody of 1980s rock music and Irish band Wild Youth performing during the intermission.
Despite the excitement, Ó Sé said the most memorable part of the show has been the Roses sharing tales about their life and loss.
“Some of the Roses were telling really personal stories about losing people and to see them get through that, to be able to stand up and deliver the way they did, that’s always a high point. Outside of the fun and the games, there is a serious side to it too,” he said.