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Five things you didn't know about the Rose of Tralee

The final of the Rose of Tralee 2010 is tonight – but how far has the festival come since the 1950s?

Ray D'Arcy dancing with the Boston and New England Rose Meaghan Murphy

THE ROSE OF TRALEE is one of Ireland’s best known festivals.

Held annually, the festival attracts would-be Roses from Birmingham, Boston, Darwin, Dubai, France, London, Luxembourg, Newcastle, New York, New Orleans, New Zealand, Perth, Queensland, San Fransisco, Southern California, South Australia, Sydney, Texas and Toronto.

But the festival wasn’t always what it is today. here are five thing you might not have known about our Lovely Girls competition…

1. It use to be a tiny bit more exclusive

Today we’re used to winners hailing from as far away as Australia but originally, only women from the town of Tralee were eligible to compete.  Tralee has a population of just over 20,000 today so, in the early 1960s, the rules were extended to include any women from, wait for it…

Kerry.

Right. As much as we love Kerry, it’s a county with a whopping population of 140,000.

The organisers eventually gave up the ghost in 1967 and opened the competition to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry. Much better.

2. Singles night

As recently as 2007, only single women were allowed to participate in the Rose of Tralee. Was this because the contest was used as a nationwide, televised singles night? Or because, once married, women can no longer be considered “lovely and fair”?

Hmm, perhaps a desire to stay at least a mile from such questions at all times caused the organisers to relax this rule. They opened the contest to women wearing wedding rings three years ago.

3. Oops, just one more tweak…

A year later, they hastened to add that unmarried mothers could also be considered attractive, intelligent women. What a forward-thinking step for, er… 2008.

4. Surprise, surprise: it’s a tourist trap!

The Rose of Tralee owes its name to a poem penned by a wealthy (Protestant) William Pembroke Mulchinock for his family’s (Catholic) maid, Mary O’Connor in the 19th century.

Surprisingly, William and Mary’s relationship ended in tears – but the good news is that his poem became one of Ireland’s most famous ballads about beauty and lost love.

However, the festival has its origins in the (once annual) Carnival Queen event, which was forced to stop because of mass emigration. In the 1950s a group of businessmen, discussing how to bring some tourism to the town, remembered the old Carnival Queen event – and the ballad about Mary O’Connor. The Rose of Tralee festival was born.

5. A very Irish beauty contest

Although classified as a beauty contest, the Rose of Tralee does not actually score entrants on their physical appearance. In contrast to all other beauty pageants in the world, the festival has no swimsuit section.

Instead contestants are judged on their personalities – shocker – and the festival celebrates the “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage” of young Irish women.

Past Roses can boast such as achievements as:

  • Winning the Edward R. Murrow Award for journalism (Michele McCormack; 1985 Chicago Rose)
  • Becoming Executive Vice President of the New York Stock Exchange (Noreen M Culhane; 1970 New York Rose)
  • Graduating with a degree in theoretical physics (Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin; 2005 Mayo Rose)
  • Performing live in Carnegie Hall (Róisín Egenton; 2000 New York Rose).

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