From fire starters to 'fathers4justice': The Rose of Tralee with a difference
Just when we thought we had the safe and predictable Rose of Tralee festival all figured out - the unthinkable happens. And history is made.
For the first time in the festival’s 57 years - a protester stormed the stage.
As Cavan Rose Lisa Reilly spoke sweetly and serenely about her boyfriend, 'Fathers 4 Justice' founder Matt O’Connor scaled the stage.
Dressed as a priest and waving a banner, O’Connor (49) urged audience to “join him and the broken families of Ireland”.
As Daithi and Reilly stared in disbelief, the sound in The Dome cut off, the VT rolled and four fine Kerry security men rugby tackled O’Connor to the ground.
After a scuffle he was picked up and promptly turfed out the back door.
There, according to a Rose of Tralee spokesperson, he was met with members of An Garda Siochana - who escorted him away and presumably gave him a stern talking to.
O’Connor, who is second generation Irish but currently lives in Clapham, later released a statement through the Fathers 4 Justice organisation.
“The Fathers of Justice believe this is the new Rising,” the statement read. “We ask people to pray for the thousands of children affected by family.
“100,000 Irish children and petitioned from their fathers and denied their human rights.
‘The Rose of Tralee has lots of beauty, but there is nothing beautiful about family law. We want equal rights for fathers in Ireland. It is a human right for children to see their fathers.”
Fathers 4 Justice are known for their outlandish protests, earlier this month they scaled Jeremy Corbyn’s house and last November they climbed the walls of Buckingham Palace dressed as superheroes.
Back in the dome, the Cavan Rose got not one, not two, but three standing ovations.
There were some other firsts.
Namely, when the German Rose performed Lil Wayne’s 2008 hit A Milli.
It wasn’t your typical Rose of Tralee party piece given Lil Wayne’s countless references to toting glocks, consuming class A drugs, venereal diseases, and popcorn millionaire Orville Redenbacher.
But thankfully the rap had been given the “Rose of Tralee treatment” to suit the audiences sensibilities.
Last changes were being made during the dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon.
“We’ve taken the venereal disease part out,” a very tense and prickly RTÉ researcher stressed.
Instead, Kari rapped about a vague but equally ominous sounding “reoccurring disease”.
Kari grew up in Texas and chose the rap as “it was the jam I would listen to in the locker room in high school”.
“I’ve been practising with the escorts - those guys know their rap.”
The Dome was brimming with nervous energy as families, escorts, former Roses and Rosebuds settled into their seats for the first televised night of the 57th festival.
The Roses who didn't make it past Sunday morning's 'Rose Cull' also sat in the audience stoically cheering on their pals.
As the lights went down host Daithi O Se bounded on stage.
Once the gardai band and the judges were introduced, the first batch of eighteen Roses took to the stage.
Sydney Rose, Brianna Parkins, put Daithí through his paces when she got him to strap on a sequined bra and Samba dance around the stage.
Backstage, Brianna commended O Sé for his enthusiasm, but admitted his “stiff hips” had hampered his performance.
“He is very stiff and very Irish with his hips,” she said. “He is definitely not South American.”
And there were gasps when Cork Rose Denise Collins set O Sé’s hands on fire.
“I’m a science teacher so wanted to bring that to the stage,” she said. “But, it’s very, very important people don’t try that at home.”
Daithí didn’t walk away from the experiment unscathed. “I have no hair left on my arms,” he lamented. “It’s all gone.”
And then there was harp and bongo playing, jiving and weaving.
Preparations for the final started early in the day. A team of 35 hair stylists and make up artists from Sean Taffe Hair and Beauty salon set up shop next to the dome and were preening and perming cailiní throughout the day.
Over 137 cans of hairspray and countless kirby grips were used to ensure the 65 Roses were coiffed and lacquered to the point of madness.
“The Rose of Tralee is very dressy,” General Manager of Sean Taffe Cara O’Shea said.
“It’s ball gown hair. It’s all about big lashes and a strong lip - everything is high definition. No two girls are allowed to have the same hair style and there is absolutely no shimmer whatsoever.”
O’Shea added that “fresh and flawless skin” was a must.
Unfortunately she was unable to reveal the secrets of Daithi O’Sé or Mary Kennedy’s beauty regime as “RTÉ insist they do their faces.”
The remaining fourteen Roses will take to the dome stage tonight.
According to Daithí there’s no clear winner.
“There’s nothing between these Roses,” he said. “They would all make a fantastic. The judges have a hard task ahead of them. There’s still everything to play for.”