Saturday 19 August 2017

'Absolutely not and I'd be upset if I was' - Jackie Healy Rae Jr won't be getting any special treatment as a Rose of Tralee escort

Jackie Healy Rae Jnr (L) with Ian Madigan (r)
Jackie Healy Rae Jnr (L) with Ian Madigan (r)
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

We're well used to seeing his father and uncle, TDs Michael and Danny Healy Rae, on our TVs and now the youngest of the clan is gearing up to follow suit.

However, Jackie Healy Rae Jnr is not heading down the political route - he'll be joining 63 other young men as an escort for the Rose of Tralee International festival.

The 22-year-old sports fanatic is one of six Kerrymen to be bestowed with the honour ahead of the festival which runs August 16-22 in the Kerry town. 

More than 200 men aged between 21 and 30 applied.  Jackie made his initial application online in February after he saw an ad asking "Are you man enough?" on Twitter. 

The Rose of Tralee escorts have made it through a training ‘boot camp’ in Co Kerry. Picture: Domnick Walsh
The Rose of Tralee escorts have made it through a training ‘boot camp’ in Co Kerry. Picture: Domnick Walsh

This was followed by a Skype interview and then several face-to-face interviews before he was finally selected.

As for his reasons for applying, the Kerryman says he attends the festival every year anyway.

"I thought wouldn't it be great, instead of being a spectator again, to get involved so I threw in an aul application form," he tells Independent.ie.

After the rounds of interviews the successful escorts are invited to a weekend bootcamp on the Wild Atlantic Way.

On the Friday they had to erect their own tents in the dark together before climbing Mount Brandon - Ireland's second highest mountain - on Saturday.  On Sunday they were assigned various tasks - for Jackie it was turf cutting.

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The Rose of Tralee escorts have made it through a training ‘boot camp’ in Co Kerry. Picture: Domnick Walsh

"It wasn't so much tough as just doing things you would never do on a daily basis," he says.

"We had to cook our own food on Friday night.  We were given the basic ingredients raw and had to light a fire and cook it.  It was more the unexpected than tough - you're out of your comfort zone a bit.

"We had no phones over the weekend and to be honest that was great, because if we had phones everyone's head would be stuck in the phone taking Snapchats and sending tweets.

"I was only talking to my father about it - wouldn't it be great if we were stuck in the 2004 era before Facebook and Snapchat?  People spend too much time on it."

He says he wasn't given any special treatment because of the family name.

"Absolutely not and I'd be upset if I was," he says.  "That's not why I entered.  I entered it because I was going to be there just spectating and it'll be nice to see how it works on the inside and to be involved."

Jackie has a girlfriend who prefers to stay out of the spotlight but who will be there to support him in the Festival Dome during the televised event. 

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The Healy-Rae brothers Michael (left) and Danny, Independent deputies for Kerry, at Leinster House

As for his dad Michael, he says, "I'm sure he'll make an appearance as he usually does, but whether we'll have the time to chat... Sure we can be talking every day so I won't have much need of him!"

Jackie works with his father so has pencilled in his 10 days off, and laughs, "He'll just have to survive without me for a few days."

He also says he won't be wearing the trademark Healy Rae flat cap, "I have hair and it's great to have hair and I plan on holding on to it for as long as I can so, no, I won't be wearing one!"

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