DAITHI O Se arrived in the Kingdom like a returning hero yesterday.
Not since the Sam Maguire crossed into Kerry last September has the Kingdom afforded anyone a reception remotely like that enjoyed by Daithi and the 32 international beauties who are now vying for the 2010 Rose of Tralee tiara.
Rose festival veterans reckon it is the warmest reception enjoyed by any host since the golden era of Gay Byrne.
But, then again, no Kerryman has ever hosted the county's showcase tourism extravaganza.
And this is no ordinary Kerryman either but a proud native of Corca Dhuibhne on the Dingle Peninsula who has variously worked as a Duffy's circus ringmaster, ferry operator, bouncer and teacher before striking gold as a TG4 weatherman.
In Tralee yesterday, Daithi was truly the anointed one of Irish broadcasting.
Yet if the star was fazed by the prospect of hosting his first Rose of Tralee, he was hiding his nerves under an icily calm and sartorially splendid exterior.
"It is a huge honour for me -- it is a show I've watched all my life and a festival I have been very proud to have worked with for a good few years now," he said.
Daithi admitted he has big boots to fill given the success enjoyed by Gay Byrne, Marty Whelan, Derek Davis, Ryan Tubridy and Ray Darcy.
"I suppose being from Kerry does bring its own pressures but I just couldn't wait for this year's festival to start," he said.
The Rose of Tralee Festival has itself challenged a few perceptions in recent years, with a successful new marketing campaign and an enhanced role as an international showcase for Irish tourism.
Almost 900,000 viewers watched the climax of the show last year when London Rose Charmaine Kenny took the tiara -- and the festival now ranks as a major tourism draw.
Yesterday, last year's winner said the past 12 months have gone by in a whirlwind. "I have truly been touched by all the people I have met this year, and been left both humbled and excited by what I have experienced," she said.
It was almost a relief for the multinational Roses to finally arrive in Tralee yesterday. It had been a hectic week for the girls who, over the past five days, travelled from the Dail and Kilmainham Jail in Dublin to Birr in Co Offaly and on to the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare and the Treaty Stone in Limerick.
But it wasn't until yesterday evening that the 32 Roses and 32 escorts finally discovered -- via sealed envelopes -- precisely who would be accompanying whom throughout the exhausting five-day festival.
For decades the Rose of Tralee has also prided itself on being far more than just a beauty pageant.
The Roses are expected to get involved in community activities, and tomorrow, the girls and their escorts will help Jigsaw Kerry highlight the issue of mental health for young people.
At exactly 4.24pm, they, along with 140 young people, will take part in a special 'flash freeze' on Tralee's main square to commemorate the 424 lives lost by suicide in Ireland last year.