Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tralee packs them in as lovely girls fest just gets 'boomier'

Nicola Anderson in Tralee

Published 18/08/2016 | 02:30

Sarah Kerins (Kilkenny), Petra O’Toole (Toronto) and Emma O’Byrne (Carlow) in Ballybunion Photo: Domnick Walsh
Sarah Kerins (Kilkenny), Petra O’Toole (Toronto) and Emma O’Byrne (Carlow) in Ballybunion Photo: Domnick Walsh

Florida Rose Sheena Kelly wept, Galway Rose Rosie Burke declared that it was the best night of her life and no less than three film crews were trotting around after them, dispatching their footage across two continents.

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And this was only the welcome ceremony on Tuesday night.

There's a whole seven days left to go of this new bonanza Rose of Tralee festival which, whatever the cynics may say, is only getting 'boomier'.

From a distance, it's easy to dismiss the Rose as a load of tooraloora 'lovely girlishness' - but be prepared for a few uncomfortable truths to set in once you arrive.

The main problem is that all those 'lovely girls' really are not only 'lovely girls' but also skin cancer researchers, (the Newcastle/Gateshead Rose), trainee child advocate attorneys (Florida), triathlon athletes (Kilkenny), tag rugby players (Dublin) and bootcamp fanatics (Donegal).

"They really are lovely," confirmed Sandra Curtin from Dublin, whose daughter, Aoife (7) was picked to be one of this year's 'Rosebuds'.

Margaret Harkin (San Francisco), Anna Murphy (Newfoundland) and Brigid Gallagher (Philadelphia) Photo: Domnick Walsh
Margaret Harkin (San Francisco), Anna Murphy (Newfoundland) and Brigid Gallagher (Philadelphia) Photo: Domnick Walsh

She said she had taken Aoife and her other daughters, Roisin (8) and Fionnuala (18 months), to Disneyland this year where they had met some of the 'Princesses'.

"It was all fluff - this is different," she explained.

"They're such lovely women - they make time for everyone and the access is amazing."

With an autograph book in her hand to capture flying Roses dashing out of hair and make-up over to the rehearsals at the Dome, Aoife said she was looking forward to being a Rosebud and has "lots" of new dresses for the occasion.

"Not that many," stressed Sandra.

Then there's the other matter of simple economics - a message hammered home loud and clear as you navigate the traffic of a heaving Tralee - which but for the festival would surely be like any other not particularly touristy town in Ireland on a miserably drizzly day in August.

Marie Hennessey (Limerick) and Molly Fogarty (Western Canada). Photo: Domnick Walsh
Marie Hennessey (Limerick) and Molly Fogarty (Western Canada). Photo: Domnick Walsh

"Tralee is full," confirmed John Drummey, festival spokesperson.

He explained that they had expanded the event to allow the return of the semi-finals to the town after a long hiatus in Portlaoise.

They felt the old system wasn't working because many of the girls who didn't reach the finals weren't getting any TV exposure and so people were asking why they hadn't seen them.

"We didn't get any complaints," said John.

"We just knew it wasn't working."

A compromise was reached when RTÉ agreed to televise an hour-long special 'The Road to the Dome' - which is "not a documentary", according to the national broadcaster.

This saw the return of all the components of the festival to its original home base, and it's ballooning to a full 10 days from beginning to end. In its earlier incarnation, the town stood to gain €12m.

And in the new expanded version?

"It's impossible to say," said John - pointing out only that every hotel in the town was full and that they are backed to the hilt by Kerry County Council.

"It's the Kerry festival really," he added.

There is also a poignant touch. This is the first year the festival has an official 'Rose hotel', the old Fels Point - which was purchased by Nama and revamped by Dick and Eibhlin Henggeler as a tribute to their daughter Dott, who died of a brain tumour in 2014 and had been the Washington Rose in 2011.

All 65 of this year's Roses have been put up by the Henggelers.

An upbeat rendition of 'Shut Up and Dance' kicked off the first qualifier night last night and spirits were high as Daithí O Sé whipped them all up into a frenzy. Pop blended seamlessly into tooraloora and back again as this party, eccentric perhaps but undeniably special, got under way.

Irish Independent

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