'It's hard work but we all enjoy doing it'
THEY'RE the glue that holds the fabric of the Rose of Tralee together and for the next week well over 100 volunteers will be working round the clock to make sure this year's festival, expected to be the biggest in many years, goes off without a hitch.
After months of preparation and training the 100 plus volunteer stewards, marshals and entertainment overseers began their work in earnest on Wednesday morning.
While the town parties around them they'll be on duty, day and night, until the early hours of next Wednesday morning ensuring everything runs smoothly and that the people of Tralee and the many visitors to the town enjoy a safe and fun festival.
Every possible detail has been thought of and the volunteers, who will be based at the KDYS Hall for the duration of the festival, will be responsible for everything from erecting barriers and marshaling crowds to ferrying equipment, transporting Roses and keeping a close eye out for any lost children.
To the uninitiated, it may seem like an almost impossible task, but with over 50 year's festival experience behind them the festival volunteers run a tight and efficient operation.
This is of course helped hugely by the presence of several among their ranks who have been festival volunteers for years, decades in some cases, and who are on hand to oversee the group effort and provide some useful guidance to those newer volunteers who have only recently joined the team.
Among these veterans this year are two notable volunteers who have given years of service to the festival: Mossie Brosnan who this week celebrates 25 years of involvement with the festival and David Hanbidge who has been an integral part of the Rose of Tralee for 40 years this year.
The Kerryman met a few of the volunteers ahead of the festival and despite all the hard work that lay ahead they were clearly looking forward to the week, thanks in no small part to the great spirit of camaraderie that exists between them.
One of the team who'll have plenty to do in the coming days is Ann Leahy O'Shea who has been volunteering since she was 17.
Ann is in charge of all events taking place in the town's parks and for the next seven days and nights she'll be leading a team of around 12 volunteers.
"It's round the clock work and it's not just about looking after one thing. You could find yourself doing anything over the course of the day," she said.
"You could spend the day running things in the park, then be called out on to the street and then find yourself helping look after an event down at the Dome. I wonder when they think we get a minute to sleep and eat," she said.
"Having said that it's great fun and we're all very close. It's hard work and hours can be long but everyone enjoys doing it or else they wouldn't come back every year," said Ann.
This year transport is in the capable hands of Sean Walsh, another long time volunteer whose been doing his bit for the festival for 13 years.
Sean was last year's Steward Of The Year, a title decided by the volunteers themselves and presented to one of the team who gives that bit extra.
His work this year will involve organising the transport team who'll spend the week moving everything from barriers, equipment and supplies to the volunteers.
"I first got involved years ago when Westlife were playing the festival. A friend of mine was working in the Dome that night and he asked me if I'd like to lend a hand. I said fair enough. I enjoyed and I came back next year and now here I am 13 years on," he said.
"We're responsible for moving everything from people to barriers and there's a good bit of work to be done. It can be complicated but everyone's very experienced and it runs very smoothly," he said.
"Everyone of the volunteers will be working right through until 1am on Tuesday night when the final parade is over. After that we'll get our suits on, get dressed up and head for the party," said Sean.
One of the most experienced members of the team is Martin Brosnan who is the events manager for all of this year's street entertainment.
"I've been involved since back in the early nineties and there's lot of people like me who are back every year. We have well over a hundred volunteers and while there a lot of new people involved there's also a lot of the old crowd involved. In fact in the last few years a lot of the old volunteers have come back after a few years away from it," he said.
As long as there's people like Martin, Ann, and Sean around, the festival will keep running like clockwork for years to come.