'People find it very hard to get their heads around a positive thing' - Dáithí Ó Sé launches Rose of Tralee 2019
Dáithí Ó Sé has defended the Rose of Tralee as a 'sisterhood' and vehicle for 'empowerment' for the Roses.
Speaking at the launch of the Rose of Tralee festival 2019, the host said there is nothing more empowering for women than to share their personal stories with an audience of millions.
"Is there anything more empowering than going up on stage in front of 2000 people inside a dome where you probably know 50, and in front of the whole nation, and telling your life story warts and all?" he asks.
"I think that fact has probably been overlooked over the past 60 years, how important it is for people to tell fun stories, embarrassing stories that happened to them, and they're willing to go along with the gag and then to say, 'I lost a parent', 'I lost a sister', 'I lost a brother'.
"We can have all the fun in the world, which is all well and good, but I think those real heartwarming stories behind the whole thing, and to get up in front of the whole nation and tell them, I think can be very empowering."
Among this year's Roses are two young women who have overcome extremely challenging health issues.
Donegal Rose Chloe Kennedy recently received the all clear following 12 rounds of chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma and is looking forward to returning to study Psychology at Maynooth University after a year out.
Arizona Rose Kayla Gray also underwent experimental brain surgery to treat Chairi Malformation and Hydrocephalus in the 8th grade before graduating to work in a research laboratory. There she worked on a project which identified one of the cells that caused the disease.
Although the Roses go head to head on stage at the festival dome in the hopes of being crowned the Rose of Tralee, Dáithí says there is no sense of competition in the lead up to the big night.
"I think what you have in society is you have people pitted against each other all the time, particularly women. I think they've been pitted aginast each other on social media - 'I got 4,000 likes, you got 5,000 likes'," he says.
He describes the Rose of Tralee as a "sisterhood" which fosters a real "bond" between the Roses, adding, "People find it hard to get their head around.
"These are all well educated women who are either in college or working. They are all career women and how can you judge those people for wanting that? It's all very, very positive. People find it very hard to get their head around a positive thing, but positive it is."
Dáithí is in his tenth year as host and says it is 'very, very special' for him this year. He met his wife Rita ten years ago at the festival (they have a son Michael Og), and it is a job he still thoroughly enjoys.
"I was very happy when I got the job the first day. I remember fhinishing on the Tuesday night of the first year thinking, Jesus, I was the host of the Rose of Tralee for a year, and I was really delighted with myself and it was a high point of my career," he says.
"And then you get called back for the second, third and fourth, fifth you're thinking, Jesus, I'm here five years, the same as Ray [D'Arcy], then you do six - I've equalled Marty Whelan - and then ten so I've seven more to catch up with Gay [Byrne]."
Dáithí, who also presents Today with Maura & Dáithí with co-host Maura Derrane for RTE, says he has no intention of hanging up his festival mic just yet, adding, "I'll stick with it as long as they'll ask me to do it".
The festival has generated controversy for various reasons over the past decade, not least for the annual 'cull' of 32 of the original 64 roses ahead of the televised shows, a practice which ended two years ago.
The presenter describes it as the "worst" part of his experience as host as he would meet all 64 Roses ahead of the news breaking on Saturday morning about who had made it to the live shows and who had not.
"They're evolving, they're trying to change things, they're trying to make it better," he says of the festival organisers.
"They realised there was a problem, they fixed it. There was a reality TV thing that didn't work out a few years ago and they said, 'That's not happening again' so they are trying to change things up."
Last month the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) ended its long-term sponsorship of the Rose of Tralee after organisers and participants of the festival received online threats.
The online abuse arose following the RTE Investigates probe into the greyhound industry in Ireland.
Dáithí reveals he did not receive death threats, but did receive correspondence privately on Facebook from some people concerned about the issue and questioning his continued involvement in the festival as host.
"We all saw the documentary. It was horrendous," he says, adding that the sponsorship relationship subsequently ended between the IGB and the Rose of Tralee.
"There were no death threats or anything, nobody coming up on the street, only a few people sent on stuff and they made their point. I said 'fair enough, yeah, that's no problem' and then it was all sorted the following day," he adds.
The Rose of Tralee will be broadcast live from the festival dome in Tralee, Co Kerry at 8pm on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 August on RTÉ One with a break for the Nine O’Clock News.
It will also be available to watch for free, live and on-demand by audiences in Ireland and abroad on the RTÉ Player (desktop, iOS and android apps) and RTÉ Player International.