Wednesday 24 January 2018

'Since when is being lovely a bad quality to have?' - Rachael O'Brien writes in defence of the Rose of Tralee

Rachel O'Brien has entered the Dublin Rose twice and has worked on the Dublin Rose Centre team for the past two years.  Here she writes in defence of the festival.

Rachael O'Brien
Rachael O'Brien

Rachel O'Brien

The Rose of Tralee is an internationally acclaimed festival that has been around for nearly 60 years. In a nutshell, it is an amazing celebration of young women. It’s also a celebration about Irish culture and heritage passed down. The festival has gone from just having Irish entrants to being known across the world and, while it has evolved, it has never never lost its core values.

That should be the end of this piece. People should just accept that that is what the festival is. But they don’t.

When you mention the Rose of Tralee, the majority of people instantly draw on the stereotype propagated by the writers of Father Ted – a 'lovely girls' competition. But for some reason that is seen as a bad thing. Since when is being lovely a bad quality to have?

A lot of people who have this idea of the festival also don’t really understand exactly what goes on down in Tralee, or what goes on before or after the festival itself if you are involved. This isn’t just something that happens for a week in August. This is an all year round festival.

I’ve been lucky enough to be on both sides of the table. I have entered the competition twice, although I haven’t been chosen to represent my county.  And I have volunteered on the Dublin Rose Centre team for the past two years. I’ve had people come up to me and ask why, if I wasn’t chosen the first time, would I go for it again? It’s because I didn’t enter the Dublin Rose to become the Dublin Rose. I entered to make new friends, to gain confidence, and to have an experience of a lifetime. One of the first things that the commercial manager of the festival said to me when I met him has stuck with me ever since – If you’re in the room to become the Dublin Rose, chances are you won’t be.

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Rachael O'Brien

I’ve also had people ask me was I being paid to work for the Rose of Tralee? Was this my full time job? And I’ve seen their shocked faces when I tell them that no, I have a regular job, I volunteer for the centre in my spare time. I take holidays off work to go to events and selection nights. And I wouldn’t change any of it.

I first became involved in the festival in 2014 and since then have met some of the most amazing people (not just the Roses), had some of the most amazing experiences and really got a full understanding as to what the festival is really about. The festival is whatever you want to make it. If you want to enter to grow your confidence, it will help you do that. If you want to get involved to make friends, you will definitely do that. I have yet to come across someone who became involved in the festival and say they regret it. If I had to group them, I have probably come across two types of people. One gets involved in the festival, makes a group of friends, has a great experience – maybe ticks it off the bucket list and doesn’t really get involved again. The other gets involved in the festival and is in it for life. They are passionate about the festival and about getting others involved because they know what a great experience it is.

The road to Tralee

Every year around the time of the festival, articles appear online slating it. Articles saying it’s old fashioned and something that people don’t want to see. Yet it’s one of the most watched TV programmes on RTÉ every single year. But aside from the viewing figures, it’s the ‘old fashioned’ term that I take issue with. I ask anyone with that term in their head to go down and experience the festival. Because when you do go down to Tralee, meet the Roses, see what goes in that small gorgeous town, you will see it is far from old fashioned.

4 ways to bring The Rose of Tralee out of 1967 and into 2017

The festival has developed as time has gone on. Up until 2008, unmarried mothers were not allowed to enter the contest but that rule is now gone. A few years ago you would not have seen a Rose get up on stage with a dress that wasn’t full length. Or with tattoos. Maria Walsh did both and she was selected as the 2014 International Rose of Tralee.

Another thing people always make comments about are the party pieces. First things first, lets clear up the rumours. Party pieces are not mandatory and they are not judged. And that goes for all selections, not just Tralee. They are a chance for a Rose to showcase a talent they might have. But also, think about it logically – if you had 32 women over 2 nights just being interviewed viewers would get a bit bored. The party pieces provide some entertainment. A lot of people joke about girls saying poems, but RTÉ banned poems last year so you won’t be hearing any this year.

Last year Anna Nolan wrote an article for the Irish Independent, and slated the festival. That article can be read here: Anna Nolan: The outdated Rose of Tralee festival has nothing relevant to offer anymore

My issue with what she said was she referred to it as a competition and compared it to a sport she played as a child. To quote her article she said “this farce of a competition is an embarrassment to anyone who thinks that waving, smiling and talking about growing up in Texas or wherever means anything to anyone.” The first problem with what she is saying is that I don’t see the Rose of Tralee as a competition, I see it as a festival. Yes one young woman is chosen to be the Rose of Tralee for that particular year. But I don’t see it as she has won. She was chosen to represent her group of Roses for that particular year, along with representing the festival itself around the world. My other problem I have with article is that Anna writes, “for the “winning” of the competition move, they need to stand in front of a mirror at home and be able to bring up tears within 3.5 seconds, all the while smiling sweetly and sickly.”

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Anna Nolan

If she really wants to get technical about how the International Rose of Tralee is selected, I will. Each young woman fills out an application form. She is then entered into the Rose selection for her centre, for example the Dublin Rose Centre. She then has an interview with three judges, a group interview with a number of her fellow Rose entrants, and the same three judges and she then does an interview on stage in front of a crowd. The judges pick one entrant to then become the Dublin Rose. As the Dublin Rose she then goes on and has to do a single and group interview with three different judges, and if selected to be part of the 32 Roses that goes through to the televised nights in Tralee she then does another single and group interview with a five person judging panel. She then does the stage interview with Daithi O Se that everyone sees on TV. It is only then that the five person judging panel picks one entrant to become the International Rose of Tralee. Now that sounds like a lot more than standing in front of a mirror and being able to cry on the spot all while smiling.

Holly Carpenter: 'Those feminazis should give the Rose of Tralee girls a break'

One thing I didn’t want to ignore when writing this piece, was what happened last year. A lot of people complained about the way the Roses were selected and the ‘X Factor style’ in the way it was televised. For anyone who did not see the Road to the Dome programme, part of the show showed the Roses being divided into two rooms; one with the 32 finalists and the other room with the 32 who were not chosen. The Chief Executive of the festival, Anthony O’Gara came out afterwards and said:

“It is not nice when we get comments that are very severe, but we have to take it on the chin. It is the first year and we have to learn. When we do get things wrong we put our hands up. All would say that the Sunday morning programme was wrong. In fairness to RTÉ, we asked them to put on a separate programme and they did a very good job on it, but probably the timing of the judging and the cameras in the girls’ faces was, in retrospect, not the right thing to do.”

'Scrapping Rose cull was right', says bookies favourite for Rose of Tralee Maria Coughlan

And he’s right - the festival made a mistake … a big one but they were able to see that mistake and do the only thing they could which is to apologise and try to do better.

My final thing I will say on the festival is that it has changed my life. It’s made me a better person and continues to help me improve as a person. I’m now one of the people in the background that helps other people in their journey.

Flashback: This is what the Rose of Tralee looked like in the 70s, 80s and 90s

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