'We're women to look up to, it's not just ladies who go on stage' - meet this year's Rose of Tralee contestants
Women participating in this years Rose of Tralee festival have spoken out against critics who have called the contest outdated.
Longford Rose and special needs assistant Marie Brady, feels the Rose of Tralee festival has adapted to reflect the modern day Irish woman who are "real people in real life situations in real jobs."
"I think it's changed a lot in the last few years and modernised. Last years winner, Kirsten Mate Maher, that's what you call a modern Irish woman. It's brilliant for women to look up to, it's not just ladies who go on stage. We're all real people in real life situations in real jobs, "she said.
San Francisco Rose, Brooklyn Quinn agreed, adding: "We're still supposed to be very ladylike of course, which I'm fine with but it's very be who you are, be yourself. Be ladylike, but be who you are."
The Rose of Tralee Communications Manager, John Drummey, said the festival is a "celebration" of how Irish womanhood has evolved over the years, rather than a "lovely ladies contest."
"They are lovely ladies, there's no hiding that fact. But it is a celebration of modern Irish women and how Irish womanhood has changed over the years.
"The Rose of Tralee has changed over the years to reflect modern Irish women of their time. It's a very popular event, we have over a thousand young Irish women from around the world entering. They've no issue with it, and they quite enjoy taking part in it and celebrating being Irish. We're happy to be able to provide that platform for them," he said.
The festival has made changes ahead of this year's competition. Previously, 64 roses were selected prior to the televised event. Only 32 Roses will travel to Kerry this year, but all will appear on television.
Another change means that only Dublin, Cork, and Kerry will now enter a Rose every year while regional and international committees will only send a Rose every two or three years.
The age limit has also been increased to 28 (entrants cannot be 29 until after September 1 the in which they participate) to accommodate Roses who may be on the nearing the age limit but were unable to enter this year.
Among the 32 "modern women" participating in the event is Karen Cashman, from East Cork. Karen has been living in Abu Dhabi for the past year where she works as a teacher at a British International school. After leaving behind a difficult year which found her sister facing a liver transplant, Karen's family are embracing her Rose of Tralee journey.
"There's things that have happened that have put things into perspective. My sister has been quite ill, she got a liver transplant last Autumn. She's fine, she's flying, she's doing really well so this doesn't phase us as a family. We've been through so much so I just want to make the most of this opportunity.
Speaking about her time in Abu Dhabi, she said: "I have one year down, and one year left in my contract and I'll see how I'm going then. I'm loving it. The lifestyle and weather is just unreal. It's a good base to travel from. There's an amazing Irish community. I've settled in well.
"I work with four-year-old kids. I taught small kids here as well, and the system is different so it took a bit of getting used to but no, I like small kids.
"The support has been amazing. I'm lucky because I have two support bases, so I have the Abu Dhabi support and I also have the Cork support so I'm really cashing in on the supporters. But it's been unreal, absolutely unreal. Everyone is so positive."
This year’s Melbourne Rose, Jordan Balfry (28) originally from Limerick, works in the acute psychiatric unit at a maximum security prison in the city.
“So every day is different,” she said. “We offer assistance to those with psychiatric needs – we would deal with prisoners suffering from bipolar conditions and schizophrenia, and offer them extra assistance.”
Jordan works in Melbourne’s Assessment Prison - a maximum security facility providing the primary assessment and orientation services for male prisoners.
“We try to support them and assist them however we can,” she said.
Jordan moved to Australia in January 2018, and returned last week ahead of the festival which runs from August 23 – 27th in Tralee.
“I had always been a fan of the festival and then I went to a Rose of Tralee ball in Melbourne and it was just so spectacular.”
She was joined at Tipperary Crystal’s launch of the pre-festival tour in Dublin yesterday.
Another young lady heading to Tralee is part-time farmer Orla McDaid (24).
Orla is the 2019 Galway Rose and part time farmer. She inherited her uncle Brendan Hosty’s farm located in Co Roscommon several years ago after he passed away from cancer.
Orla spent a significant portion of her childhood on the beef cattle farm and would often help her uncle during the calving season.
“I’d spend all my summers there,” she said.
“I was very close to my uncle. When I was younger I used to go around giving dog food to the cows, and I remember my uncle knocking on the window in the night when a cow was calving.”
When her uncle who was a bachelor died from bowel cancer, he left the Co. Roscommon farm to her.
“I am very blessed but it has been a challenge finding my feet in the industry. I hope I can show other women it is entirely possible to wear both wellies and high heels.”
The Rose of Tralee will be crowned in the Festival Dome live on RTÉ One on Tuesday, August 27.