Tuesday 21 May 2019

Rose of Tralee at 60: Winners reflect on critics, women's rights and major changes to this year's competition

RTE presenter Dáithí Ó Sé with past Rose of Tralee winners Back row (L - R) 1999 Rose of Tralee Geraldine O'Grady, 2009 Rose of Tralee Charmaine Kenny,1989 Rose of Tralee Sinead Boyle,1979 Rose of Tralee Marianne Marron,1969 Rose of Tralee Cathy Quinn.
Front Row (L-R) current winner Rose of Tralee Kirsten Mate Maher and 1959 Rose of Tralee Alice O'Sullivan
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
RTE presenter Dáithí Ó Sé with past Rose of Tralee winners Back row (L - R) 1999 Rose of Tralee Geraldine O'Grady, 2009 Rose of Tralee Charmaine Kenny,1989 Rose of Tralee Sinead Boyle,1979 Rose of Tralee Marianne Marron,1969 Rose of Tralee Cathy Quinn. Front Row (L-R) current winner Rose of Tralee Kirsten Mate Maher and 1959 Rose of Tralee Alice O'Sullivan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The very first winner of the Rose of Tralee has revealed how the landscape has changed for women in Ireland in the past 60 years.

Dublin Rose Alice O’Sullivan won in 1959 and said that the main difference between then and now was the “lack of opportunity for women to go to third level automatically, as they are doing nowadays.”.

“Also a big issue for women into the 60s and the 70s was when you did work, whatever you worked at, in most cases when you got married you had to resign, so I had to resign at 27.”

Alice, who was speaking at the launch of the search for the Roses of 2019, the festival’s 60th year, said she still feels “hugely aggrieved” about it “to this day”.

She advised young women today to “grab all your opportunities and get as much education as you possibly can and enjoy every moment” as she had to wait until she was 40 to get to third level.

“In 1959 the Rose from New York automatically she was going to college, the women from the UK were thinking on the same lines, but the Irish women, no, our sights weren’t set on third level.”

However, Alice was a judge for the 50th Rose of Tralee festival in 2009 and revealed that the resumes of the women at that time showed “the Irish women had caught up and surpassed people coming from the rest of the world and I thought that was just brilliant.”

Ireland’s first Rose of Tralee was joined by five other winners from each decade of the festival for the launch, and they each spoke about the issues which were most pressing for women at the time of their win.

The search for the next 2019 Rose of Tralee has started Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
The search for the next 2019 Rose of Tralee has started Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Dublin Rose Cathy Quinn won in 1969, Belfast Rose Marita Marron won in 1979, Sinead Boyle won in 1989 as the Dublin Rose.  A decade later, in 1999, Gerrie O’Grady won for Cork, and Charmaine Kenny, the London Rose, won 2009.

The women were also joined by last year’s winner Kirsten Mate Maher (22) from Waterford, and Rose of Tralee host Dáithí Ó Sé.

Dáithí commended Kirsten for her strength of character following an alleged incident of racist verbal abuse following her win.

Waterford Rose Kirsten Mate Maher (22), who was crowned the first African-Irish winner in August, said she was subjected to the verbal attack by two men in a Kilkenny takeaway.

“What happened was absolutely horrendous.  It was horrible and it was a reflection on that person more so than Kirsten or anyone else,” said Dáithí.

The RTE presenter praised the young woman for “showing her own real character” and for rising above the incident.

“When you’re given a bit of a profile people think they can take pot shots at you and they’re going to do it I’m afraid. That’s the society we live in,” he said.

“And I think it’s up to yourself then as a person to say, actually, you’re wrong. I think that’s what happened.”

Kirsten said she prefers not to dwell on the incident as it “went in one ear and out the other”.  Instead, she opts to focus on the positive aspects of her time in the role.

“People are mean and I suppose if you focus in and dwell on that mean person or that incident that happened my year would be very, very negative whereas all these other amazing things have happened.”

Among those positive experiences is travelling. Kirsten, who has deferred college for a year, has travelled to India and Germany and will visit New York next month in her role, before passing the coveted crown to the next winner in August 2019.

The 2019 festival will no longer see a ‘cull’ of half the 64 Roses prior to the televised event.  Only 32 Roses will travel to Kerry this year but all will appear on TV at the festival dome.

“It’s a new system which is a good thing because there was always disappointment on the Saturday and Sunday morning with people who wouldn’t be on TV,” reveals Dáithí.

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 cusp of the age limit but were unable to enter this year.

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