50 years on and the Roses are still in full bloom
Original winner pays tribute to girls
THE first ever Rose of Tralee who is judging this year's festival said last night she was "astounded" by this year's contestants.
Alice O'Sullivan, who is on the judging panel for the 50th celebrations of the event, said all the Roses were "absolutely splendid and well-travelled".
She joins Daithi O Se, Mary Kennedy, Adi Roche and Capt Mike Edgeworth on the panel.
"Judging is a very tough job, much tougher than I thought. It is both interesting and challenging. We can't set criteria for the winning Rose, we have to keep an open mind about the whole thing. Every one of them is brilliant and have a fabulous spirit. I'm astounded by them," she said.
Ms O'Sullivan -- who represented Dublin -- was crowned the first ever Rose of Tralee in 1959, and she told the Irish Independent the festival has "changed beyond recognition".
"But it's still recognisable for what it was. In 1959, there were five contestants and it was international from the start. There was a Rose from New York, two from the UK, myself from Dublin and one from Tralee. The numbers have increased so much, it's now global," she said.
Ms O'Sullivan, who has lived for 40 years in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, was aged 19 when she won and said the Ireland of 1959 was "totally different".
"People didn't travel, women hadn't the opportunities they have today and very few attended third-level education. Ireland was quite a depressed place.
"I had the honour of being Rose of Tralee for the week of the Tralee Races -- I presented cups at the races, at swimming galas and derbys -- but nowadays, the winning Rose has a huge and unique opportunity to network. In my day, that wasn't there," she said.
The contestants for tonight and tomorrow night's live broadcast have been whittled down from 50 to 32.
Her advice to this year's Roses is to "enjoy it and have a ball".
"The Roses were all embracing and warm and this has lasted through the years and still exists," she said.
Meanwhile, a 13-year-old girl's wish came true yesterday when she was crowned princess for the day through the Share A Dream foundation.
Ciara Fox, from Co Kerry, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, attended the International Rose Ball on Friday night and yesterday was presented with a bracelet by the Deputy Mayor of Tralee, Mairead Fernane.
Also present were a number of Roses from the years gone by and this year's contesting Roses.
An escort of the future presented Ciara with a bouquet of flowers.
Tralee Town Council also unveiled a bronze sculpture of the inspiration for the Rose of Tralee, Mary O'Connor, and her loved one William Pembroke Mulchinock, by renowned Irish sculptor Jeanne Rynhart, in the Rose Garden of Tralee Town Park yesterday.
Some 42 of the former winners were in town for the celebrations along with 50 competitors for this year's title.
The selection live on RTE 1 before an audience of 2,200 in the festival dome and an anticipated audience of up to 1.3 million viewers begins with Waterford Rose Orna Middleton (19), a home economics student.
Kerry Rose and primary school teacher, Karen McGillycuddy (24), is bookies favourite to win and would be only the second ever Kerry Rose to win the coveted tiara.