The Rose of Tralee’s executive chair has insisted the festival has made huge changes to make it more diverse, despite no women of colour competing in the 2022 event.
After a three-year hiatus, the festival will return to RTÉ One as 33 Roses compete for the coveted title on Monday August 22 and Tuesday August 23.
This year it has undergone a considerable overhaul to welcome entries from trans women, married entrants and the age limit has been increased to 29, the biggest rule changes in its 61-year-long history.
This morning saw all the Roses line out for their first media photocall at Dublin’s Sandymount Strand. But despite being drawn from a huge pool of international entrants, onlookers noticed there was no woman of colour among them.
When asked about this, the festival’s executive chair Anthony O’Gara told Independent.ie that the winning Rose of Tralee in 2018 was a person of colour, namely Kirstin Mate Maher who is half-Zambian.
“She was a proud Waterford woman. Her dad would have been an officer in the Irish Army and her mum was a lady from that part of the world so she was our Rose of Tralee only two festivals ago,” he said.
“We always have diverse people of all sorts involved. The Rose of Tralee, the people that we end up with come to us from communities from different places and we never know who’s coming. That’s part of what’s nice about it. They’re real people from real places, they’re not celebrities, they’re not coming here on a mission, they’re not doing an executive interview.
"They are Irish people celebrating their Irishness and womanhood and it’s so great to get them together. It’s a lovely tradition. They make friends for life.
“If we didn’t have diversity in the Rose of Tralee, well then it would be a fake institution, wouldn’t it?”
When asked if they would work on improving the event’s racial diversity, he said they had “worked on it quite a lot this year already”.
“When we launched the Rose, for example, we made a very prominent point of stating that we wanted diversity and we wanted everybody to feel welcome. People are different, it doesn’t matter in what way, we are all different from each other. But I would hope we would all respect each other and all be comfortable in each other’s company.
“What makes a festival a festival is that people come to it just to celebrate among other people. They are not thinking, am I the same as somebody else or different from somebody else?
“Everybody is different and comes here every year and they get to know each other and make great friends and it’s just a lovely tradition to be part of. We are very proud of it. People sometimes say it’s old fashioned and we say, it is but so is Christmas and the Leinster Final and whatever the heck else.
“It's a huge thing for the families and the communities those people represent. What makes it endearing is they are real people from real places and they’re all different and they just celebrate being Irish.”
RTÉ presenter Dáithí Ó Sé, who’s in his 11th year fronting the show, said there is “three years of built-up excitement because we weren’t there in 2020 and 2021”.
The festival also has a new home with the Dome being shifted to the MTU campus in Tralee and Dáithí said there’s “three years of build-up excitement because we weren’t there in 2020 and 2021”.
On this year’s rule changes, he said it was “unfortunate” there was no trans woman competing for the title at the festival in the Dome.
“I was really looking forward to having that chat on-stage but I think there was a very positive message sent out this year so hopefully next year. I suppose it will take people time to make the decision to go for the competition itself and I’m really looking forward to that but unfortunately, we don’t have one this year,” he said.
“If the Rose of Tralee was to stay alive, it has to change. To be fair, they have changed all along. There was a time when you couldn’t be married, when you couldn’t have a child. The age limit has gone up to 29 now so they are changing with the times. It’s just another positive move and you are sending these things out into society, saying ‘lads the Rose of Tralee is there for everyone’.
"We are here to celebrate our Irishness, celebrating Irish women.”
Despite having its critics, the televised festival frequently features in the most-watched programmes of the year with 2019'’s event pulling in an average of 553,000 viewers.