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Rose Wall lists 1,700 beauties from Tralee contests

THEY are members of the country's most exclusive club for women and now they have been honoured by the town that gave them their title.

Tralee in Co Kerry has saluted all the women who have ever taken part in the Rose of Tralee by unveiling its new 'Rose Wall', a glass and polished steel plaque inscribed with the names of 1,700 women who have taken part in the famous beauty pageant.

Reigning Rose of Tralee Nicola McEvoy and Alice O'Sullivan, who was crowned the first Rose of Tralee back in 1959, cut the ribbon in the town park yesterday.

They were joined by dozens of women who represented Irish communities from around the globe throughout the festival's 54-year history and are back for the Rose of Tralee Gathering.

Alice O'Sullivan had just only completed her Leaving Certificate when, representing Dublin, she became the first Rose of Tralee in 1959.

"I was very impressed when I came down in 1959 and saw the huge scope of what they were doing. It was so unusual for 1959 Ireland. I had to go to the cinema to see myself in the Pathe News because there was no TV or RTE," she recalled.

She was one of the judges when the Rose of Tralee celebrated its 50th birthday in 2009.

"That experience really showed me the difference between the women now and in 1959. We were not so sure of ourselves and now I can see that Irish women are doing really well," she said.

Since her Rose days, Alice got married but later separated, raised a son, earned a degree in history in TCD, completed her post-graduate studies in the UK, and now lives in Co Wicklow.

Denise Murphy O'Sullivan represented Cork and was crowned Rose of the Tralee in 1991. She is still very much involved and is a judge for the second year running.

She lives in Cork with her farmer husband Tomas and they have five boys whose ages range from 17 to six.

"The whole friendship thing is what I took from it and meeting friends new and old and rekindling those friendships every year when I return," she said.

Dublin Rose Sinead Boyle was the overall winner in 1989 when she was a 21-year-old employee of AIB and a member of the Ireland women's basketball squad.

"I'm still with the bank but becoming Rose of Tralee did change my life in a positive way. It was an absolutely amazing opportunity," she said.