Four queens and a Rose of Tralee

Simon Brouder's Talking About Tralee

The Kerry rose might never have won the Rose of Tralee but that doesn't mean the crown was never worn by a Kerry woman.

In fact the title that would eventually became the Rose of Tralee - the Carnival Queen - was won by a succession of local women.

Here renowned historian and regular Kerryman contributor Ryle Dwyer looks at five women who wore the crown both before and after The Rose of Tralee as we know it today was born.

The first four Carnival Queens were all Kerry women. Eithne O'Sullivan had been reared in Valentia but then moved with her parents to Tralee, where she trained as a piano teacher and became deeply involved with the Tralee Musical Society and the local Light Opera Society, which led to her initial involvement in the Carnival of 1939. 

She married Tom Healy of The Spa in 1943, and they lived in Tralee for four years, before moving the four miles to The Spa, where they raised their family of two girls, Geraldine and Aileen, and their son Maurice. 

Their daughter Geraldine was selected as the Limerick Rose while working in Shannon in 1967.   

Eithne Healy took a very active part on the festival committees over the years. She was always much sought after at social gatherings, and was often the life and soul of impromptu parties. Many people would remember her as the accomplished pianist at the Oyster Tavern in The Spa, where she played regularly during the 1970s and 1980s, until just before her death in 1987.

 The second Carnival Queen, Kay O'Brien grew up in Tralee and married local jeweller Freddie Burkley.  They settled in The Kerries, just outside of Tralee, rearing two daughters, Moya and Olga, and a son, Patrick. 

Moya later married businessman Patrick Moran, a brother of Denis "Ogie" Moran in Limerick, where her sister Olga also settled. Their parents remained in Tralee, where Kay was very active with the local Soroptimists and both the Tralee and The Kerries Golf Clubs before her death in January 2005.

Even though the Carnival Queen contest was suspended after 1940, it was a powerful reflection of their enthusiastic and long-lasting commitment that, almost thirty years later, both Eithne Healy and Kay Burkley were photographed on the front page of The Kerryman, working together on a float for the 1967 Festival. 

 When the Carnival Queen was reintroduced in 1957. Doreen Sheehy was selected from among sixteen young women at the CYMS Hall. She was steeped in the lore of Gaelic football in Kerry. Her father, John Joe Sheehy, had captained Kerry to win the all-Ireland football finals of 1926 and 1930, and her brothers Paudie, Niall, and Seán Óg, won a total of seven all-Ireland senior football medals between them, along with the five won by their father. Her youngest brother, Seán, went on to captain winning Kerry team in the all-Ireland of 1962.

After her selection as Carnival Queen, Doreen Sheehy received her crown and an ermine cloak, and was then taken to the platform in Denny Street in a chauffeur-driven, custom line car, which was actually driven by her other brother Brian Sheehy, who was beginning what would become a long stint as chief escort in Tralee. 

Her younger sister, Kathleen, was later the first Tralee representative in the initial Rose of Tralee contest in 1959. Unlike her two predecessors, Doreen Sheehy did not marry a Kerryman.  She married Dermot "Sam" Kenny from Clara, County Offaly in 1960, but they settled in Tralee, where they raised two sons, Paudie and Brendan. She died in July 2014. 

 Beatrice Spring was selected as Carnival Queen in 1958. She not only succeeded Doreen Sheehy as Carnival Queen in 1958 but also married Doreen's brother, Niall Sheehy in 1962. They settled in Tralee, where they raised their three children -Mary, Nora, and John Joe. 

In addition to winning two all-Ireland senior football medals with Kerry, Niall had the added rare distinction of winning a junior all-Ireland hurling medal with Kerry in 1961. 

Beatrice's brother, Con Spring, represented Ireland in senior basketball, and her uncle Dan Spring captained Kerry to win the Sam Maguire Cup in 1940, while her first-cousins Dick and Donal Spring played rugby for Ireland. Her daughter Nora was selected as the Tralee Rose for the Rose of Tralee contest thirty years ago in 1987. 

Last year Beatrice's other daughter, Mary, distinguished herself, even among the high sporting achievers of her extended family.  She played a crucial part in helping the Irish team to win the Women's Senior European Golf Championship in Wejherowo, Poland. 

Her match in the final against Belgium became the crucial game. With the five-match final tied at 2-2, Mary's game was tied at the end of eighteen holes, so they went into sudden-death. Mary won at the third extra hole, by sinking a proverbial "battleship" in golfing terms - a fifty-foot putt for a birdie, to win the European Team Championship. 

 In the fifty-eight years of the official Rose of Tralee, only one Kerry representative won - Margaret O'Keeffe in 1964.  Although born and reared in Tralee, she was a student nurse in Ballinasloe at the time.

Margaret had the distinction of being invited to the Chelsea Flower Show in 1965 as a guest of honour, probably as a result of the influence of Sam McGready, the famous Irish rose grower, who served as a judge for the Rose of Tralee contest.

After qualifying as a nurse in Ballinasloe, Margaret spent some years working and studying in Dublin hospitals - the Coombe and St. James's - before moving to Limerick. She married Dr. Neville Flynn and settled in Scarriff, County Clare, where they had two children, Ciara and Robert. 

Following her husband's death, she moved to Bordeaux in the south of France, where she remained for five years, though she still made regular visits home to Tralee. She died in Bordeaux in 2013, following a short illness. 

58 years on she still retains the distinction of being the only Kerry representative to become Rose of Tralee.


One in three saw the Rose

We all know people who insist that the never watch the Rose of Tralee and who still seem to know everything that happened in the Dome the night before.

While thousands may deny having any interest in the nation's favourite late summer show the viewing figures never lie and once again viewers tuned into the Rose in massive numbers.

According to the viewing figures released by RTE over 1.5 million people watched this year's Rose of Tralee Coverage.

Viewership reached a peak of 720,800 on the second selection night with two thirds of Irish viewers tuning in watch as Offaly's Dr Jennifer Byrne was crowned Rose of Tralee.

There was also huge interest online with the broadcast from the Dome streamed and online by over 55,000 people across the world.

So there you have it. Most people might tell you they didn't watch a second of this year's Rose but two in three people tuned in on Tuesday night.

Going by the RTE figures it would seem there's a fair chance a few of your friends are telling fibs.


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