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23rd May 2017

She was lovely and fair…Why I’m still conflicted about the Rose Of Tralee

Alison Bough

She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer, yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me. Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning, that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee…

You see it wasn’t just her beauty at all, at all. It was the truth in her eyes, her honest-to-God personality if you will. That’s why she was the loveliest girl of them all; the Rose of Tralee.

It’s that time of year again. All around the country local hotels are hosting glitzy, sequin-laden, selection nights in order to crown their county Rose and send the chosen one (and her silk sash) off on the illustrious path to Tralee.

Before you all prepare to lynch me for slagging off a national institution, I will declare that I’m not here to bash the beauty pageant. I can’t denigrate the annual event because I’m of no fixed opinion on the matter. Well, that’s not true. I have lots of opinions about the Rose of Tralee but they vary wildly from fond fuzzy nostalgia, to mild modern-woman aversion, to utter feminist disgust.

Pageants like this have always been an easy target. I’m painfully aware that – in these politically correct times – we are not supposed to call the Kerry ‘event’ a pageant. But the dictionary confirms it. It’s definitely a pageant:

Pageant ˈpadʒ(ə)nt/ noun
1. A public entertainment consisting of a procession of people in elaborate, colourful costumes, or an outdoor performance of a historical scene.

Public entertainment? Damn right, it’s pretty much the only reason I pay my licence fee every year. A procession of people in elaborate, colourful costumes? Check. The best bit is when one costume turns into another costume, like when a long gúna whips off into a short Irish dancing gúna. Deadly. An outdoor performance of a historical scene? Well, it’s in a big tent in a car park and I’d say it’s a fairly historical looking scene, wouldn’t you?

Whether we are calling it a pageant or not, the fact remains that (bar a swimsuit section) it’s a parade of lovely girls in ball gowns. Are they bright and intelligent women pursuing careers, PhDs, or otherwise saving the planet through selfless charity work? Yes. Are they still being ‘escorted’, objectified, and asked to ‘give us a twirl’ 1950s style? Yes.

The Rose of Tralee might claim modernity and shout girl power but their discriminatory and outdated eligibility criteria says otherwise. Apparently lovely girls ain’t that lovely once they start staring down the barrel of 30, and you definitely wouldn’t want any old married ladies or risqué divorcees hanging around. God only knows what they’d be up to down the back of the tent.

I have my suspicions that there may be further discreet ‘screening’ of Roses, for any unwanted skeletons that may be lurking in their sash closets, but that might be a case for another day.

Maria Walsh, our first openly gay Rose of Tralee, was certainly a welcome breath of fresh air in what had become a very stale marquee, but what of our other pageant ‘minorities’? They’ve only been letting single mums in since 2008, so we won’t hold our breath for anything as forward-thinking as a trans Rose.

On the plus side (but rarely the plus-size), many who have been crowned with the winner’s tiara have gone on to much bigger and brighter things, using the competition as a worthy platform from which to promote themselves and their various interests – charitable and otherwise.

We must also note that none of these multi-talented and intelligent women are being forced to enter. I will even end by admitting to some jealousy on my part, after all doesn’t every woman secretly dream about wearing beautiful dresses, having their hair and makeup done, and waving at people from an open-top bus?

Excuse me while I go doctor my birth certificate and hide some wedding photos…