A good year for the Roses? The harvest is assured
Fellow culchies know this festival is all about renewing the land for another year
There have always been places of worship to which maidens are sent as tribute. The Rose of Tralee’s Wicker Man is out of shot, but trust me, it’s there. Fellow culchies know that this festival is all about renewing the land for another year, but sadly the Dublin media have no time for our small town ways and tend to gloss over that.
The second night of The Rose of Tralee begins with a shot of the Rose of Tralee trophy which looks a bit like a big hatched egg (Who or what came from that egg?). Then Daithí Ó Sé comes legging it along the aisle with a bucket of ice water.
“What the hell is that eejit doing now?” I say, channelling my father. This is, of course, what Daithí wants us to think. He throws the bucket at the crowd. It’s just glitter. Oh Daithí!
Daithí Ó Sé with his big Frank Sidebottom head, twinkly eyes, eejity grin and easy charm is the platonic Rose presenter. Unlike the paternalistic, big-city varieties that have gone before, he is culchie to the core. He doesn’t just eat dinner in the middle of the day, but ensures it’s a dinner of curly-wurlies, cabbage and Lilt.
Of course, he has a lot to live up to. Yesterday’s programme had dog cruelty, drinking games and water boarding (Daithí was doused in water during the Ice Water Challenge). And last year there was a live marriage proposal. Tonight’s show needs nothing short of a bear mauling, live birth or celebrity death to compete with that, but Daithí seems unconcerned.
He chats with announcer Will Leahy about Twitter, where snarky cosmopolitans consume the festival passively, like nicotine. Then he joshes with the crowd in their traditional Kerry costume (evening wear accessorised by homemade signs) before introducing last year’s Rose, Haley O’Sullivan, who vows that Daithí will have to pull the tiara from her cold dead hands. “I’ll f***ing cut you,” she says (she doesn’t really).
The first Rose starts off with tales of the Famine (her ancestor was deported for stealing apples), the Kennedys (she once met Joe Kennedy at an airport) and a parlour version of Danny Boy. Michelle Prior is from Boston, and also, apparently, the olden days.
Donegal Rose Tamara Payne has a lamb called Lulu and a shoe obsession facilitated by her doting father. “Daddy, I could do with a pair of shoes as well,” says Daithí, and I will think of this in my nightmares.
He gets inquisitive with Western Canada Rose Catherine Joyce: “How long would it take to track down a moose?” “What’s umping?” “What is a ‘Kanuck’?” then nearly loses his mind when she tells him that her boyfriend is “forever looking on his iPad at sheep” (he’s a sheep farmer). “There’s so much I want to say now,” says Daithí with big happy eyes.
Of course, there’s also plenty dull, dutiful career talk. This is because The Rose of Tralee is “not a beauty competition”. It caters to the male gaze once removed – potential parents-in-law. The Roses are plausibly attractive and sensible women that mothers and fathers of hopeless eejits (represented symbolically by the escorts) can fantasise about being their daughters-in-law.
“Phoar!” they think to themselves, “check out the excellent qualifications and balanced outlook on Bridget.”
“Ooh Matron! I wouldn’t mind babysitting the grandchildren she might produce!”
“Cor Blimey! Imagine moving into her house when I get too old to look after myself.”
Daithí is also a big lumbering love God. When Texas Rose Cyndi Crowell mentions that her mother “loves everything that smells good” he says “She’d love me so!” and looks lustfully into the audience. He tells the Kentucky Rose (who was hilarious) that he has cameras in their rooms “for research purposes” (worrying stuff).
He then tries to get Cork Rose Anna Geary’s boyfriend to propose to her with all the tact of Chewbacca in a cupid costume. Geary’s party piece is a poem: “I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” (Okay, that may not have been the poem).
Anyway, there’s also ukulele playing, dancing and even politics (one girl supports water charges) but there are no “freak” acts, not like last year when a Rose read Daithí a story and put him to bed. This really happened. I regularly check that it wasn’t a dream. But no it was real and we have to learn to live with it.
After a few songs from Nathan Carter, a phalanx of rictus-grinning Roses take to the stage. They are well drilled and could easily seize power if they wanted to. After some teasing the winner is announced – it’s Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh.
She is crowned, then quickly surrounded by her fellow Roses, who I worry for a moment might devour her. But no, she just smiles and waves demurely as Nathan Carter sings a song about a tubercular maid. It is a successful coronation. The elders are pleased. The harvest is assured.