Ó Sé juggles saints and surreal to make Rose of Tralee look easy

TV Review: First night of ‘The Rose of Tralee’ was heavy on beauty but light on talent displays


“I won’t lie to you, I’ve a handy enough job here,” said presenter Dáithí Ó Sé, kicking off the 55th Rose of Tralee, (RTÉ One, Monday) which isn’t true at all because hosting three hours of live TV on one of RTÉ’s most hyped TV shows, that’s also a national institution, is a big ask.

But the Kerryman is the man for the job – proving again on Monday night that he’s up for the craic and well able for the many surreal moments the annual pageant threw his way during the interviews.

He didn’t have to kiss a fish like last year but he got to handle a range of topics unique to this most particular, borderline bizarre competition, from the chat with southern Californian Rose Katie Bergman about her pulmonary embolism and the Kerry Rose Mary Hickey about the value of her Yaris car, (€8,000 in case you were wondering); to the Galway Rose Nicola Corcoran who told him he looked like St Don Bosco, and Laois Rose Teresa Brennan who explained how her mother is an expert on the Common Agricultural Policy.

Forget the tin whistle playing and the singing of the sort generations of children have been forced into performing on Christmas Day for their grannies, it’s the interviews that make this display of diaspora womanhood like no other beauty pageant.

Short supply

Though so far this year, and we’ve only seen part one of the competition and just 16 Roses, displays of talent were in seriously short supply.

The women all looked beautiful, the dresses classy and gorgeous, but some Roses didn’t do any party piece at all. Not even the old reliable poetry recitation, ideal for those who can’t dance, sing or play the harp.

Although the South Australia Rose, Sarah Harrington, read out a poem so filled with emigrant gloom it would have given Angela’s Ashes a run for its misery and Darwin Rose Natalie Kelly recited her poem about “My lovely little I-er-land” – the last time I heard that pronunciation it was in The Quiet Man.

Still I suspect many viewers were distracted during Natalie’s recitation by the unfortunate positioning of the two large sponge-covered microphones right in front of her breasts. Later shots of poetry readers stayed close to their faces. So there was the odd technical snafu – but I suspect the occasional shaky camera is semi-deliberate, to make the whole event seem somehow more down-home and real.

There were new production elements this year borrowed from other, more slick, reality shows. RTÉ’s Will Leahy appeared every now and then to read out tweets – though reasonably enough he steered clear of the derogatory ones that livened up the #roseoftralee feed. For viewers watching on the RTÉ Player there was a separate, additional programme.

“It’s nearly time to put the kettle on,” said Ó Sé in his folksy way, announcing the break for the news and adding that online viewers could get a glimpse of what goes on backstage in Live from the Red Room. (Is that a thing now? Aren’t they always called green rooms?)

Anyway, the half-hour show had an uncomfortable-looking Aidan Power – and there are few who can beat him when it comes to live, upbeat presentation, he’s expert at it – talking to Roses and escorts.

Too risqué

Ó Sé suggested the Roses might show party tricks too risqué for national viewing which led me to expect a little more than the Scottish Rose shoving four tea-cakes into her mouth at once or the Canadian Rose showing how to play her favourite drinking game – but with water. The Texas Rose did an impersonation from The Lord of the Rings which was more Bugs Bunny than Gollum.

“You know you’re a very beautiful girl, but now you’re just weird,” said Power, quickly moving away from her and looking like a man wondering how he got roped into this. Anyway I was a bit distracted by the ironing board which was in full view in the corner.

Louis Walsh’s new boyband, Hometown, sang and they were lovely and young and understandably nervous. The days of named – and pricey – interval acts in The Rose of Tralee have clearly passed.

There was a lot of focus on the escorts – the sweating, suited and booted bunch (it must be boiling in the tent, everyone had a sheen on their forehead) in the front row looking slightly nervous. They give the Rose a gift and so we learned that one gave his Rose a dirty pair of socks, another a book of coupons.

In this most heterosexual of competitions, Ó Sé made sure to ascertain if the Roses were single or in a relationship and in the same way as the camera focused on the women’s beaming, proud parents in the audience, it also picked out a series of bashful looking partners.

On discovering that one Rose had been with her boyfriend for 10 years, Ó Sé remarked, “sure you’d only get seven for manslaughter.” While the interviews with the Roses were pre-rehearsed to the point of dullness, Ó Sé delivered many off-the-cuff comments that had that “did he really say that?” effect.

And fair play to him, Dáithí O Sé is going to do it all over again in part two of The Rose of Tralee on RTÉ One tonight.

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