Yellow Rose of Texas takes tiara and midnight madness begins

‘What goes on in Tralee stays in Tralee . . . Ah, but it’s a great festival all the same’

Rose of Tralee Haley O’Sullivan from Texas and her boyfriend Davey Devlin. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Rose of Tralee Haley O’Sullivan from Texas and her boyfriend Davey Devlin. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Thu, Aug 22, 2013, 09:52

Two days ago I asked Haley O’Sullivan, the Texas Rose, what she thought the judges were looking for in a Rose of Tralee. She laughed and said: “The truth in her eyes ever dawning.”

Well, after a thorough eye exam, Haley has been crowned this year’s Rose of Tralee, the first Texas Rose to be so chosen after 29 years of Texan Roses.

Her grandfather hailed from Bere Island and her entourage include a charismatic George Clooney look-alike father, a GAA-playing Monaghan boyfriend called Davey Devlin (he co-founded Dallas’s Fionn Mac Cumhail GAA team) and Devlin’s seven-year-old daughter Lilly (“she was bawling her eyes out, I think she was overwhelmed,” says O’Sullivan).

That photogenic ensemble has the makings of a low-budget indie movie.

After a quick press interview after the event, O’Sullivan is paraded through the night-time streets of Tralee.

On a stage on Denny Street she says: “Let midnight madness begin,” hits a big button detonating a fireworks display, and a year of good harvests is assured. It’s all very well run.

I have started to believe that a smiling regal figure chosen by Mary Kennedy and a coterie of oligarchs/opticians might be the way forward for the country as a whole (to hell with social democracy).

At this point, Daithí Ó Sé had promised he would “already be at the bar”, but he says he will retain the healthy pre-festival no-bread diet. “They’ve got rid of the table we used to sit behind on the Today programme. Now we’re totally exposed. Before you wouldn’t have to wear trousers or anything.”

Early yesterday morning, the last drunken stragglers are leaving the Carlton Hotel. A solitary Rose is having a quiet moment in the now empty lobby. She looks remarkably refreshed. “I was on the water,” she explains.

The previous night most of the Rose supporters were not on the water. The bar was four people deep. Whole camogie teams (the Monaghan Rose’s teammates) unfurled banners and mingled with judges and former escorts.

All week I’d been getting shots of perspective from philosopher taxi-drivers who have been driving me in and out of the Dome. Today’s offering: “What goes on in Tralee stays in Tralee,” says a man, who has been ferrying people around the town all night and has a 1,000-yard stare. “Ah, but it’s a great festival all the same.”

In the midst of such carnage, Haley O’Sullivan, sitting fresh as a Rose in the media room, is a still point. Next Monday she starts a new job as a teacher (“I might wear the sash and tiara on the first day”).

Her only regret is that she didn’t get to talk to the other 31 young women more after she won. “There was no sense of one girl trying to beat another girl. Everyone’s there for each other and there are moments where you’re throwing lip gloss over to another girl or taping something down or giving someone a piece of jewellery. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”

She talks about the legacy of 2010 Texas Rose Adrienne Hussey, who died last year of a cerebral haemorrhage. This year Adrienne’s friends and fellow Roses and escorts walked from Dublin to Tralee to raise money for a research scholarship set up in her honour.

She notes how her grandfather emigrated and how many of her fellow Roses have needed to emigrate too. She rejects the idea that the festival is a sexist anachronism.

“It’s more than a TV show with pretty dresses, it speaks to the culture of Ireland.”

Then she’s whisked off to have her photo taken in a Rose garden. Someone walks by with a bunch of red roses. “We’ll get a child to give them to her,” they say. As I leave, efforts are being made to find a yellow rose.