It could be a close shave at this year’s Rose of Tralee
Glow-in-the-dark dancers and kissing fish – this year could be one to watch
Kerry Rose Gemma Kavanagh and Cork Rose Edel Buckley (right) among Irish and International Roses getting their shoes cleaned after walking on the grass at the launch of the Rose of Tralee International Festival at Dublin Airport yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
At Dublin Airport, Roses mingle with members of the Irish team for the World Dwarf Games. The Roses are launching the 2013 Rose of Tralee Festival. The athletes are on their way back from a medal-winning trip to Michigan. There’s a flurry of photos, but the team’s chef de mission Frank Hannon isn’t in any of them. “I’m a married man,” he explains.
Why the launch is in Dublin Airport is unclear. One person says it has something to do with the Gathering. Someone else suggests it’s because so many of the Roses are emigrants. A handler says: “Actually it’s because we have to get to Belfast for lunch and this is pretty handy.”
Before long 32 Roses are preparing for a photos on recently cut grass next to Terminal 2. Immaculately dressed, coiffured and behatted, the Roses pose for one photo after another. They hold their arms aloft daintily. Then they wave. Then they hold one leg out in a relaxed can-can. Then a photographer asks them to hold a leg out and an arm up at the same time (this looks awkward). A handler bustles by with towels. “Their feet will get wet in the grass,” he grumbles.
Dáithí Ó Sé is in the middle of them. He is bearded. The beard is controversial. “What do you think of the beard?” asks chairman Anthony O’Gara, the Kerry businessman who took over the festival when it was in financial straits a decade ago. One of the photos involves some Roses pretending to shave Dáithí. “Will the beard be there on Monday?” wonders Steven Cronly, a former escort of the year.
‘To beard or not to beard?’
“To beard or not to beard? That is the question,” says Dáithí himself.
The Roses mess around with Dáithí. They lift him up. “Careful, I bruise like a peach!” he says. They crouch around him. “Who’s heavy breathing behind me!?” he says with mock horror. They pretend to chase him. He does some slow motion running like an actor in Baywatch. The Roses sing the theme to Baywatch.
“There’s a lot of singing on the bus,” explains Dublin Rose Claire Lennon. “I sang Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
They also tell cheesy jokes. Very cheesy jokes. Here’s one from the Clare Rose Marie Donnellan: “Did you hear about the magic tractor? It turned into a field.”
She laughs. “They’re a great bunch of girls. And they’re very gifted. Katie from New York has a recording contract. Edwina from Leitrim was on the All Ireland Talent Show. I don’t think I’ll be telling that tractor joke as my party piece.”
This year’s party pieces are, as yet, unconfirmed. Dáithí tells me one of them might involve him “kissing a fish”. It’s some sort of Newfoundland custom, he thinks. London Rose Grace Kenny was once on Britain’s Got Talent as one of the “Celtic Colleens” performing glow-in-the-dark Irish dance. She might give this a try. “But so much could go wrong!”
Every Rose has a personal reason for entering the competition, but Washington Rose Lauren DeBueriis’s is the most poignant. Adopted by an Italian American family, she met her Irish American birth mother four years ago.
“I had Irish American friends who would talk about The Rose of Tralee and their families in Ireland. I didn’t have that connection growing up but I always knew it was inside me. To be able to find my birth mom and have a name to look up and a place to say that my family was from, it means the whole world to me.”
Her eyes are a bit teary. I’m feeling a bit teary myself. Then she and the other Roses stamp the freshly cut grass off their high heels, get in a bus and head to Belfast.