Rose of Tralee proves to be a more thorny affair this year

Opening night of TV shows sees edgy party pieces, with fewer jigs and more limbo dancing

The 2017 San Francisco Rose, Amanda Donohoe, shares her personal story of the Berkeley tragedy, where her sister and cousin both lost their lives when a balcony collapsed in 2015. Video: RTÉ

 

Standing outside the Rose Hotel in Tralee on Monday afternoon, a confused Dutch tourist asked what all the fuss was about as young women dressed in ball gowns dashed in and out of the adjoining Dome for rehearsals.

“It’s like a lovely girls’ competition,” explained an elderly local woman. “Loads of girls come from all over Ireland and from all over the world – America, Europe, Australia, everywhere.”

This year’s Rose of Tralee competition is the first to have a Hong Kong Rose. Clarissa Langley Coleman (25), second cousin to former taoiseach Enda Kenny, was born in Hong Kong’ and was raised speaking Cantonese and Mandarin in class and English at home.

Ms Coleman, whose grandmother is from Co Mayo, serenaded the 2,000-strong crowd at the Dome on Monday night with a version of Danny Boy in Mandarin.

The opening night of the 58th Rose of Tralee televised shows was less jigs and reels and more limbo dancing, whip-cracking and food tasting.

The first batch of 18 finalists took to the stage alongside RTÉ host Dáithí Ó Sé, who returned to his native Kerry to present the competition for the eighth year in a row.

White jacket

“They’re working me hard, but that’s part of the craic as well,” said Ó Sé, who donned a 007-inspired white jacket on the night.

Highlights of the evening included an aerial hoop performance by Donegal Rose Amy Callaghan, and a yoga lesson for Ó Sé under the instruction of Yorkshire Rose Aisling McArdle.

Ó Sé was also on hand for a limbo contest with Toronto Rose Colombe Nadeau-O’Shea and a bout of boxing with Kentucky Rose Martha Mortell.

The unusual acts came a year after organisers decided to ban poetry from the competition in a bid to keep “momentum” and to “keep the show moving”.

The audience were also treated to puppetry from Westmeath Rose Eva Cooney, and sketching from the San Francisco Rose Amanda Donohoe.

Ms Donohoe’s sister Ashley and cousin Olivia Burke were among six students who died after an apartment balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California, in June 2015.

Edgier

Just as the “party pieces” were edgier than previous years, hair and make-up appeared to follow suit.

“We’re trying to break the boundaries a little bit this year,” said Kara McDonagh, who was overseeing the Roses’ hair and make-up backstage.

“We did Rose of Tralee last year and the hair styles were very classic and the make-up quite natural. We’re pushing it out a little bit.”

Over 100 cans of hairspray and 25 boxes of hairclips will be used over the two days, with 60 different shades of foundation available to the Roses.

“It’s definitely their [the Roses] favourite part of the night,” added Ms McDonagh. This is when they can relax and when you look good, you feel good.”

Louth Rose Aoife Heffron spoke about her struggle with hair loss and the effect it had on her mental health. The 27-year-old said she suffered anxiety as a result of losing her hair and currently uses a blog to support and provide information to other hair-loss sufferers.

“It did knock my confidence, it crushed me … I didn’t feel like a woman at all,” she said. She said she had a severe panic attack that lasted “all day long” three years ago. “I thought I lost my mind that day.”

Ms Heffron, who currently works as a PR executive, said her blog helped her regain much-needed confidence.

Very anxious

Similarly, Donegal Rose Amy Callaghan was cheered by the large crowd for discussing her mental health problems.

“I think everybody goes through their own kind of blip throughout their life, and I had mine definitely when I was going into sixth year, that Leaving Cert cycle and the exam pressures and everything kind of snowballed. Self-confidence was at a terrible level and I was very anxious.”

Many took to Twitter to applaud the Rose for being “humble and real” and “so relatable”.

While the Rose of Tralee competition sometimes struggles for relevancy in the modern era, the “lovely girls” who make up its contestants have never been more relevant.

The Rose of Tralee continues on Tuesday at 8pm on RTÉ1.