Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The Rose of Tralee is a beauty pageant

You can call a binman a sanitation engineer, but he still has to collect the rubbish

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 12:31


I always like to say something about the Rose of Tralee each year. If such posts do nothing else they encourage people to write in and say: “If Donald Clarke doesn’t like the Rose of Tralee then he knows where the ‘off’ switch is.” Touché, Sir. You have me there. I feel suitably chastened. As it happened, I did turn off the telly this year, but not immediately. I watched just enough to confirm that the Rose of Tralee is still a beauty pageant. Patrick Freyne’s fine piece helped further assure that, at no stage, did it turn into a conference on microbiology.

I get the sense that those two words are to Tralee as the dread term “gambling” is to Las Vegas. We do not use it, people. In that Nevada city, all the literature for the casinos sticks with the unlovely verb “gaming”. The emphasis is on the fun aspect of funnelling your cash to dubious businessmen via transparently rigged operations (Note also that, even in these territories one “plays” the lottery.)

Let us not fool around. Women from various territories troop onto stage to be flirted with by some bloke in a dinner jacket. They discuss their desire for world peace and then do a bit of a turn. Well excuse me. But if it wears a sailor suit and speaks in an annoyed “quack” then it’s almost certainly Donald Duck. The fact that the Lovely Girls (you were waiting for that reference, weren’t you?) are not required to wear swimsuits seems like something of a technicality. Devised in a more puritanical era, the first incarnation of the Rose of Tralee would almost certainly not have been allowed such fleshy diversions. So, instead, they juggle while singing My Ding-a-Ling. Beauty pageant. Beauty Pageant. Beauty Pageant. It’s a beauty pageant. Do you understand?

There is not space to examine the sexual politics of beauty pageants here. Suffice to say, once a regular feature on national broadcasters, they have long ago been banished from the BBC and (with this one exception) RTE. It’s a tricky situation. The festival does bring a significant amount of money to that attractive region of Kerry. Moreover, for all the sniping from urban elitists like myself, the show remains bizarrely popular. It now seems to last longer than the average series of Mad Men. Is it only two nights? It feels like an astronomical aeon. I understand all that. But let’s stop with the euphemisms. Agreed?