Rose of Tralee: Daithí roars at boyfriends as Will Leahy’s head lurks in the wings

TV Review: No Rose says how she failed her Leaving twice

Jennifer Byrne, the newly crowned 2017 Rose of Tralee, speaks to the media as she reflects on her victory. Video: Sarah Burns/RTÉ


Well you can’t expect things to change overnight. Sadly no rose ambles on stage to breathlessly tell Daithí Ó Sé how she failed her Leaving Cert twice, works in an ordinary office and once ended up cracking her skull in Magaluf because she slipped down some nightclub steps when she was hammered.

There’s no rose whose talent is making friends in the queue for the ladies or fixing your mate’s bandy eyebrows. Nope, it’s just Ó Sé in a better suit, his slightly weary voice drowned out by the enthusiastic Garda band, featuring members who confusingly share the same names as RTÉ alumni – Pat Kenny and Brendan O’Connor – like some weird private joke.

 It’s back to our host and the girls waxing lyrical about the parish GAA lads and the season they’ve all had, with all the severity used to describe soldiers returning from war. Another night of Will Leahy’s disembodied head floating around the side of the stage, his eyes scarily unblinking as he rattles off the audience of assorted countries the show attracts like Fáilte Ireland’s very own Manchurian Candidate.

 There is talk of Facebook and Snapchat and behind the scenes shenanigans with social media kingpin James Patrice but the television viewing audience don’t get to witness this youthful irreverence, which is a shame. Light-hearted clips and quips inserted into the show might give it some kind of modern edge and stop the running time from feeling like a double bill of Gone with the Wind and Jesus of Nazareth on a Sunday night when you still have your maths homework to do.

 There’s plenty of Rose of Tralee bingo moments: the teary dads are still in attendance mopping away tears with giant fingers while the stern Mams poke at them or tut into the camera. Then there’s the traditional “Embarrassing the boyfriend” which feels like it has stepped up a gear even from last night with Ó Sé taking on the role of snidey schoolteacher berating a poor lad’s locks as they were more than the masculine buzz-cut and y’know who’d want to stand out, eh?  

 Difference doesn’t seem to be the festival’s bag as the Abu Dhabi Rose “jokes” that her brother “might end up finding a wife” in Tralee, which garners a “Wahey!” from the assembled, obviously ultra-hetero escorts. Such is the inhibited, claustrophobic feeling of the entire proceedings with Daithí bellowing “Jaysus what are you playing at?” to any unfortunate bloke that has been “courting” a girl more than three days and hasn’t yet proposed. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the entire audience rounded on them and wheeled out a priest to get them married off right there and then – the Rose of Tralee turned mass Moonie Wedding.

 The emphasis and intense value put on these relationships is the dominating theme of the night. Will Leahy even prefaces the entrance of the Sydney Rose, Aisling Walsh by saying “if you’ve been in a relationship for eight months you’ll love this” referring to her unremarkable story about going to Australia with her boyfriend eight months into their relationship and now they’ve been together five years.

Every conversation is peppered with reductive, convent school chit-chat about the importance of landing a man. The Rose of Tralee is the Facebook of Festivals, the audience combining to create one colossal nosey aunt posting “suits you” underneath a photo of a young female relative who happens to be holding a baby.

 The only outwardly single woman of the bunch, the ebullient Waterford Rose, is almost sold to the highest bidder between the Longford and Darwin Roses’s brothers. For she cannot be single, the mortification would be too much to bear. The Rose of Tralee does not do shame. It plays on small town fears of not fitting in, of not being able to show your face in “the town” if you’re “left on the shelf”, these world-beating women with countless degrees and proud daddies would be nothing without having “the boyfriend” because that’s just what you do, that’s what is perceived as “normal”. That loaded term poignantly slips from Ó Sé’s lips as he attempts to explain what makes an Educate Together school different from a religious school as the Waterford Rose admonishes him. This is an Ireland still stuck in its awkward teen years.

 The only hint of diversity amongst the whole two days comes with the Texan rose Lydian Lawler Lopez, who with her Mexican heritage speaks passionately about America’s immigration laws and Trump’s ignorance, the competition sneaking right back into some incendiary political chat and steered there again by the supposedly apolitical Ó Sé. Perhaps it’s just some topics that are deemed more political than others.

 The long night ends with the Garda band jauntily playing Music to Watch Girls By as all 32 Roses line up so Ó Sé can shout a fact about them into each of their faces – “YOUR PARENTS MET AT THE ROSE OF TRALEE!”; “YOU NEVER BROUGHT ME TEA!” – as if trying desperately to differentiate these beaming young women in his brain.

In the end, it’s Offaly rose A&E junior doctor Jennifer Byrne who receives the curious honour of being crowned the 2017 Rose of Tralee, an ambassador for the hard-working, high-achieving women of Ireland, knowing that they too could be thought of as the most traditional and conventional of them all.

 “It’s a celebration of women which doesn’t have an expiry date,” quipped the New Zealand rose, earlier on in the night. It may not have an expiry date but surely by now some elements of this bizarre pageant need to be scraped off into the nearest bin.

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