Rose of Tralee TV review: It’s all about retro stardust
Hilary Fannin: ‘A sense of how moving it might be for emigré families to see young women breathe new life into their ancestry’
Day two of the 57th Rose of Tralee final, and the pale moon was rising once again over the last 100,000 contestants as they prepared to sashay across the stage under the billowing roof of the star-pricked Dome to converse with lilting Dáithí Ó Sé, the world’s Kerriest Kerry man.
Get that tux dry-cleaned for next year, Dáithí! Sure, aren’t you only mighty, with the twinkling of your baby-blues and the rapier-like retorts. “I’m mad enough without it” - the drink, that is - said the teetotal Louth Rose, a lively pioneer in a yellow dress, on Monday. “Ah, you are,” quipped Dáithí. “Stone mad!”
The betting was on as to who would waltz away with the tiara this year.
Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins, at 100/1, was never expected to carry off the silverware, despite her calm articulation on Monday of her hopes for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which ignited a Twitter campaign of sorts to have a whip-round and buy her a tiara of her own. It was refreshing that the Antipodean contestant felt comfortable enough to wander off-piste, venturing into mature territory without choking on her lip gloss or being strangled by her own hemline.
Gogglebox episode of Irish people watching this would be amazing #RoseofTralee— DontSwimInTheSea (@RosesandRockets) August 23, 2016
A likelier prospect was the bookies’ favourite, Kilkenny Rose Sarah Kearns, an intelligent, elegant blonde who looked an uncontroversial fit for the coveted tiara.
Night two got off to a sentimental start with Chicago Rose Maggie McEldowney, a former scholarship girl, singing about shamrocks and stardust. “Sure a little bit of heaven fell from the sky one day,” she sang with markedly unself-conscious purity to a hushed Dome, where tears glistened and flags fluttered. And for perhaps the first time over a two-night extravaganza that included contestants hula-hoop dancing and firing sliotars into the crowd, one got a sense of the roots of the competition, of how important and moving it might be for emigré families to see these young women return to the auld sod and breathe new life into their ancestry.
Shaking the audience out of their reverie, the Wicklow Rose, “half the woman she used to be” apparently, having lost 13 stone after weight-loss surgery, reluctantly admitted to the forensically investigative Ó Sé that she’d had the phrase “Were all mad here” tattooed on her bottom. A lively young woman who had struggled with self-esteem issues, she also said, rather touchingly: “If I can be a Rose, the sky’s the limit.”
“I bruise like a peach,” Ó Sé admitted later to the kick-boxing Longford Rose, who had taken off her blue high heels to delicately pummel her host. Three-quarters of the way into the contest, a cloud of discolouration was the least of the wilting Kerry man’s problems, as one after another the hopeful Roses trotted out long, complicated stories about their antecedents, their romantic boyfriends (“he made me breakfast at one o’clock in the afternoon!”), their sporting prowess, their mentoring work with troubled teens, their hardworking mothers and inspirational fathers, their exemplary citizenship, their hopes for a fragrant future.
The tedium was mildly relieved by the North Carolina Rose, who gleefully recounted her first, and apparently “cool”, trip to Mass. “It’s really exhausting, like going to the gym: stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, and at the end they give you a biscuit.” And later, the Melbourne Rose, the penultimate contestant, smilingly described an idyllic family life punctuated by night tremors when the female members of the household occasionally woke up screaming. Tell me about it, sweetheart.
“The atmosphere here in the Dome is absolutely electric,” said Ó Sé, opening the all-important envelope as the drums rolled and the fairy lights twinkled. “The 2016 International Rose of Tralee is . . . Chicago Rose Maggie McEldowney”, that gentle child of the diaspora who had sprinkled her own particular brand of retro stardust.