Rose of Tralee returns after two-year hiatus

In his 11th year of presenting the international festival, Dáithí Ó Sé says it has been ‘changing with the times’

The tide is out and the skies overcast on Tuesday morning when Dáithí Ó Sé, surrounded by 29 women in dresses, sashes and heels, mounts a bodyboard on Sandymount Strand.

“He looks good in a tux,” remarks a workman in paint-splattered overalls to his colleague as they sip from coffee cups and drink in the spectacle on the beach.

The pair take a selfie with Ó Sé and the Rose of Tralee competitors in the background “to show the boss” when they return from their lunch break.

Several photographers scuttle about the sand, instructing Ó Sé and the Roses to stretch their arms out as if they are surfing.

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Long after the painters have moved on, the promotional photo shoot continues. The Roses pose for a tug of war shot, before pretending to have a picnic, as passing vehicles beep their horns and walkers stop for a gawk.

Strolling along the strand, June (88) and Harry Finlay (92), who live locally, say they tune in to the programme every year and are looking forward to it returning to RTÉ next week after a two-year hiatus.

“It is a bit of fun, and everybody needs that now,” she says, adding: “We never lose interest in anything like this — anything Irish.”

Scanning the group, she says she couldn’t pick a winner now. “I love their little stories and they have very exciting lives… May the best girl win,” she adds.

Catherine Britton, who is passing with her Miniature Schnauzer, Finn, has less decided views on the contest. A retired primary schoolteacher, she has great admiration for the achievements of some former Roses, such as Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin’s contribution to maths and science.

“Aoibhinn has done a huge amount for science and for girls, in particular. Maybe the Rose of Tralee gave her that launchpad… From a girl power perspective there have been quite a few role models,” she says.

Britton has reservations about the “silliness” of some of the poses, but she says it is “maybe some people’s idea of a bit of craic.

“If they get pleasure and enjoyment out of it, then why not do it?” she says.

The show is “probably very good for the diaspora”, who feel a connection to Ireland and their Irish heritage, she adds.

Clare-woman Sarah McInerney is representing her adopted home of Ohio, in the United States, where she has lived for the past six years while completing a PHD in integrated bioscience.

The 30-year-old sought a “taste of home” when she decided to enter, at the maximum entry age of 29, after two years cut off from Ireland due to the pandemic.

From London, personal trainer Hayley Reynolds (29) says it is difficult to explain to friends there the strong sense of Irish identity and pride that comes with having a Roscommon father and maternal grandparents from Kilkenny and Leitrim.

Reynolds has made many Irish connections through playing GAA football and believes strongly that emigrants and their children do not have to forgo their Irish heritage.

“There is nothing at all in London that compares to the Rose of Tralee,” she says, adding that the competition has modernised and the contestants are “forward-thinking”.

In his 11th year of presenting the international festival, Ó Sé says it has been “changing with the times”, as the age limit has gradually increased to 29 and transgender women are now permitted to enter. It is important, he adds, that it sends out a “positive message”.

Asked if the contest will survive the next decade, he is adamant. “We will be here in 100 years.”

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter