Texan with Monaghan links named 2013 Rose of Tralee

Dancing in the dark and some codding as frenetic pace slackens a little in second half

Haley O’Sullivan from Texas is the 2013 Rose of Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh.

Haley O’Sullivan from Texas is the 2013 Rose of Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh.


Last night 25-year old Texas Rose Haley O’Sullivan was crowned the 2013 Rose of Tralee.

The instigator of an outbreak of Harlem Shaking on the Roses tour bus, shown earlier in the evening (this is an internet meme in which people basically go buck wild). In real life she’s the marketing co-ordinator for an industrial chemical company.

She told Daithí that her Monaghan boyfriend, who she met through Dallas GAA Club, would not be repeating the first night’s public marriage proposal. “We had a conversation about that,” she said.

The prizes include a Philip Treacy tiara, temporary ownership of a trophy, Newbridge Silverware, a world tour, a weeklong adventure break in Kerry, a car, the right to mediate legal disputes, officiate marriages, print money, carry a concealed weapon and diplomatic immunity from prosecution. I might be getting a little carried away again. I’ve been in the festival Dome for a while.

The previous night’s viewing figures were up on last year, with 611,000 tuning in after 9.30pm. This was presumably helped by the sight of a near hyperventilating New Orleans Rose being proposed to before the news.

How do they follow a live marriage proposal? “A live birth,” says an RTE person, who’s clearly thinking about it.

“Doesn’t motherhood rule people out of competing?” Apparently not; the restriction on mothers was removed in 2008.

The second night’s activities are slightly less frenetic than the first. Monday was a surreal fever dream in which a woman danced with a brush, Daithi pretended to be a bearded toddler being read a story and kissed a massive cod. “Fair play to Erica [The Newfoundland Rose] she pushed that cod right in my face. I can still taste it,” he says the next morning.

Tonight, London Rose Grace Kenny Irish dances in the dark like our ancestors did, with traditional UV light illuminating her glow-in-the-dark space trousers. North Carolina Rose Jessica Ciggey’s party piece *includes* a (good!) hip hop interpretation of the poem from which the festival takes its name. Liverpool Rose Lisa O’Halloran reads a poem called “What is my Talent?” that begins “I can’t sing, I can’t dance” before outlining a progressive future without recession or illness (political scientists will recognise this as the ‘Whig interpretation of history’). There are touching stories (about emigration, bereavement and family reunification).

To lighten thing up, Daithí also chats to Roses about data-storage and EU lobbying (their jobs). He lures mammies. “Stand up there mammy and let me get a look at you,” he says to a mammy. He’s essentially a mammy-whisperer. Roses do the Harlem Shake. To the confusion of Irish people, some Irish is spoken.

Two pigs racing
Earlier in the day, Maurice a taxi driver, tells me that locals sometimes take the festival for granted. “I had two visitors in the car who thought it was amazing. But I said, ‘sure if we went to where you lived and saw two pigs racing we’d think that was great too’.”

It’s a lot better than two pigs racing in fairness, but then after two days in the Dome I have arguably drunk the Kool-Aid/TK Red Lemonade.

Roses themselves prefer cough medicine, which is passed around at rehearsal. There are many hoarse voices. Daithí does everything to make the Roses comfortable.

“Can I say ‘nipples’ on TV?” asks a Rose.

“Once you don’t show them we’re okay,” says Daithí.

Dubai Rose Caroline Callaghan, who later reads a poem about living in Dubai, tells me how important the festival is to a new generation Irish women living abroad. “Eight of us this year had to emigrate. Coming home is very important to us.”

Soon Roses are repeatedly entering and re-entering big Rose-patterned stage doors that slide open Star Trek style, in practice for the finale.

Camera’s circle and Daithi chats away. “Curly-Wurlies are my favourite, I absolutely love them,” he says matter-of-factly to one Rose (he offered me my “customary bribe” of Curly-Wurlies earlier in the festival).

He does comedy lunges. “Don’t take the piss out of my stretching,” he roars. He pretends to have a tantrum. “I’m having a tantrum,” he explains.

The escorts, the military wing of the Rose of Tralee, are there with hairspray, medication and manly reassurance.

Later Mary Kennedy, chair of the judges and mother of an escort (Tom Foster), affectionately likens them to “an invasion of ants”.

During the rehearsal a stressed out floor manager orchestrates a dry run of prize giving: “And the 2013 Rose of Tralee is . . .”

“Bernard!” shouts an escort and the floor manager glowers.

In the hotel I find Catherine Gorey, wearing a sash inscribed ‘Bride of Tralee’. She’s accompanied by a hen party of tuxedo wearing “escorts.” She’s not sure about the televised proposal. “It would put you on the spot, wouldn’t it?”

Paula Shortall, mother of the first ever Newfoundland Rose, radiates pride at her daughter’s performance. “She was going to get Daithí to kiss a stuffed fish, but the producers wanted a real one.” Nearby an amiable Shane Filan, there launching his first solo single, is soon thronged by journalists (including me) and fly-on-the-wall documentary makers.

Everyone has theories about what the judges are looking for in a winning Rose.

“They’re looking for ‘the truth in her eyes ever dawning,’” says Texas Rose Haley O’Sullivan, quoting from the poem, although that sounds like a job for an optician (“Doctor I think I have conjunctivitis.” “No dear, that’s the ‘truth in your eyes ever dawning’”).

The judges themselves keep it vague. “All we are doing is choosing one person from all these very capable, high achieving women and role models . . . any one of whom would have qualities that represent the festival,” says Mary Kennedy.

Does she think the festival is old fashioned? “That sounds pejorative. It’s traditional. Values like courtesy and fun and grooming and politeness may be old fashioned,” she says, “but they’re still very worthwhile.”