Sun comes out as Roses make their first public appearance

The 32 hopefuls vying to be Rose of Tralee have stories of triumph and tragedy to tell

It’s nearing the end of another soggy Irish summer which can only mean one thing - the Rose of Tralee is close at hand.

There is an autumnal chill creeping into the evenings, the children are returning to school and another 32 hopefuls will take to the Dome in the hope of being crowned the 56th Rose of Tralee.

Host Dáithí Ó Sé says there’s light at the end of the tunnel as the festival is a week early. We might get a summer yet, he says. “We have another week to turn it around.”

The 32 Roses though brought the sunshine to the green in front of RTÉ on Tuesday afternoon for the first photocall of the festival.

There are 10 Roses from Ireland, nine from the United States, six from Australia, two from Britain and one each from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Germany, New Zealand and Canada.

Those seeking the crown will to have follow arguably the most high-profile of all the Roses of Tralee, Maria Walsh, last year's winner.

Rose of Tralee chief executive Anthony O’Gara described Ms Walsh, who was the Philadelphia Rose, as a “force of life. We have never come across anybody like her. Maria was a person who never stopped.

“She would start at 6am in the morning and keep going. She flew over for one day events in Ireland. She was in Dublin Airport lounge 56 times and she held down a job for eight months in Philadelphia.”

At the same time she was the first gay Rose of Tralee in a year in which marriage equality passed in Ireland.

“From our point of view she was a godsend because she shattered all the nonsense as talked about in relation to the Rose of Tralee.”

The festival is supposed to be fun, he states, but a one day conference on business in Tralee, a first, featuring both Maria Walsh and 2005 Rose Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, will bring a "semi serious" dimension to proceedings.

It has not always been sweetness and light for this year's Roses. Both the Kerry Rose Julett Culloty and the Meath Rose Elysha Brennan have recovered from cancer.

Ms Culloty (25), a social care worker, had cervical cancer, a very rare form for a woman of her age. She was diagnosed in April last year and finished chemotherapy that August. "My scans came back all clear thank God. Everything is looking great at the moment."

Ms Brennan (22), a second year medical student in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during her repeat Leaving Certificate year when she was 19.

“I was given the news that I was in complete remission in February of 2013. Two and a half years later, I’m happy and healthy and in a course that I love.”

Marie Ryan (27) the Dubai Rose decided to enter the competition in honour of her sister Louise who died by suicide. "This year's marks her 10th anniversary. She died in 2005 just a few weeks before I set the Leaving Certificate. I decided to enter the Rose of Tralee and mark it in a very special way for my family."

Originally from Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, she is, like many of the Roses, an Irish emigrant. She moved to Dubai last year, not out of necessity, she stresses but out of choice seeking to experience teaching international students.

Another Irish emigrant is the German Rose Róisín ní Mhathúna. The Birmingham born gaelgeoir who was brought in Rush, Co Dublin, is fluent in both English, Irish and German. She works as a Kindergarten teacher in Berlin.

The Rose of Tralee takes place on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times