Kildare-born London Rose wears the 50th crown


THE 50TH Rose of Tralee is London’s representative, Charmaine Kenny (26), who proved herself to be smart, articulate and charming in her second-to-last appearance in the dome last night. She was a late favourite with the bookies to take the title, who had all along favoured Kerry Rose Karen McGillycuddy.

Management consultant Kenny, who was born in Co Kildare, had said in an interview earlier yesterday that she considered that winning the title “provided a girl with a megaphone and it’s up to that girl to use that megaphone as she wants”.

She was one of only three of last night’s Roses who chose not to perform, but we did get to see footage of her short stint as a weather girl based in Japan. A former scholar of Trinity College Dublin, she’s climbed Kilimanjaro, and told us she wants to be an entrepreneur.

It all started 50 years ago with a budget of £750 and only five Roses. This year’s festival cost €1.4 million, and for the second night running 1,800 people again packed into the sold-out twinkly dome in Tralee.

Host Ray D’Arcy had kicked the night off by mentioning the large boa-constrictor Toronto Rose Sarah Kelly Sullivan had made him wear as a scarf the previous night.

“All the coverage today,” he marvelled, “was about a feckin’ snake!”

Over the course of the evening, we saw the final 14 contenders of 32 Roses doing what Roses have been doing for half a century. Darwin Rose Anne McNamee sang Grandma’s Garden, a sweet ballad she composed herself about her 85-year-old grandmother Moira Doyle.

Yorkshire Rose Nicole Moriarty yanked up her long dress, efficiently kicked her legs, and got on with the business of dancing a reel.

Meaghan Murphy, Boston Rose, roped Ray into jiving to Saturday Night Feverwith her. He was good. She was very good. The Rose from Perth, Rose McDonnell, told us she was getting married in eight weeks, and sang Heart’s Cryfrom Riverdance, dedicating it to her fiance watching at home in Australia via the internet.

The biggest banner ever seen in the dome, was raised for Kilkenny’s Rose Stephanie O’Dwyer, who performed a science trick that she told us could make us a fortune if we did it in a pub. Ray had an offer of marriage via another banner way back in the dome that he didn’t see, but we did.

We heard from Tara Maguire, Washington DC Rose, that some Roses had been given gifts of embroidered towels – embroidered towels! — and chocolates from their escorts, who clearly need a little research and development in the originality department. This doesn’t apply to her own escort, Donal Óg Ó Laoire, though – he gave her a bottle of poitin.

The patter mostly pattered, but there were a few glitches. Queensland Rose Kelly O’Shea announced brightly she’d be singing Falling Slowly, from the film Once, a song that won an Oscar, she went on to explain.

“We know, we live here,” Ray told her, too quickly.

“Chee-ky,” O’Shea retorted, too quickly.

It was hard to decide who looked more mortified afterwards.   Everyone was mad keen to see the local favourite and hottest tip to win all week, red-haired Kerry Rose, primary school teacher Karen McGillycuddy.

Over in Gorey, Co Wexford, we heard that her new junior infants class were staying up late to watch her. Her old class had already tried on her tiara and sash when she brought them to school in May after winning the regional final.

“The boys tried them on too!” she told us. Her party piece was a roof-lifting version of Somewherefrom West Side Story: a song dedicated to her late father, Cyril, who died last year.

Despite annual accusations of being outdated, and a formulaic programme that too often wanders into the bland, RTÉ reported audience figures of 748,000 for coverage of Tuesday night’s show, their highest numbers since 2000.

We may not like to admit we watch the Rose of Tralee, but 50 years into the festival, it’s evident that plenty of us are tuning in just the same.