Snake charmer and touch of Dallas in the Dome


THE FLORAL juggernaut that is the Rose of Tralee powered into its 50th year last night, with the first appearances of this year’s 32 contenders.

More than 1,800 mammies, daddies, aunties, grannies, grand-dads, and other relatives braved the torrential rain to squeeze into the Dome to cheer, wave banners, weep proud tears and carry on an uniquely Irish ritual half a century in the making.

The 18 young women who took the stage last night included a midwife, several accountants, a consultant for a dating agency, a social worker, sales assistant, waitress, students and a marketing manager.   Have you ever wondered about the distinctive little hand movement that all Roses give the audience when they come out? “We call it ‘caressing the coconut’,” explained host Ray D’Arcy during rehearsals earlier yesterday.

The first coconut to be caressed last night was by Waterford’s Rose, this year’s youngest. Orna Middleton (19) confessed she “had a pounding in her stomach” when she discovered she was going to be the first out on stage this year. She wasn’t the only nervous one. Ray, hosting his fifth show, fluffed his “happy fiftieth anniversary” greeting at the top of the show.

“You probably have Bon Jovi in you?” Brittany Kelly, the Southern California Rose inquired before belting into her song, wondering if Ray would be on for a impromptu singing duet.

“That’s a line I’ll probably never recover from,” he responded ruefully, while the audience roared.

Fifty years in, and some things don’t change. We heard some festival songs we’ve heard before, including the ballad Raglan Road, sung by Sydney Rose Romy Farrelly. She sounded authentically like Luke Kelly, being a wee little bit on the hoarse side after the festivities in Tralee. Nobody cared. They didn’t care either when Cavan Rose Tara Cunningham, played the tin whistle with a few wobbles and shaky notes. Simon Cowell would hate all this, but to the Kerry crowd every one of their Roses has the X Factor.

We also saw again the now-familiar magic trick of the disappearing dress. Leslie McDonough, the Texas Rose, told us she had made the floor-length purple tiered dress she was wearing. She then whipped off half the dress and donned a stetson to dance in her cowboy Texan boots, high-kicking to the theme tune of Dallas – a television theme tune many people still recognise, judging by the wild response from the crowd.

From Sligo Rose Sinead McGill we learned that if you post a letter to Boyle, Co Sligo, it gets there a day earlier than the correct address of Boyle, Co Roscommon. Now, there’s a puzzle for An Post to solve.

“I have 20 babies a day,” German Rose Jessica Kreuz announced to howls of laughter from the Dome. That would be because she’s a midwife.   She also proved herself to be a pretty nifty clarinet player, by delivering a nicely moody version of Moon River on the clarinet.

But it was hard to top the party piece from Sarah Sullivan, the Toronto Rose. She must have been the first Rose to appear on stage with a boa that wasn’t made of feathers – this was the real thing, a big boa constrictor snake, which she calmly modelled as a belt. Now that’s a fashion accessory you don’t see too often in the Dome.

Love it or loathe it, the festival still engages huge numbers of people. Audience figures for Monday’s RTÉ documentary “Five Decades of Roses” was 495,000.

So who do the escorts think is the favourite to win this anniversary year?

You might as well be asking a politician as asking an escort anything. They’re experts at dodging questions. “They’re all favourites,” Colin Conway, the German Rose’s escort, declared loyally earlier in the evening.

Nevertheless, the current odds are favouring Kerry Rose Karen McGillycuddy, followed by London, Perth and Sydney.

The selection continues tomorrow. Plenty more surprises, but probably no snakes.