Rose of Tralee festival celebrates its 50th anniversary
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Ireland’s International Rose of Tralee Festival will celebrate its Golden Jubilee 50th anniversary this year when the renowned event kicks off on August 21.
50 Roses from all different walks of life will travel from around the world to compete at the festival.
History of the competition
The Rose of Tralee Festival has been held in Tralee since 1959. Its origins lie in the romantic tale of William Mulchinock and his true love Mary O'Connor.
William was a merchant in the town in the 19th century and Mary was his maid. They fell in love but, because of the class difference between the two families, their love affair was discouraged. William emigrated.
Years later, unable to forget Mary, he returned to Tralee, only to discover she had died of tuberculosis while he was away.
Grief-stricken, he expressed his love for her in the words of a song - "The Rose of Tralee."
In this song, William describes his Rose of Tralee being “lovely and fair.” However, William was not the superficial type as he would explain in the following lines:
“But it was not her beauty alone that won me,
Oh no, twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.”
This song caught the imaginations of a group of budding entrepreneurs in 1950s Tralee. The town had suffered from mass emigration in the post-war years and they were eager to start an event that would bring life and enthusiasm back to the town. They decided to start a carnival and they chose the "Rose of Tralee" song as its theme.
The main event of the carnival was the search for a queen - a young woman who embodied the qualities of Mary, the original Rose of Tralee.
With the help of Kerry people living abroad, they chose Roses from London, Birmingham and New York as well as from Tralee and Dublin to compete.
Ever since, the Rose of Tralee festival has grown and developed to become the internationally renowned festival of today.
The first Rose of Tralee, Alice O’Sullivan, plans to participate in all anniversary celebrations and remarked how different things were when she took the tiara 59 years ago.
“Ireland is a totally different place compared to when I took part as we now see confident women from exotic places and I must admit they are light years away from the appallingly shy 1950s girl that I was,” she said ahead of this year’s contest.
The 2009 Roses
Nine women from Ireland will compete, along with Roses from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Dubai.
Roses include an Irish musician from Armagh, an Irish dancer from Germany, an All-Ireland horse rider from Dubai, a Gaelic football player from Georgia, an Irish actress from Sydney and a New Jersey contestant who’s involved with an Israeli-Palestinian peace group that models their approach on the Northern Ireland Peace Process.