Sixteen young women in New York and New Jersey are vying for a chance to represent their state at the 50th annual Rose of Tralee International Festival to be held in Co. Kerry this summer.

Founder of the New Jersey Rose of Tralee committee Susan Stanek (nee Daly) from Co. Dublin told the Irish Voice that this year the Rose of Tralee committee in Ireland asked if she would oversee the New York Rose selection process also, and Stanek willingly agreed. 

Stanek, who has been living in the U.S. for 23 years, has teamed up with last year’s winning New Jersey Rose, Rita Talty, to make sure the formidable task of running both competitions as one will go off without a hitch.

Stanek became involved with the Rose of Tralee festival a number of years ago through the Irish Cultural Center in Ridgewood, New Jersey which she founded.

This year is not just about finding two perfectly budding roses -- one to represent New York and one to represent New Jersey. The judges, whose names who have not yet been released, will also choose one escort to attend the festival in Ireland.

“At the moment we have about 12 escorts, and one of them will get a fully paid trip to Ireland to be an escort at the Rose of Tralee festival this year also,” said Stanek.

And the competition doesn’t end there. There are also seven junior roses, between the ages of 13 and 17, competing for the prestigious title of Junior Rose of Tralee, and the winner will receive a cash prize. And 12 Rose Buds, between the ages of five and 12, will also participate in the competition.

Currently there are nine of the pretty and highly educated roses looking to become the 2009 New Jersey Rose, and seven other blossoming roses are hoping to represent New York in Tralee in August. 

On Saturday, June 20, each of the 16 girls and their escorts will be put through rigorous interviews -- individual and group rounds -- at Bourbon Street bar and restaurant in Midtown. Later that evening, at a reception at Legends across town, the winners will be announced.

Tickets for the selection are $60 each and include a three-hour open bar with hor d'oeuvres. ESPN host and Co. Cork native Tommy Smyth will facilitate the evening’s proceedings.

The 50th anniversary of the Rose of Tralee Festival is the first year that 50 girls will compete against each other to become the 2009 Rose of Tralee. There are usually 32.

On the roses -- some of whom are Irish-born and others Irish American -- who will be chosen to represent New York and New Jersey, Stanek said, “Everyone is looking for a good representative of their own Irish community. The judges are looking for a girl who is very involved in her heritage and in her community and is very comfortable speaking about it.”

However, added Stanek, who met a bunch of the roses a few weeks ago, the competition is going to be hot this year.

“I think it is going to be a very difficult decision this year. All the girls are extremely educated, extremely well spoken and very, very pleasant girls, every single one of them,” she says.

The winning roses will each get a cash prize of $1,000, an all-expense paid trip to Ireland for 10 days of publicity and competition, a piece of Galway Crystal, a crown, a sash and, most importantly, the prestigious title of the 2009 New York or New Jersey Rose of Tralee

Looking ahead, Stanek hopes to expand the search for a New York and New Jersey rose in 2010 and hopes that Irish businesses and organizations will get on board to help promote the Rose of Tralee festival in the future.

For more information on the 2009 New Jersey/New York Rose of Tralee selection in Legends, or for tickets email or call 201-445-0507. Tickets must be purchased before the event.