Rose of Tralee, Outdated or Modern Celebration of Women?

The Rose of Tralee Festival gets underway this week with the 2018 Rose of Tralee being crowned on Tuesday the 21st August. This time last year I was in their shoes and know exactly the excitement, nerves and surrealism she will be experiencing.

The Rose of Tralee continues to remain popular, not without criticism of course, 59 years since its inception and I want to look at why.

In an age where body positivity needs to be more prevalent in our society, a festival like the Rose of Tralee that doesn’t reward women for looking a certain way, or having ‘lovely bottoms’, that focuses on who they are and their individual achievements should be celebrated.

“Of course they ALL have Lovely Bottoms”

Many call the Rose of Tralee a pageant, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a celebration of Irish women.

A pageant in its simplicity is a competition that judge’s women based on their appearances. In the past number of years pageants have made changes to make them more reflective of how women want to be seen in our society.

Miss America recently announced that they would be removing the swimsuit section of their pageant and aim to be more inclusive of women of all sizes.

source getty images

In 2014 Miss World, after 63 years, removed their bikini round, replacing it with ‘beauty with a purpose’, which saw contestants undertake charity work and raise awareness for chosen causes

Are they taking a leaf out of the Rose of Tralee’s garden? Will pageants eventually become more formatted like the Rose of Tralee? I think so!

Isn’t it better to celebrate women for their achievements, for who they are, for their contribution to their community and society than for what they look like? I’m not saying we cannot celebrate beauty, we can, but beauty isn’t just one thing. Beauty comes in so many forms and that is what the Rose of Tralee looks for, the beauty in intelligent, independent, Irish Women.

It is this idea that lead to Roses of Tralee Bare All For Body Positivity!. My class of the 2017 Roses of Tralee all came together, sharing our makeup free selfies and the one word that means beauty to them or makes people beautiful, to show beauty is only skin deep.

hanks for everything (1)

In an open letter from Anthony O’Gara, Executive Chairman of the Rose of Tralee International Festival, back in 2014, O’Gara hit back at those who squashed the festival as nothing more than a ‘lovely girls’ pageant. This is an excerpt of his response;

“The Roses are obviously pretty exceptional young women which is hardly surprising. They have been chosen from almost 1000 of their peers – all of whom are impressive. They are not professional entertainers. They are endearing people who entertain us and enthral us as best they can through a bit of harmless fun on stage. But most importantly, they reflect some pride in the communities that they represent. “

“We are, in effect, honouring them and celebrating them as representatives of families and communities from our scattered generations.”

Could aspects of the Rose of Tralee festival become more modern, of course! There are always ways in which something which has run for almost 60 years can grow and improve to reflect the current society.

But in terms of the Roses, the women, who have been involved and who donned the Rose of Tralee sash and crown over the years, take a look back and tell me they aren’t modern day women.

Women, who by being part of it send out a positive message to other women and little girls, little Rose Buds.

Our current Rose of Tralee Jennifer Byrne is a Doctor, 2014 Maria Walsh was the first ever gay Rose of Tralee, BBC sports presenter Gabby Logan was the 1991 Leeds Rose, 1970 New York Rose, Noreen Culhane is the Executive Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange.

Then you have me, the balding beauty with anxiety, the 2017 Louth Rose.

Illustration created by Claire O’Hagan Art & Illustration

That’s without listing the 62 incredible women I had the pleasure of sharing the Rose of Tralee experience with last year.

We have seen Roses use their platform to advocate for mental health, drug addiction, raise awareness for diseases and illness, show you can be a balding rose, call for repeal of the eighth.

We have seen Roses who are mothers, doctors, scientists, lawyers and supporters/active members of the LGBTQ community.

That’s fairly modern I’d say.



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