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We know all about the Roses, but what's it like for the Escorts down in Tralee?

Jonny McGailey was the 2013 Rose of Tralee Escort of the Year, he tells us what the festival is really like for the Escorts.

MARCH 2013, I’M home six months from studies abroad and I’m still not able to find work.

I’m working for free, topping up the CV anyway I can… I had little to look forward to and little money.

Then on reading the local paper of a Wednesday I see the advert looking for Rose of Tralee Escorts. I thought, “Sure why not. Those lads look like they have a great auld time of it.”

Five pages of an application form later, filled with little stories and selling myself as the man they needed, I’m up for an interview.

There were plenty of other well-groomed lads waiting in the Dublin hotel and around 64 guitars, 65 if you add mine, in the lobby.

The current Escort of The Year was there, tall lad, looked like he played a bit of rugby. A handsome devil.

He chatted about his time at the festival and it was then that I really started hoping I’d be selected, he had me sold. It seemed like such craic.

Put through your paces 

Entering the interview room I was greeted by three faces, all playing their roles. Good Cop, Bad Cop and Ba-goo Cop (mix of bad and good).

I sang a song, smiled and impressed. I’m happy to say I was also having a good hair day, crucial in impressing judges don’t you know.

I was selected to attend a boot camp down in the lovely Ballybunion with 35 other men for a weekend.

We stayed in tents on the beach and learned to surf, played tag rugby and even abseiled, basically working as a team and communicating with one another while getting to know each other.


It’s a great chance for lads to relax and find their feet in the group. Most of the talking centered around what we can expect down in Tralee.

We plagued the returning Escorts with questions regarding roses and how they dealt with any issues that arose. Every year there will always be one or two returning lads to help lead and guide the group.

We bonded over the campfire and had a sing on the beach but the weekend really prepared us for what was to come in Tralee; on the go with little rest and dealing with every emotion possible. Cool heads required. But we had great fun.

Know your place 

The lead up to Tralee was brilliant. The group of lads had really bonded. We knew we would need to rely on each other down there as we were going to be on our feet for long parts of the day, suited and booted in the heat while also looking after our Roses and making sure we could ably assist them on having the best time possible at the festival.

That’s the job. It’s not about the Escorts. Its ensuring your Rose has everything she needs.

You are her rock, her punch bag, her bag holder, her bodyguard, her confidant and most importantly her friend when she needs you the most.

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The girls are travelling and on the go for 10 days, having to deal with unexpected changes, possible wardrobe malfunctions and hundreds of people who want their time.

The Escort’s role is crucial to making it work. We’re the Punch to their Judy, the Sonny to their Cher, the Ant to their Dec. A Rose Escort is ALWAYS on duty. Being on duty means you must know where your Rose is at all times, you must be aware of what’s going on around you at all times and you must expect the unexpected.


Having never visited the festival, and only ever watched the shows on telly, I really didn’t know what to expect.

The organisers prepare you as best as they can, but really it’s something you have to experience yourself to gain the full understanding of what it’s all about and how it’s really a privilege to be part of. The buzz around the town is contagious.

The Escorts arrive on Wednesday evening, you find out who your room-mates will be for the week and have a few quiet ones over a team meeting to prepare for the week ahead.

Suits pressed, shirts hung up, shoes polished, it’s nearly game day. The Thursday is great excitement as you meet the Roses for the first time, who have been travelling for four days around the country.

Meet and greet is over a three-course meal where the lads move table after every course to try and meet as many of the Roses as possible.

A drink and a sing song later, the ladies retire for the evening and we are back on the bus to Tralee. Boys will be boys. “She is gorgeous, I want to sit with her first,” “Oh I reckon I’d get on well with her”. Brilliant.

Tralee is awash with excitement on the Friday for the Roses’ arrival and you find out who you are being paired with for the week. The lads are handed an envelope with the name of their Rose just 20 minutes before the girls arrive.

My rose Edwina walks off the bus looking fantastic, and it’s almost like the entire county of Leitrim has emptied and arrived in Tralee. This is the effect the festival can have on communities.


It’s really important to make a good first impression with the families and partners and ensure them that you’re not only there to look after the Rose, but also her family and you need to let them know that you’ll assist them throughout the week in whatever way you can.

Gifts are then exchanged between the Rose and Escort and we look forward to the ball that night in the Dome, which is one of the highlights.

The gifts are down to yourself. Most will find something that represents them and their community such as a Gaelic top. My Rose had the great honour to test out the most beautiful lager known to man, a can of harp while also receiving a rather large poster of a topless Ryan Gosling with the slogan “Hey girl, Jonny believes in you, and so do I. Go get em.”

So it’s really about being clever with the gift and keeping it to a small budget. My Rose gave me an awesome present of a ticket to the All Ireland semi final between Dublin and kerry, one of the greatest games of all time, just awesome.

The ball is fantastic. Once the Roses are in and seated, the Escorts will at the same time remove their jackets and sit down. It might not sound cool, but when you pull the move off simultaneously, it is at a James Bond level of coolness.

It’s here you get to know the Roses, and have a dance before they head for bed.

Down to Business

Every night the Escorts and the Liaison Team will hold a ten minute review on the day. How are you getting on with your Rose? How was your time keeping? Where can we improve? Is there anyone with any issues?

It’s a great way to ensure we keep standards high and also inform one another of any issues so we can keep an eye out on each other.

Then you can kick back with the lads, have a few bevvies and retire for the night. It’s constant go go go, so you will be surprised how imperative sleep is throughout festival week.

You’re running on air sometimes, with maybe 5/6 hours sleep a night. Most days at the festival involve escorting your rose around the town. They have different visits to make and are on a tight schedule.

It’s up to us to make sure we keep them on time and happy. Happy wife, happy life! The day could last from 9am to 5.30pm and you have maybe ten minutes to shower, shave and change for the evening part of the day.

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The parade is one of the highlights of the week. Thousands come out on the street and the atmosphere is electric.

It’s easy to take your eye off the job, but you must at all times be attentive to the situation going on. Your Rose is the priority and you must ensure her safety, her happiness and keep an eye out for the boys you are soldiering with.

Another highlight is the Rose/Escort sing-off which takes place away from the crowds and behind closed doors on the Sunday evening. We compete in a sing off where the lads put their own hook to several different songs. Every year the Roses win of course, but we have come close if not won moral victories over the past two years.

TV Time

The TV nights are brilliant. This is what it’s all about. It’s here you earn your stripes as an Escort. TV nights can bring the worst and best out of both of you.

You’ve got to be able to reassure your Rose that the stage won’t be an issue, you’ve full confidence in her and she has your backing.

You’ve got to also prepare yourself for a good ripping from the main man Dáithí. A gent, but if he can get anything on you he will.


The honour of the Escort Of The Year is selected on this night also and the lucky man is chosen by his peers. It’s a great honour and title to hold, but even after the camera is off you are still on duty, wits about you and eyes on your Rose.

On the final night, the Rose is crowned and it’s time for the Wrap Party. At this stage, the lads are absolutely wrecked, but when the Roses join you, sash-free, heels-free and hair down they give you the lift you need and the party begins after a mental week.

The Roses then hear about the time of it the lads have been having while they’ve been shuttled off to bed and how some days we were running on Berocca, our best friend. But on this night, bonds are sealed. And it sets everything up for many future reunions.


As regards romance, if you put 32 men and 32 women in a room then chances are, sparks will fly somewhere along the way. There have been relationships post festival and I’m sure there will continue to be, but gentlemen never kiss and tell, do they?!

Since entering as an Escort in 2013 and through the festival I’ve walked Fifth Avenue in New York City on St Patrick’s Day as part of the parade, I’ve volunteered alongside Adi Roche in Belarus, I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country attending brilliant reunions and made pals for life.

This is what being a Rose Escort at the Rose of Tralee has done for me. It’s opened so many doors and created incredible memories and friendships.

Jonny McGailey works for Munster Rugby and was Rose of Tralee Escort of the Year in 2013.

Read: Here are the ones to watch in the Rose of Tralee 2015*

Read: Here’s what happened when we interviewed the Rose of Tralee entirely in emoji

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