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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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Opinion: The Roses have thick enough skins to take the constant Father Ted 'lovely girls' joke

Last year’s Monaghan Rose says the festival has had a hugely positive effect on her life and she’ll take a bit of slagging because she’s proud to be part of it all.

Eleanor Mc Quaid

LATE AUGUST HAS arrived, and for me that only means one thing, the Rose of Tralee! Love it or hate it, the festival is in its 55th year and has essentially become an Irish tradition.

As a former Rose, and having experiencing the Rose of Tralee first hand, I feel I can give some insight as to what the festival is like for the Roses themselves.

I watched the live show last night, while keeping an eye on Twitter – it’s clear to see that the nation is interested in these women and how they present themselves on the stage. Comments ranged from talking about Daithí’s beard, to the Ice Bucket Challenge, with the ever present ‘Lovely Girls’ association. And, to be honest, that’s all good banter as far as I’m concerned, and the Roses themselves would agree with that.

Celebrating our Irishness

But what the festival is about is so much more than two nights on TV, wearing nice gúnas and chatting with Daithí. While all of that is a nice touch, the Rose of Tralee is really about celebrating our Irishness, and showcasing the talents and achievements of Irish women in a changing world. This year we had the first Scottish Rose and representatives from the Middle East – showing the emerging Irish community across the globe.

The festival begins, for the Roses, in April. The regional finals are held in Portlaoise where all the International Roses and Irish Roses meet and spend five days getting to know each other. The Roses that will head to Tralee are chosen at Portlaoise, including six Irish roses.

Irish Roses from Dublin, Cork and Kerry are automatically through, as are the International Roses from Sydney, Perth, Darwin, South Australia, Queensland and New Zealand.

From there, all roads lead to Tralee. The Tralee tour, for me, involved a lot of preparation and planning while working full-time in a busy hospital. The Rose Tour lasts ten days in total. We travelled all over the country, Dublin to Belfast, onto Derry, down to Sligo, Galway, Limerick and then Tralee. The pride of the locals in all of the places that we visited was unbelievable, and by the time the tour was over, we all had a huge sense of admiration for the people involved and a true appreciation for what this country has to offer.

There are a lot of emotional moments

We travelled a lot in one week, and a lot can happen in that time. While it is a hugely positive experience, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t tears, and a lot of emotional moments, but that’s when the Roses become a support for each other, and that’s what ultimately binds us as a “family”.

As a Rose, there is always that pressure of representing your family, community, and county well. These women care about where they come from and all of them want to do the best they can – to do themselves and their families proud. My family and friends were amazing leading up to, and during, the festival. They made banners, came to my house with good luck cards, and cheered me on in the Dome. The Rose of Tralee isn’t just about the women you see on stage, it’s about what and who they represent.

One particular memory for me is of a beautiful girl who attended one of the Gala balls during the festival. She was there with the “Make a Wish” foundation, and her wish was to be a Rose. She had her sash on, and danced with us on the dance floor until the early hours, despite suffering from a neurological disorder that had left her wheelchair-bound. Seeing how unbelievably happy she was in that sash put it all into perspective for me, and shows how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be a Rose.

We are just ordinary girls who want to make a difference and meet people in the process. The calibre of women and men that I met along the way was outstanding, and they are all genuinely really nice people. My room mate was a doctor from Cork, living in Sydney. My “bus buddy” was an engineer who worked in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It has made me a better person

The Roses are an intelligent, interesting, and warm bunch of people who have had a lasting positive impression on me. Since Tralee, I have been given so many opportunities, the most memorable of which was travelling to Belarus with Adi Roche and a group of Roses. Just to meet Adi, and see the situation in Belarus first hand, was something I could have never done alone and has made me a better person.

As a twenty-something Irish girl, I fully understood the “cringe” factor of the live shows before applying, but to me that’s what makes it brilliant! It was fun getting up there and chatting to Daithí, getting embarrassed and laughing with your friends about it afterwards. It shows that the Roses can take a joke, and have a thick enough skin to put themselves in the ‘line of fire’ of all the Twitter comments, with a glint in their eye.  I enjoyed every minute; it’s not every day you get to be on the telly!

One phrase that resonates throughout the festival is “it’s a small world”, and it is. That shows the power of the festival, and the aim is to connect the Irish community both at home and abroad. The Rose of Tralee does just that, and my advice to anyone who’s interested in the festival would be to get down to Tralee, meet the girls and get involved with one of Ireland’s greatest traditions – it’s great craic!

I think it’s understandable that people often see the Rose of Tralee as the Father Ted “Lovely Girls Competition”, it’s a running joke – and let’s face it, it’s funny and gets people involved. But the festival itself and what it stands for is honestly so much more, and I feel so lucky to have been involved.

(Oh and for the record, my sandwiches don’t exceed the required six centimetres in width.)

Eleanor McQuaid was 2013′s Monaghan Rose.

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Eleanor Mc Quaid

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