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'Why would an adult woman want to parade herself around a Kerry tent?'

Lorraine Courtney argues that the Rose of Tralee competition is outdated and offensive to women.

Lorraine Courtney Freelance journalist

WHO COULD RESIST a sash, a set of shiny cutlery and the chance to be parodied by Graham Linehan? Not the 60-odd young women who are taking part in the Rose of Tralee this week.

On the one – French-manicured – hand, you have the entrants and organisers who seem to believe that dressing up in stretch satin and being graded out of 10 by B-list celebrity judges is somehow empowering. On the other hand, you have the rest of us on our sofas watching the dreary fakery through our fingers, feeling a bit queasy.

I used to watch The Rose of Tralee as a child, rooting for my home county, thinking the Kerry Rose didn’t stand a chance against the glossy Americans. But it was hard to tell the contestants apart beyond their sashes – all were wholesome visions of something that may or may not be “Irish” womanhood.

I grew up. I read Gloria Steinem, and I wondered why an adult woman would want to parade herself around a Kerry tent.

“Ah sure it’s just a bit of craic, and that Daithí is a gas man,” you say.

Pictured today at the Tipperary Crystal , Allied Imports launch of The Quiet Man Cap Collection and the Maureen O'Hara Jewellery Range at Mrs Tea's Boutique & Bakery, Ashford Castle Estate Elysha Brennan, the Rose of Tral

Lack of respect

A group of twentysomething girls getting dressed up, being chaperoned around a Kerry town by an escort and rated on their “loveliness,” is neither liberating nor a staggering blow to the sisterhood’s struggle for equality. It is a fairly daft and reductive way for them to spend their summer though.

Just because the contestants aren’t required to parade in bikinis doesn’t mean they are treated with respect. Maria Walsh’s openness about her sexuality wasn’t acknowledged in her television interview. She still got a male escort and an opportunity to make the competition a tiny bit relevant was wasted.

The festival has reduced our beautiful Celtic culture to twee paddywhackery and a Newbridge Silver necklace.


Female ‘empowerment’

There are endless assurances that the event is somehow “empowering” for young women.

However those long-standing patriarchal rules that Roses must be unmarried and without children still exist in 2016.

I’m angry at the notion of young women lining up to be judged like cattle. This is offensive, and no amount of slick camera work can alter the essential unpleasantness of it. I see a show that is very uncomfortable to watch, where it looks to me as though contestants censor their every word and move, rigid with fear of seeming pushy or original.

Even though the judges say they are looking for qualities like intelligence and independence of mind, the girls know they really must pretend to be bland, unoriginal and wholesome as apple pie.

The strain always shows. And you have to wonder at the authenticity of a woman with a PhD blushing and giggling her way through the story of how her parents hooked up.

Money spinner

I think the Rose of Tralee would have run its course by now if the festival wasn’t so lucrative for Kerry. The event generates a whopping €12 million every year according to the organisers.

What could go in its place? A competition recognising the achievements of young women in the community? Nah. That’d never work as a money spinner because how could we lure the diaspora over for it?

Rather than being the focus of anger and protests, the Rose of Tralee has become the subject of humour and satire. When you watch the barefaced spoofery of the actual show, it’s easy to see why.

“Doesn’t Mary have a lovely bottom… Of course, they all have lovely bottoms.” Which one of the presenters said that again? Must’ve been Gaybo…

We tolerate the Rose of Tralee. We ignore it. We laugh at it. But surely there are better ways to promote tourism in Kerry.

And there are definitely better ways to celebrate Irish womanhood.

Read: The organisers have done away with a Rose of Tralee staple…

Read: Quiz: How much do you know about the Rose of Tralee?

About the author:

Lorraine Courtney  / Freelance journalist

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