Rose of Tralee ‘not a lovely girls competition,’ says Limerick professor

Anne Sheridan

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Anne Sheridan

‘A lot depends on the compere’: The first Limerick Rose to make it to the Dome in ten years, Kayleigh Maher with presenter Daithi O Se  Picture: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

‘A lot depends on the compere’: The first Limerick Rose to make it to the Dome in ten years, Kayleigh Maher with presenter Daithi O Se Picture: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

THE Rose of Tralee is not a replica of Father Ted’s ‘lovely girls’ competition but is “an excellent and rare opportunity for women to highlight their achievements”, a female professor has said.

Professor Emeritus Pat O'Connor, of the University of Limerick, said her only criticism of the 58-year long event is that the spotlight on women is frequently “diluted” by men.

The focus on women’s achievements and their lives, she said, are often watered down by the host turning attention back to himself, or to Roses’ boyfriends and escorts in the audience, which can be “most irritating.”

Prof O'Connor, who specialised in sociology and gender studies and is now retired, said while “it is an old-fashioned institution, nothing would replace if it were done away it, and refocus attention on women.”

“You could describe loads of things in Irish society as having notes of Father Ted, but where else on Irish TV, where there is wall to wall sports coverage, do you see four hours dedicated to women and their achievements,” she questioned.

“On one level showcasing lovely girls is ridiculous, but in our so-called gender neutral world, women are not often showcased and are rarely the focus of positive attention as strong, successful people.

“We have seen that with women in the media, where they are under-represented, and the pathetic level of coverage given to women’s sports.

“It [the programme] appears to be dated, but in ways it is actually progressive, and I don't believe that it belittles women. We have seen a gay woman become Rose of Tralee and a woman of mixed race. 

She said the backlash faced by the 2016 Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins when she spoke out on stage in the Dome about repealing the Eighth Amendment, “showed the constraints that all women work under and the collusion of silence they frequently face in Irish society. The Rose of Tralee has helped to blow the lid off that.”

Ms Parkins previously described the event as being “like a great big Kate Middleton impersonation contest.”

One of the criticisms frequently levelled against the Rose of Tralee is that entrants are capped at 28 years of age, and cannot be married, or have ever married.

“We have totally not faced up to the issue of age discrimination in this country, so when people in the public service are forced to retire at 65, penalising the Rose of Tralee over its own age barrier doesn’t feel entirely sensible either,” Prof O'Connor told the Limerick Leader.

The newly crowned Rose of Tralee Jennifer Byrne, 24, from Offaly, told The Irish Times this week that she feels “there’s nothing outdated” about the competition, which featured a Limerick Rose taking to the stage for the first time in a decade this year.

Asked by reporters about the event’s portrayal as a “lovely girls contest” in some quarters, the junior doctor in University Hospital Galway replied: “If they’re saying that then they don’t actually know what it’s like.

“It’s a group of young people together celebrating and having the craic, celebrating Irish culture and Irish heritage and there’s nothing outdated about that. All of the Roses are very modern women.”

Model agent Celia Holman Lee said “not in a million years” would she favour axing the long-running festival, which is worth millions to the economy.

“The festival should never be touched. I marvel at all these young women who are the next generation.

“A lovely girls competition in what way? Lovely in being articulate, in being intelligent, in being well-educated? Wouldn't any mother or father be proud to see their daughter on that world stage in front of millions of people.”

Fianna Fail deputy Willie O'Dea said he hasn't watched it in years, and is “reluctant to subject myself to that ordeal.” 

“We all live in multi-channel land now, so people can switch over if they don’t want to watch it. I don’t relate to it myself, and personally, I can’t figure out how they manage to pick the winner. There’s so little to distinguish one from the other I find it a mystery,” he said.