Limerick you're a lady - but still not a Rose

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Limerick you're a lady - but still not a Rose

OKAY, so you’re all suffering from Rose of Tralee fatigue at this stage, and the sight of the pale moon rising above the blue mountain would be enough to make you feel queasy.

But, if you don’t mind, I must have the last word. You’d think I have nothing else to write about this week, and you could be right, but here’s the thing: I’m bewildered.

I can’t understand the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude adopted by Limerick after the seventh kick in the teeth in as many years, deftly delivered by the Festival of Kerry. I don’t even know how we have the makings of a stiff upper lip left.

As you all know by now, Limerick was excluded from the final again, even though we sent a truly outstanding representative this year - as we do every year. Nobody, apart from yours truly, suspected a conspiracy. It must be the truth in my eyes ever dawning. But whatever it is, everyone else is most gracious about the rebuff, including our lovely Rose. If I had been there, I’d probably have taken the judges by the throat.

But does this admirable graciousness mean that we’re going to take rejection lying down and send another innocent to the slaughter next year? Surely we owe it to the women of Limerick to kick up a major stink and tell Kerry what to do with its pure crystal fountain.

I wouldn’t mind but Limerick is the only county that can justifiably call itself a lady. JFK said the place was famous for ‘beautiful women and fast horses’ and he’d know. Okay, okay, I know the Rose of Tralee is not a beauty contest, and it’s definitely not a horse race. Nobody knows for certain what it is, but, while I could be wrong, I’d have thought that if it aspired to anything other than a tourism boost for Kerry, it might be trying to find a real lady at a time when women everywhere are becoming less and less ladylike. But how do you define a lady?

When the nuns ran the education system here they tried to make us all aspire to be ladies, but in my case it was like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I couldn’t restrain my unladylike tendencies so I kicked at the traces and took to ranting and railing, the very antithesis of ladylike behaviour. The nuns must have been very surprised when I ended up earning a living from ranting. But they couldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I met one of them in later life and she told me: “you were always a lady”. I hadn’t the heart to tell her that she was mistaking me for somebody else.

But I digress. The point of this article is to inform you that graciousness isn’t always a virtue and Limerick’s response to the Tralee fiasco so far has been too ladylike. Standing on your dignity can look as foolish as standing at the stocks if you insist on turning a blind eye to what looks like a blatant injustice. Limerick has been rebuffed too often in the ridiculous Rose of Tralee contest to be bothering with it any longer. I don’t know what we ever did to the Rose organisers to merit such dastardly treatment. But something must have happened. Someone in Kerry has been holding a grudge against the Shannonsiders for the past seven years, and that’s an awful long time to be holding a grudge. Surely we didn’t break a mirror in the dome and put a seven year hex on ourselves?

My own County, Tipperary, was also excluded this year, but this kind of rejection is a relatively new experience for us, and anyway we have the all-Ireland to look forward to, and the ‘Pride of Tipperary’ to comfort our yearnings for idealistic maidenhood. But they wouldn’t want to make a habit of it, or there’d be war. As far as we’re concerned, dignified responses get you nowhere.

Anyhow, as I said at the outset, people are sick to the teeth of reading reams of opinion columns about this year’s ‘Rose of Tralee final’ and I shouldn’t really be adding to the malaise. The only one I felt truly sorry for was the winning Rose. There wasn’t room for anything about her in the paper, apart from a couple of paragraphs. The winner is no longer newsworthy, it seems, and that’s a bit of a bummer. But in all the column inches written about the event outside the county, nobody mentioned Limerick’s seven year stint in the cold. We’re too proud to make a song and dance about it, but it’s time we swallowed our pride and abandoned the sorry charade of putting people on a stage to be judged by representatives of vested interests in the Festival of Kerry.

If it’s revenge we’re after, maybe we should establish a rival event on Rose week. Bring back the ‘Limerick Lady’ contest that lasted all of two years back in the late 1970’s and make it an international event, more relevant to the times in which we live than Tralee ever was.

God knows we have enough Limerick people in cities around the globe to set the ball rolling.

Finally – and this has nothing to do with Limerick, thank God - why did they scrap poetry from the final this year? They’ll be scrapping poetry in the Leaving Cert next. Granted, the standard of verse in Tralee in recent years has been far from Nobel Laureate potential, not to talk of RTE’s cultural standards, but, as even Patrick Kavanagh would have to agree, a true poetic spirit is every bit as likely to emerge in the dome in Tralee as it did once in a field in Monaghan. But would it be ladylike? That’s the question.