Lisa Reilly and the Hypocrisy of the Rose Tralee

The Rose of Tralee Festival

It is unlikely that unless you live in Ireland, or your overseas “Irish Mammy” has been brainwashing you from a young age that you could win the Rose of Tralee you will have no idea of what I am writing.

According to the publicity blurb “The Rose of Tralee International Festival is an event which is celebrated among Irish communities all over the world. The Festival, takes its inspiration from a 19th century ballard of the same name about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called “The Rose of Tralee”. A story circulated in connection with the festival claims that the song was written by William Pembroke Mulchinock, out of love for Mary O’Connor, a poor catholic maid in service to his parents”.

According to the Rose of Tralee website “The Rose of Tralee International Festival is one of Ireland’s largest and longest running festivals, celebrating 57 years in 2016. The heart of the festival is the selection of the Rose of Tralee which brings young women of Irish descent from around the world to County Kerry, Ireland for a global celebration of Irish culture.”

To many observers it’s nothing short of an outdated, sexist beauty pageant that is now simply a cash cow for RTE as the 2nd biggest TV programme of the year behind the RTE Toy Show.

This year, they claim, the Rose of Tralee was dragged into the modern era. Gone were many of the woe-is-me life stories as contestants tried to out-bid each other with family tragedies, as were the painful poetry recitals that made you want to reach for your stolen Aerlingus in-flight sick bag, IN were X-Factor style eliminations.

So how does the “competition/festival” work? Well that depends on who you speak to.

The Rose of Tralee are keen to stress that young women are selected from around the world and the winner is “the woman deemed to best match the attributes relayed in the Rose of Tralee song: “lovely and fair”. The winner is selected based on her personality and should be a good role model for the festival and for Ireland during her travels around the world.”

Nor is it a “beauty pageant”, there is no swimwear section for example, although personally I would have paid good money to see Rose TV “Host” Dáithí Ó Sé present in his budgie smugglers as it would have given the show kudos and intellect.

The festival bills itself as “celebration of the aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage of modern young women” a claim that does not sit comfortably alongside the dumbed down entertainment style of the 2 live-broadcasts where the contestants “star turns” should really be kept to private family Christmas gatherings.

So on who’s shoulders does the weighty decision of choosing the “Winner” sit?

That decision is down to a panel of Judges who between them look like the they have the combined personality of an Irish family dinner table where the black sheep of the family has just walked in.

If the Rose of Tralee was so “modern” then why not use “modern” technology and let the public decide the winner? They do after all allow people to vote on the Eurovision Song Contest – what could possibly go wrong?

Lots actually – The public don’t get a vote because the Rose of Tralee is rigged. The “Winner” cannot possibly be left to the unsuspecting public, after all there is too much money and political capital at stake.

Yep, sadly, even the most innocent of ideas and “festivals” are nothing more than a politically stage managed event by the Governments mouthpiece RTE.

Rose of Tralee Contestants

As you sit in the Rose of Tralee “Dome” on Finals Night (it’s not a “Dome” BTW it is a big marquee) under a canopy of sparkling fairy lights designed to distract you from the scarily over-made up women who look straight out of central casting for “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” you wonder where all the innocence from the original song words has gone and what makes clearly educated, independent women fall for all this.

I spoke to one Rose’s Mother earlier who told me her daughter was taken aback by how seriously some of the girls took the contest and how some were beyond hysterical when they were not selected for the finals night. She said, “my daughter has not taken it too seriously and has just come along to meet new people and have a great experience”.

Rose of Tralee 2016 Winner

So to the actual “2016 Winner”. On Tuesday, Chicago Rose, Maggie McEldowney, was crowned the 2016 Rose of Tralee.

There is no need to remember this fact or her name, because as lovely as she is, no one ever remembers the names of the Winners of the Rose of Tralee. They certainly never remember the names of those who took part and lost.

The 2 nights of live “entertainment” on RTE, where the finalists parade is copycat nude heeled shoes and “Stars on Sunday” dresses to compete for the Crown is as fake as the nails and suntans on display.

The Winner you see has already been selected prior to the live shows so anyone who thinks the “performances” of the girls on these 2 night’s matter, is a fool.

The Winner is careful chosen for political, advertising and PR reasons. The bottom line is the show needs to generate money throughout the year and they need the right person to do that job.

It’s political because for Ireland this is also about ensuring the right “image” around the world and as we know, in Ireland it’s all about image and what the neighbours think.

In 2013 this farce was exposed when the Winners name was spotted already engraved on the silverware ahead of the live “finals”. RTE and the Rose Festival tried to claim this was a coincidence

Maria Walsh 2014 Rose of Tralee

In 2014 Maria Walsh, the first openly LGBT Rose Candidate, who already had experience of working for RTE—biography.html, was crowned the Rose of Tralee. Sceptics pointed out how convenient it was that in the 12 months running up to Ireland’s Same Sex Marriage Referendum the Rose of Tralee was openly gay. Maria was wheeled out for the “Yes” Campaign and openly voiced her political views during her reigning year.

Sidney Rose Brianna

In 2016 the Sidney Rose Brianna Parkins used her 5 minutes of fame on the live TV show to say she wanted “to see a referendum on the Eighth coming up soon”.

The Chair of the Rose of Tralee judging panel Mary Kennedy was critical of the Sidney Rose, saying in the Independent that the festival was no place for political statements and that the Roses were A-Political.

Unfortunately, it appears the Head Judge had not received the “memo” from the Head of the Rose of Tralee Anthony O’Gara who said he was “delighted” that the Sidney Rose expressed this opinion. What a shame he was not so welcoming of other political view points as show organisers tried to censor the internet following to protest that ensued.

Head of the Rose of Tralee

It would seem that the Rose of Tralee has lost its way over the years as a result of its conflicting political and TV allegiances and that the over-riding quality they are now promoting is “hypocrisy”.

So it seems only fitting then that this year’s Rose of Tralee saw the first ever “stage invasion” in the form of a traditional style protest by Fathers4Justice Founder Matt O’Connor to mark the launch of the Fathers4Justice campaign in Ireland.

Matt O’Connor

If O’Connor had been campaigning for “Gay Fathers4Justice” you could be sure after his unscheduled appearance he would be the darling of RTE’s chat show circuit, but he was not so he won’t be. He was campaigning for regular dads and as such RTE’s political agenda has no room for people like him.

In fact, in the hours after he was savagely attacked on stage by RTE’s security staff, postings on YouTube showing this were removed, social media posts sanitised and “Roses” were clearly instructed to remove their own tweets and uploads.

So what of the people on stage that night with O’Connor?

Rose of Tralee Host Dáithí Ó Sé

Dáithí Ó Sé – family man, husband of former Rose of Tralee contestant, darling of day time TV fluff. He made a half-hearted attempt to push O’Connor but thought better of it given his carefully managed PR profile, or maybe he was just thinking about how long it was till he could get back home to the comfort of his own bed.

Surely the watchable, charming Dáithí, with his hypnotic Kerry accent and soft Irish twinkle yearns for a career with more intellectual weight?

The Late Terry Wogan was a former Rose of Tralee Host and his career was unquestionably one of the most successful in TV history and in many ways Dáithí has many of Wogan’s qualities, so how many times does this seemingly intelligent man have to set his hands on fire, jive, jig and painfully grin his way through another “star-turn” in the name of entertainment?

On the Rose of Tralee, Dáithí is more “dancing dog act” than “Ring Master” as the poor man suffers at the hands of ever contestant making a play for him, wiping invisible dust off his jacket, straightening his tie or asking him to wave to some elderly relative haplessly grinning in the audience.

Apart from the fact he married a former Rose Contestant his “Rose Career” has been safe and well managed. After this though he will go down in history as being the Rose of Tralee Host who came face to face with its first ever protestor in 57 years and I have no doubt he will dine out on that for many, many, years to come.

Cavan Rose Lisa Reilly

Which brings me to Cavan Rose Lisa Reilly – Lisa Reilly was the Contestant on stage talking to Dáithí at the time of the protest. With all due respect she had nothing profoundly ground-breaking to say to the audience save her boyfriend was an Army Cadet and he spent a lot of time away training – yep that’s the way it goes being a Forces Wife, get used to it.

Like most of the Roses in the competition, Lisa is a teacher. The festival conveniently takes place during the staggeringly long school holidays in Ireland which means begging your boss for time off is not a problem for most of its contestants.

Some have said it was unfair to have interrupted her “performance” on the night, but Lisa was never going to win, and unless she was suddenly about to exhibit her knife throwing skills on an unsuspecting Dáithí she would have left the stage blending in to obscurity with all the others.

Which brings me back to the official Winner, Chicago Rose, Maggie McEldowney.

As I said there is no need to remember her name. After the 12 months of Rose duties she too will fade into obscurity.

Lisa Reilly laughing her way through protest

Lisa Reilly though will always be remembered as she laughed her way through the protest and carried on composed and clearly not upset. She said so to the press immediately after the event.

That was until the RTE and Rose of Tralee Press Office got hold of her and her messaged changed to that of victim status. Shame really as she was coming across so well prior to that.

The following day O’Connor sent Lisa a dozen pink roses to wish her luck ahead of the 2nd night of the competition. If the public were allowed to have a say, Lisa would have been the Rose of Tralee Winner that night, out of sympathy if nothing else.

Handled properly Lisa Reilly will out-star every single Rose of Tralee Winner from the last 57 years and in years to come because she was the girl on stage at the time of the protest and everyone will remember her and her name.

As publicity and exposure goes Lisa Reilly was without out doubt this year’s Rose of Tralee Winner – who needs a tiara, cut-glass crystal bowl and cutlery set when you have that kind of legacy to rise above the hypocrisy of it all.

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