Tag Archives: Rose of Tralee

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

Irish abortion fight takes modern twists

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
— ‘September 1913‘ by W. B. Yeats

As if last year’s referendum to approve same-sex marriage left any doubt about Ireland’s drift from conservative, religious-based values, a couple of stories this week add more evidence.

Two Irish women live-tweeted their trip to England so that one of them could get an abortion, which is banned in their home country. The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution gives equal protection to a woman and a fetus, with a few rare exceptions that allow the procedure.

In a story with the usual whiff of pro-abortion, anti-Catholic glee, The New York Times reported:

Ireland has changed significantly in recent years. It became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015, and the Roman Catholic Church has lost its once-dominant role, in part because of a series of sexual abuse scandals.

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

Rose of Tralee statue in Town Park. What if she gets pregnant?

A day after the tweet-by-tweet abortion trip, a contestant in the Rose of Tralee International Festival drew cheers from the audience when she called for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. According to The Irish Times, she said:

“I think we can do better here in Ireland. I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights. I would love to see a referendum on the eighth coming up soon. That would be my dream.”

The live broadcast of the 57th annual beauty and talent pageant also featured a man dressed as a priest who rushed the stage to protest on behalf of divorced fathers having equal visitation and other parenting rights. The Fathers 4 Justice group is known for high-profile demonstrations.

Two years ago, the Kerry-based festival crowned its first openly gay Rose.

Of beauty pageants and birthdays


Boston native Maria Walsh, who moved to Mayo and now lives in Philadelphia, was named the 2014 Rose of Tralee. A few days later she came out as gay.


The Rose of Tralee and me each date to 1959. We’re both 55 this month.

I noticed the coincidence reading some news coverage of the annual event, which takes place this year 15-20 August. I follow @RoseofTralee on my @markieam Twitter feed because of the Kerry connection.

The Rose of Tralee International Festival is based on the love song “The Rose of Tralee” about the impossible union of 19th century merchant William Pembroke Mulchinock for his family’s maid, Mary O’Connor.

She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me.
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.

Here are the song lyrics; the story of William and Mary; and a detailed history of the event, all from the festival’s official website.

Winner Haley O Sullivan from Texas is congratulated by fellow contestants at last year's Rose of Tralee event. Image from Irish Independent.

Winner Haley O’Sullivan from Texas is congratulated by fellow contestants at last year’s Rose of Tralee event. Image from Irish Independent.

Of course, many people scoff at such pageants as being hopelessly old fashioned or exploitative of the young women. “I know people snigger at it, but over a million people watch it every year, they’re over run with girls interested in being part of it,” RTÉ weather presenter and festival judge Nuala Carey told the Irish Independent.

And if the event helps the Kerry economy, all the better.

The Rose festival is the Irish version of the 92-year-old Miss America Pageant, which last year returned to its Atlantic City roots after running off to Las Vegas for several years. I covered the pageant in the early 1980s as a young reporter in Atlantic City. I was a peer of the contestants. But I missed history, having left the city a year before the first African-American winner was crowned, an event nearly as dramatic as the U.S. electing its first black president 25 years later.

Likewise, the Rose of Tralee has expanded from a field of local colleens from the town or Kerry to an international pool that welcomes young women of “Irish birth or ancestry.” The reigning Rose is from Texas. Who in 1959 would have thought that was possible?

I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for both events. After all, what’s not to like about youth, beauty and talent, and the late summer festivals that bring people together to celebrate all three?