International Rose of Tralee Festival

Getting International Recognition

In 1959, a group of local businessmen gathered in a pub in Tralee to figure out how to put their town on the map. As the county town of County Kerry, Tralee had of course been literally on the map for centuries, but the enterprising citizens of Tralee were looking for a way to distinguish the town's Race Week Carnival and attract "ex-patriots" and out-of-town visitors to this annual event. The beautiful coastal town located at the base of the picturesque Slieve Mish Mountains also had something else going for it - "The Rose of Tralee," a popular and well-known 19th century ballad associated with the town. The song helped to crystallize the event that would eventually become known as The Rose of Tralee International Festival.

Rose of Tralee Competition

A highlight of Tralee's Race Week Carnival had traditionally been the crowning of a Carnival Queen. Now, a young woman would be chosen as the "Rose of Tralee." Originally the competition was restricted to women from Tralee, but today it is open to women of Irish descent around the world. In 1967, the final Rose Selection was broadcast live on Irish television for the first time. Well-known actors and entertainers have often served as emcees.

One of Ireland's top ballad groups, the Wolfe Tones, gained international prominence for the first time when a Canadian television crew came to Tralee to film the festival and included footage of the group playing at The Tavern in Tralee.

Ancient Irish Folk Story

According to local history, William Mulchinock, the son of a wealthy wool and linen draper in Tralee, fell in love with Mary O'Connor, a kitchen and later nursery maid in his parents' house. William was said to have written a poem to convince Mary to marry him in about 1843, but the difference between their social stations and the opposition of William's family, as well as William's involvement in rebel politics, prevented their union. Of course the story ended tragically with William pining for Mary for 6 years in India and arriving back in Tralee only to witness her funeral procession.

The song celebrates every aspect of Mary's beauty; "She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer," claims one of the verses. It emphasizes her qualities and virtues as the verse continues, "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." In accordance with the song's emphasis on Mary's character and strength, the Rose Selection is not a beauty pageant but rather a way of recognizing a young woman of exceptional poise and accomplishment who can represent and be an ambassador of the Irish culture.

Ohio's International Rose Festival Involvement

While northeast Ohio selected and submitted candidates to the International Festival in the 1970s, the impetus for reviving Ohio participation came from the pairing of the City of Westlake with Tralee in 2009. 
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