The Rose of Tralee isn’t truly for people on the island of Ireland to enjoy, according to a former Sydney Rose.
The 2023 Rose of Tralee Festival began this weekend, with the televised competition to take place on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Beginning in 1959, the Rose of Tralee is one of Ireland’s most iconic traditions – but many have criticised the so-called ‘Lovely Girls Competition’ for upholding outdated concepts of women.
Australian Irish-based journalist Brianna Parkins was the Sydney Rose in 2016 and said it’s okay if Irish people want to criticise the Rose of Tralee – because it’s "not truly for you”.
“It's actually for the diasporic community,” she told The Anton Savage Show.
“There is so much [support], you will find community halls all over America, all over Canada, all over Australia, have old men setting up chairs [to watch the Rose of Tralee].
“These are the same volunteers that have been there for 20 years – the Rose of Tralee is their touch of home.
“If the Rose shut down tomorrow, they would still a pick a girl from the community because it’s about community organisation.”
Ms Parkins said many people, like her own grandparents, left Ireland and could never afford to return, so the Rose of Tralee “was really all they had” to connect with the community.
“It's really important to people in those communities, and also young people who are also forced to leave their country for the same economic reasons as people did 60 years ago,” she said.
“It's really important for them to have that touchstone when you're far away.”
This year’s Rose of Tralee is said to be “modernising” itself, as Katherine Thomas will be the first woman to host the event, alongside long-time presenter Dáithí Ó Sé.
“Maybe it’s a transition period,” Ms Parkins said.
“Also, married women are allowed to enter now... they've upped the age limit slightly - still under 30, but it's creeping up there.”
Business Post Political Correspondent Daniel Murray said the Rose of Tralee is a very “inoffensive” and “innocent sort of event” for Ireland.
“But it's hard to get away from the sense that it is a kind of a beauty pageant by proxy,” he said.
“Maybe one way of addressing that would be to open it up to men as well.
“Crown a King and Queen Rose at the end.”
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Main image: Splitscreen of Brianna Parkins and Dáithí Ó Sé welcoming the international roses in 2014.