Rose of Tralee
Formation1959; 65 years ago (1959)
TypeCelebration of Irish People
HeadquartersTralee, County Kerry, Ireland
Official language
Floral display with festival logo, 2014

The Rose of Tralee International Festival is an event which is celebrated among Irish communities all over the world. The festival, held annually in the town of Tralee in County Kerry, takes its inspiration from a 19th-century ballad of the same name about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called "The Rose of Tralee". The words of the song are credited to C. (or E.) Mordaunt Spencer and the music to Charles William Glover, but a story circulated in connection with the festival claims that the song was written by William Pembroke Mulchinock, a wealthy Protestant, out of love for Mary O'Connor, a poor Catholic maid in service to his parents.[1]


The festival has its origins in the local Carnival Queen, once an annual town event, fallen by the wayside due to post-war emigration. In 1957, the Race Week Carnival was resurrected in Tralee, and it featured a Carnival Queen. The idea for the festival came when a group of local business people met in Harty's bar, Tralee to come up with ideas to bring more tourists to the town during the horse racing meeting and to encourage expats to return to their native Tralee. Led by Dan Nolan, then Managing Director of The Kerryman newspaper, they hit on the idea of the Rose of Tralee Festival. The event started in 1959 on a budget of £750.[2]

The founders of the organisation were Billy Clifford, an accountant with the Rank Organisation, who was one of the first recipients of the Golden Rose award (which was inaugurated to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Festival of Kerry); Dan Nolan, involved with the Tralee Races; Jo Hussey, a shopkeeper in Tralee; and Ted Keane Snr, a local restaurateur.

Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to take part. In the early 1960s it was extended to include any women from Kerry, and in 1967 it was further extended to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry.[2] Recent winners have included women of mixed heritage: Mindy O'Sullivan (Filipina-Irish), Tara Talbot (Filipina-Irish), Clare Kambamettu (Indian-Irish) and Kirsten Mate Maher (Zambian-Irish). On winning the title in 2018 Maher said "There is no 'typical Irish woman'. We're all different and we all come in all shapes and sizes and skin colours... We're such a diverse community, and we need to embrace that".[3]

In 2004 the Rose of Tralee Regional Finals were introduced to offer more people an opportunity to participate in the Rose of Tralee International Festival. It was held every year until 2015 in Portlaoise, County Laois on the June Bank Holiday weekend.

In the inaugural Regional Final, fourteen women competed for three places in the Rose of Tralee International Festival in August. It became bigger each year and in 2015 the Regional Finals brought together 56 Roses from the United States, Ireland, Britain, Europe, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Over three selection nights, seven Irish Roses and sixteen International Roses were then selected to progress and join the other 9 Roses at the Rose of Tralee International Festival in August.

From 2004 to 2015, the number of Rose Centres grew to more than 65. In 2014 it was announced that the 2015 Regional Finals would be the last, in favour of a revamped selection process held in Tralee.

The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland.[4][5] In December 2021, it was announced that the festival would return in 2022.

In December 2021, it was also announced by Anthony O'Gara that married women and transgender women can enter for the Rose of Tralee, and that the maximum age limit had increased to 29 years of age.[6]

In July 2023, it was announced that Kathryn Thomas would join Daithi O'Se as a co-host, marking the first time that the event would have two presenters.

Modern practice

The Rose of Tralee festival is held every year in Tralee, County Kerry, to choose a young woman to be crowned the Rose. The winner is the woman deemed best to match the attributes relayed in the song: "lovely and fair". She is selected on the basis of personality and should be a good role-model for the festival and ambassador for Ireland during her travels around the world. It is not a beauty pageant and the participants (Roses) are not judged on their appearances but on their personality and suitability to serve as ambassadors for the festival. The festival bills itself as a celebration of the "aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage" of modern young women.[2]

Each of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland selects a Rose, and the international Roses, chosen from around the world, also participate in the qualifying rounds now staged in the Festival Dome in Tralee. Ultimately, 32 Roses are selected to appear in the televised selection finals on RTÉ One, out of whom one is crowned the Rose of Tralee.

The selection, which is broadcast over two nights by RTÉ, has been hosted by Dáithí Ó Sé since 2010.[7] It was previously presented for 17 years by Gay Byrne. Other previous presenters include Terry Wogan, Brendan O'Reilly, Michael Twomey, Kathleen Watkins, Ray D'Arcy, Ryan Tubridy, Marty Morrissey and Derek Davis. The first presenter of The Rose of Tralee (before it was televised) was Kevin Hilton.

The festival overcame financial difficulties in 2004, and has strengthened with growing visitor numbers and maintaining strong viewer figures.[8]

The maximum age for women is 29 years of age.[9] Married women are also eligible to enter as of December 2021.[6] Until the year 2008, unmarried mothers were not allowed to enter the contest.[10]

Men also participate in the show in the form of Rose Escorts, who assist the Roses during their time in the festival. The escort who works hardest is named "Escort of the Year", and is invited back to the festival the following year.

Media portrayals

The Channel 4 comedy Father Ted parodied the festival in the episode "Rock-a-Hula Ted" where the eponymous character is asked to host the local "Lovely Girls" competition.[2] Will Scally produced and directed a Channel Four documentary called Rose of Tralee.


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival in 2009, 50 Roses took part in the 2009 competition; usually there are around 30.

In 2014, Maria Walsh revealed that she was gay after winning.[11][12][13]

Michele McCormack (1985 Chicago Rose) has gone on to win an Edward R. Murrow Award in her chosen profession of broadcast journalism. She hosts selection contests in Philadelphia and in the Midwest of the USA. (She credits her interview technique to Gay Byrne, who hosted the contest when she was in Tralee.) Other notable Roses include Aoife Mulholland of Galway (2003) who went on to achieve acclaim as an actor, and Noreen Culhane (New York Rose 1970) now Executive Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange.

Gabby Logan, the BBC TV sports presenter, was the Leeds Rose in 1991.[14]

Jeanine Cummins, the author of American Dirt, participated in the competition in 1993.[15]

Winners 1959–present

Year Name Represented
1959 Alice O'Sullivan Dublin
1960 Theresa Kenny Chicago
1961 Josie Ruane Cork
1962 Ciara O'Sullivan Dublin
1963 Geraldine Fitzgerald Boston
1964 Margaret O'Keeffe Tralee
1965 Therese Gillespie Belfast
1966 Laraine Stollery New Zealand
1967 Anne Foley Birmingham
1968 Eileen Slattery Clare
1969 Cathy Quinn Dublin
1970 Kathy Welsh Holyoke
1971 Linda McCravey Miami
1972 Claire Dubendorfer Switzerland
1973 Veronica McCambridge Belfast
1974 Maggie Flaherty New York
1975 Maureen Shannon London
1976 Marie Soden New York
1977 Orla Burke Waterford
1978 Liz Shovlin Pennsylvania
1979 Marita Marron Belfast
1980 Sheila O'Hanrahan Galway
1981 Debbie Carey Birmingham
1982 Laura Gainey Peterborough
1983 Brenda Hyland Waterford
1984 Diane Hannagen Limerick
1985 Helena Rafferty Boston
1986 Noreen Cassidy Leeds
1987 Larna Canoy Chicago
1988 Mary Ann Murphy New Zealand
1989 Sinéad Boyle Dublin
1990 Julia Dawson Germany
1991 Denise Murphy Cork
1992 Niamh Grogan Galway
1993 Kirsty Flynn Midlands UK
1994 Muirne Hurley Limerick
1995 Nyomi Horgan Perth, Australia
1996 Colleen Mooney Toronto
1997 Sinéad Lonergan France
1998 Mindi O'Sullivan Galway
1999 Geraldine O'Grady Cork
2000 Róisín Egenton[16][17] New York
2001 Lisa Manning Perth
2002 Tamara Gervasoni Italy
2003 Orla Tobin Dublin
2004 Orla O'Shea Kilkenny
2005 Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin Mayo
2006 Kathryn Anne Feeney Queensland
2007 Lisa Murtagh New York
2008 Aoife Kelly Tipperary
2009 Charmaine Kenny London
2010 Clare Kambamettu London
2011 Tara Talbot Queensland
2012 Nicola McEvoy Luxembourg
2013 Haley O'Sullivan Texas
2014 Maria Walsh Philadelphia
2015 Elysha Brennan[18] Meath
2016 Maggie McEldowney[19] Chicago
2017 Jennifer Byrne[20] Offaly
2018 Kirsten Mate Maher[21] Waterford
2019 Sinéad Flanagan[22] Limerick
2020 Cancelled
2022 Rachel Duffy[23] Westmeath
2023 Róisín Wiley[24] New York

Represented winners table

# Represented Won Years won
1 Dublin 5 1959, 1962, 1969, 1989, 2003
New York 5 1974, 1976, 2000, 2007, 2023
3 Belfast 3 1965, 1973, 1979
Galway 3 1980, 1992, 1998
Cork 3 1961, 1991, 1999
London 3 1975, 2009, 2010
Chicago 3 1960, 1987, 2016
Waterford 3 1977, 1983, 2018
Limerick 3 1984, 1994, 2019
10 Birmingham 2 1967, 1981
Boston 2 1963, 1985
New Zealand 2 1966, 1988
Perth 2 1995, 2001
Queensland 2 2006, 2011
15 Tralee 1 1964
Clare 1 1968
Holyoke 1 1970
Miami 1 1971
Switzerland 1 1972
Pennsylvania 1 1978
Peterborough 1 1982
Leeds 1 1986
Germany 1 1990
Midlands UK 1 1993
Toronto 1 1996
France 1 1997
Italy 1 2002
Kilkenny 1 2004
Mayo 1 2005
Tipperary 1 2008
Luxembourg 1 2012
Texas 1 2013
Philadelphia 1 2014
Meath 1 2015
Offaly 1 2017
Westmeath 1 2022

See also


  1. ^ "The Story of the Rose of Tralee". Rose of Tralee. Archived from the original on 17 July 2008. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Heffernan, Breda (22 January 2009). "'Lovely Girl' festival going strong after half a century despite changing times". Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  3. ^ "New Rose calls on Ireland to embrace its diversity". RTÉ. 22 August 2018. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Coronavirus: Rose of Tralee postponed for first time in 61 years". Irish Times. 27 April 2020. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  5. ^ "Rose of Tralee Festival cancelled for 2021 due to pandemic". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 31 May 2021. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b Glennon, Nicole (22 December 2021). "Married and transgender women can now enter the Rose of Tralee". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  7. ^ "Ó Sé is new Rose of Tralee host". RTÉ Entertainment. 17 May 2010. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Record Audiences in a time of challenges". The Kerryman. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Rose Entry Form".
  10. ^ "Unmarried mothers can be Roses". BBC News. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  11. ^ "Rose of Tralee reveals that she's gay". RTÉ Entertainment. 25 August 2014. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Rose of Tralee reveals she's gay". Sunday Independent. 24 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  13. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (25 August 2014). "Rose heartened by response to revelations that she is gay". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  14. ^ "Leeds Rose Gabby Logan Wants To Be A TV Presenter 1991". RTÉ. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  15. ^ "American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins on migration, the backlash against her book, and bad poetry in a Belfast bar". 29 January 2020.
  16. ^ Cunningham, Grainne (23 August 2000). "Big Apple's Rose woos Tralee to win the crown". Irish Independent. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  17. ^ Lucey, Anne (23 August 2000). "New Yorker is the millennium Rose". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  18. ^ "Fit for a Royal County Rose! Elysha takes the crown…". 19 August 2015. Archived from the original on 21 August 2015.
  19. ^ "The Chicago Rose has just been crowned the Rose of Tralee". TheJournal. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  20. ^ Blake Knox, Kirsty (22 August 2017). "'I don't know what to say' – Offaly Rose makes history by winning the 2017 Rose of Tralee". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  21. ^ McGreevy, Ronan (16 August 2018). "Rose of Tralee 2018: Waterford Rose takes the crown". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Limerick entrant Sinead Flanagan wins 2019 Rose of Tralee". The Irish Times. 28 August 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Westmeath Rose is crowned the Rose of Tralee 2022". RTE News. 23 August 2022. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  24. ^ "New York Rose Róisín Wiley crowned the 2023 Rose of Tralee". 22 August 2023. Retrieved 22 August 2023.

Channel Four Television, Rose of Tralee, featuring Gay Byrne, narrator Henry Kelly, directed by Will Scally, correction to previous notification.