Only in Kerry could you have such a competition as the Rose of Tralee these days and still get away with it. I mean that in a nice way. I do. Stick with me. Kerry people, country people especially appreciate a good girl. A good, descent girl with a beautiful smile, kind sparkling eyes who will woe us with her tales of adventure and professional prowess to date. And what is more, she is still proud to be one of us. And why wouldn’t she be!
We all wanted to be one, a Rose that is. Rebel or not, we all wanted to wave down at beaming Mom and Dad in the audience as we asked Gay, Derek, Marty, Ray, Ryan or Daithi to help us take off our shoes. In my day, Gay was my younger sister as I sang with the kitchen spotlight on me the two lines of ‘Oh Danny Boy’ that I knew before going on to tell the audiance, my youngest sister, how I had plans to save the world in my spare time mind you. I would then take my turn at playing Gay Byrne and ask my sister the tricky questions, really to try and trip her up because, wait for it, she was an Irish Dancer, and a good one at that. Blast. She’d get extra points with the judges.
And God be with the year, a cousin sent us down some old debs dresses to wear in our imaginary Rose parade. Me in my peach and herself in the pink satin. Our escorts would only love us. And in fairness, we’d take our turns winning and wearing the classy crown, holding the bunch of Roses or rolled up tea towels while Gay became the crooner who sang ‘The Rose of Tralee’ in our kitchen in Cork city while the fake tears (some real with laughter) fell and we felt like the most beautiful girl in the country for the time it took the singer to get through the only words of the song she knew.
The arguments continue to be made for and against competitions such as these but I’ll not add to them. I’ll make a cup of tea and wait for my own Kerry escort to finish milking the cows while I sit down and watch some great girls sing into the Kerry air as the pale moon rises above yon green mountain. Here I’m off again, rolling up tea towels.