Emigration generation adds poignancy to Rose of Tralee Festival

The Rose of Tralee is often criticised by its detractors for failing to represent modern Ireland.

But in one aspect at least, the annual festival is continuing to highlight an all- too up-to-date problem.

For the fourth year running, a significant number of the girls who have made it to Tralee are part of the country’s emigration generation. And despite claims that the recession is easing, it appears there is little sign of a change in this trend.

The years since 2010 have seen a total of 10, six and seven roses who were born in Ireland representing far-flung locations in the 32-person annual competition.

This year is no different, with eight Irish natives flying the flags of Abu Dhabi (Mayo), Dubai (Donegal), Liverpool (Athlone), Melbourne (Kerry), Perth (Cork), Queensland (Limerick), South Australia (Kerry), and Sydney (Cork).

Among those to have emigrated are teachers, a psychologist, a plastic surgeon, and businesswomen, an issue show host Dáithí Ó Sé admitted in a recent interview adds an “extra poignancy” to the occasion.

“There is an added extra poignancy due to the levels of emigration we have suffered. Whereas in the past many international Roses were second or third generation Irish, these days Roses from Australia or beyond are likely to be young women who left Ireland in search of a job,” he said.

While the individual stories of the roses at the centre of the festival highlight the plight of young Irish people in the recession, the competition is at least giving Tralee’s economy a welcome boost — helping to improve the options available to the next generation.

Tralee Chamber has predicted this week’s festivities will bring in a massive €7m to the town, with 150,000 people from all parts of the globe visiting the area and suggestions that as many as 30,000 tourists will be on the streets of Tralee every day.

Businesses are claiming all 900 of the town’s hotel rooms and apartments are already booked out this week, while all 1,050 tickets for last Friday’s Rose Ball sold out a fortnight in advance of the event.

Yesterday’s SkyFest air show, Saturday’s pyrotechnics display, and popular gigs from the Stunning, the Coronas, and Picturehouse have been some of the other biggest attractions to date.

And as part of the nationwide Gathering festivities, the benefit of the Rose of Tralee to the Kerry town is planned to continue into Wednesday and Thursday, with a series of once-off events due to extend the yearly fun for another few days.

Meanwhile, tonight sees the first of two live TV shows that are at the heart of the festival’s public persona.

Among those taking the on-air plunge this evening are Cork natives Edel Buckley (Cork) and Jean O’Riordan (Perth), Kerry rose Gemma Kavanagh, and Clare’s Marie Donnellan.

Bookies’ favourites such as Leitrim’s Edwina Guckian, plus four contestants from the US, two from Canada, four from Australia, and one girl living in Abu Dhabi add to the eclectic mix, which also includes representatives from Longford, Monaghan, and Donegal.

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