When the Rose of Tralee International Festival was launched in 1959, nobody realised how long it would run for or how much it would mean to so many people, the first ever Rose has said.
“Right from the word go it got a tremendous amount of publicity and I think it was very good for the town of Tralee, it kind of gave it an identity,” says Alice O’Sullivan. “And I think it’s just brilliant that it’s kept going.
“It’s not just a pretty girl’s competition, but it gets that kind of reputation. But they’re all really strong, intelligent women.”
Alice, who was the Dublin Rose but lives in Wicklow, said the festival drew huge crowds, even in its first year.
“It was a mega festival in Tralee and there was a great amount of street entertainment,” she says.
“There was no television in the country so when something was happening in a town it would bring a huge amount of people in to see what was going on.
“And funnily enough, it was on film in 1959, for the Pathé news. What people did in those days, there were news programmes in cinemas shown and the cinema was a really big kind of deal. And most people went to the pictures and you’d get a movie telling news, or something like that.”
While Alice has footage from her year as Rose of Tralee, another former Rose, Therese Gillespie, does not.
“I would have been the seventh Rose,” says Therese. “I came from Belfast. It was done live on RTÉ television that year and for my 50th birthday my daughters tried to get a copy of the footage of it and RTÉ didn’t seem to have it.”
Therese, who celebratesher 50th anniversary of being a Rose this year, has been a special guest at the festival and was recognised at the Rose Ball at the weekend, with reigning Rose Maria Walsh presenting her with a bouquet of flowers.
“I love the festival so much I come back every year,” she says. “I’ve never missed a year in 50 years. I met a Tralee man, Tim Collins, in 1969 and got married in 1970. And I’m still married to him 45 years later. People ask if it changes your life and it certainly does.
“Someone asked me a couple of days ago which was the best year of the festival and I said it gets better every year. Because it does.”
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