A new selection process, twice as many Roses, an extra night on television, and a longer festival are all reasons why this year’s Rose of Tralee will be the best yet, according to host Dáithí Ó Sé and reigning rose Elysha Brennan.

The duo were in Cork yesterday to launch the search for 2016’s bunch, trekking up Patrick’s Hill and into Rathmore Terrace to try and tempt eligible young men and women into becoming escorts and roses.

“It’s very, very, exciting and it’s good that this year it’s going to be shaken up a small bit,” said Dáithí, who will be hosting the show for the seventh time in August.

“It’s going to have the same level of madness, the same qualities as other years, it’s just the week beforehand and will be a bit busier.

“You’ve twice the amount of Roses coming, you’ve twice the amount of people which will only heighten the fun and festivities.”

This time around, the festival has been extended from five to seven days, from August 17 to 23.

All 68 roses will travel to Tralee for the festivities and will take part in a fly-on-the-wall documentary, to be aired on the Sunday ahead of the live televised shows.

At the end of the documentary, the audience will find out who has made it to the final, live, programmes on the Monday and Tuesday, as usual.

Hitting back at critics, Dáithí said some people had called the show “irrelevant”. “It’s a celebration of Irishness, it’s a celebration of Irish women, and when is the celebration of Irish women ever irrelevant?”

Elysha, 22, from Co Meath, said the experience has been “absolutely amazing” so far and would encourage young women across the country to get involved.

The reigning Rose, who was diagnosed with a type of cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was just 19, said the festival helped her become more self-assured.

“I did suffer with a knock of confidence when I was sick and with my hair falling out and everything. I kind of went a bit in on myself.

“But my self-esteem has gone from strength to strength this year. And I think I can speak for the other girls from my year, my rose sisters, when I say it really does bring out the best in you,” she said.

“I’d encourage everyone to fill out an application form. What do you have to lose? Life is too short. Go for it.”

Revamped Rose of Tralee festival starts 2016 search in Cork

The medical student — who has taken a year out from her studies at the Royal College of Surgeons — has embarked upon a 32-county tour of Ireland to look for her successor, accompanied by stylist Evelyn Dolan-Cronly who will be making sure the rose has a new outfit for each destination — daily outfit updates will be available on fashion blog Styled by Evie.

“We’re going to the north first, going to Stormont and the Titanic experience, and we’re going to lots of schools and hospices and hospitals. It’s going to take four weeks,” she said.

Following the tour, Elysha will embark on five more international trips and jokes that her passport “will be well stamped”.

“The year has absolutely flown by. I literally feel like I’ve blinked and it’s the New Year. I really don’t know how it’s 2016 already. It has been a whirlwind and it’s been busier than I thought it was going to be,” she said.

“India with The Hope Foundation was probably my highlight in terms of personal development.

“I never in a million years thought I’d be 22 and standing in Calcutta seeing the things that I’ve seen.

“It really has opened my eyes to the poverty that people are living in and it really has put a fire in my belly that I really want to make a difference.

“ I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to go back to Calcutta when I qualify with my medical knowledge and go back and work in one of the hospitals.”

Elysha has also been involved with Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, a paediatric oncology charity supporting children with cancer.

“Back in October one of the founders text me and said there’s a little girl Searlait [pronounced Charlotte] and she’s not doing too well.

“They were having a princess day for her in Dunboyne. I went out to meet her. That was the most incredible day I think I’ve had as the Rose of Tralee.

“She was suffering with neuroblastoma for two years and things were kind of going downhill. They didn’t think she’d make it until Christmas,” said Elysha.

“She passed away on Monday morning. I’m so privileged to have met her. She had such a big heart and an incredible smile and her family are just extraordinary.”

Elysha explained she was wearing the dress she wore the day she met Searlait, as a mark of respect.

“If I had to say a person that has had the most profound effect on me in the last couple of months it would definitely be Searlait. I’m thinking of her today and sending lots of love to her family in Kilkenny.”

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