First ever Rose still blooming 50 years on

TRALEE has welcomed a new bunch of Roses this year, but has also invited back some blooms from the past, including the first ever winner, Alice O’Sullivan.

A resident of Roundwood in Co Wicklow for the past 40 years, native Dubliner Alice was only 19 when she entered the first Rose of Tralee 50 years ago.

It was a different time, she says.

“I had done the Leaving Cert and was hoping to get to Italy to study languages,” she says. “At that time if you didn’t want to be a nurse or a secretary, what else was there to do? Aer Lingus was starting up at that time and it was seen as a glamorous job.”

When she entered the Rose Festival she enjoyed a “great week”, and unheard of media coverage.

“The Rose of Tralee immediately got a high media profile because the BBC was in and they had the news reels,” she recalls. “It became the headlines in the national newspapers at the time.”

Alice says she never used to play up her Rose status and any time she was asked she would say it was her cousin who had won. She did end up working for Aer Lingus, and marvels at the travel experience of today’s Rose candidates.

“The changes from 1959 to now are vast,” she says. “Women’s lives have changed enormously in Ireland. Those that are entering the Rose of Tralee have travelled in a way that we could never have imagined.

“Then you have the growth and change in the town of Tralee. Everyone is commenting on the buzz around the town.”

Alice has been back only twice before this year but is on the judging panel as the festival celebrates its golden jubilee. She has mementos from her own week as Rose, and believes this year’s contestants are “outstanding”, although she won’t reveal if there are any early favourites.

Instead, she believes the continued success of the festival is a testament to its popularity.

“After the Celtic Tiger it gives us a little bit of hope that something like the festival is surviving and surviving really well,” she says, adding that there will be plenty of emotion over the course of the coming week, proving that some things remain the same 50 years on.

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