The Rose Of Tralee Is All Fun And Games... But Is It?
Would a Rose by any other name smell as sweet?
Every year, around the end of August, fans, families and hopeful flora flock in their thousands to the county town of Kerry and head to the infamous tented Dome, home to the Rose of Tralee.
In the belly of the beast, we spot people from all over the globe, cheering on their respective personified wildlife, thorns and all. The first 20 rows are made up of celebrities, former winners and judges extraordinaire – ready to pluck from obscurity, the bonny new face of the Irish diaspora.
Every year, the show is mocked for its traditional values and outdated judging system - the most memorable of these being the Lovely Girls Competition sketch, made famous by the sensational players of Father Ted.
And while the subjects of mockery certainly felt the heat, the temperature wasn't quite high enough – as it wasn't until 2007 that married women could even enter to become Newbridge Silverware (now Tipperary Crystal)'s darling for a year.
Following that, the show – and undoubtedly the newer, younger staff behind it – also allowed single mothers to apply (2008), following the disqualification of an unmarried mother the year before (although we have it on good authority that a lot of the regional centres still quietly sidestep women with children who have high hopes of representing in the Dome).
While these are obviously welcome changes, we can't recall any married roses, nor any with children – suggesting that these women are either still too intimidated to enter, or they're just not appreciated by the rigorous judging system – which, lest we forget, is confined to those under the age of 27.
Another issue? Well, Dáithí, that would be the painful humiliation of the girls on the night. Dressed up in their finery, these women are skirted around the stage by a smooth-talking presenter, expected to look perfect, speak flawlessly and come across as poised as a... well, a rose.
And if they don't?
We know the story.
Over the two nights, some 1.7 million people tune into the big event, a figure which equates to over 42% of all Irish viewers (it was the 9th watched show on RTÉ last year). This number goes hand in hand with the friends, family members and foes watching abroad, tuning in on RTÉ's online player.
On the night, with live television being the way it is, there are always mess-ups. Be it a dirty word, a petticoat trip or an unexpected talent section - these missteps are there for almost two million to see, judge and, unfortunately, tweet about.
Siobheal Nic Eochaidh, 2011's Dublin Rose, is a prime example. Her hip hop routine has bagged her 700,000+ views on Youtube, for all the wrong reasons. Luckily, the vast majority of these girls are intelligent, charming and wholly likeable – but a blow like this, on such a worldwide scale, could leave anyone viewing the world differently.
And as anyone with any sort of internet experience knows, for every one sweet and understanding comment a post receives - another 800 achingly mean ones are sent from the belly of said troll's lair.
And while self-expression, opinions (except, er, related to #repealthe8th) and the art of tradition are all celebrated here, and rightly so – we're left wondering, what influence does this have on the younger generation?
While we admire the show's manifesto explaining outright that is is not a beauty pageant, the imagery of tiaras, sashes, plenty of tears and pretty waving women begs to differ. This display of beauty, appreciation and, let's face it, attention, comes across perfectly peachy in the eyes of the pre-pubescent.
(Side note: according to the song upon which the competition is named, the winner must be ''lovely and fair as the rose of the summer'', yet not judged by ''her beauty alone'' but the truth in her eyes ever dawning''. Riiiiight.)
Which brings us to our next point... The Rosebuds. The Rosebuds are 67 young girls, aged 6-10 from all over Ireland, hand-picked to be paired with an International Rose during the festival in Tralee, thus entering them into Rose life early, and locking down their application years in advance.
Do children have the right to enter if they so wish? Of course. Should they be? Up to them, and their guardians.
But is it often the case that the child doesn't entirely know what they're signing up for, and the parents or guardians are just trying to lead them up a more well-kept path?
Yes, yes it is.
Now, who are we to say what people should and shouldn't do. But with the world that we're living in growing more and more materialistic, self-obsessed and image-orientated, these kinds of things can have long-lasting effects, warping the minds of littl'uns before they even know what warping means.
Is the Rose of Tralee a chance for women to express their true selves? Or is it a pantomime of conformity, showcasing women at what is best perceived their 'best', and highlighting only points that we – the viewers – may find appealing.
Do they talk about their volunteering trips abroad because they want to, or because they feel they have to? Do they sing the songs of yore because they think they're bangers, or because they need to? And do they insist on putting ringlets in their hair because it feels good, or because it reminds the judges of her unmistakable respect for a complicated, and potentially curly Irish past?
So, if the ''truth in her eyes ever-dawning'' is so infinitely important to the whole shebang, then why is it that we feel so utterly in the dark in terms of communication, acceptance and inclusion?
This leaves us thinking several things...
Like, will the rigid age range ever change past 27? Will we ever see a married woman crowned the loveliest girl in all the land? Or, at the end of the day, is all we're really seeing just the product of smoke, mirrors and hedge-clippers?