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Oh to win the heart of a Rose of Tralee - the most beautiful girl in the whole of Ireland, or the world, such is the spread and appeal of this prestigious Irish beauty pageant inspired by that very song.
The Rose of Tralee is held in the Co. Kerry town of Tralee each August and has evolved into much more than a simple beauty pageant. From its humble beginnings in 1959, when the festival budget was just £750, the Rose Of Tralee has emerged as one of the most important events in the Irish social calendar, second only to St Patrick's Day for its colour, fervour and popularity. And that's only because St Paddy's Day is declared a public holiday!
To give it it's official title The Rose of Tralee International Festival is a five day festival attracting some 200,000 visitors from all over Ireland and the world. Contestants come from each county of Ireland as well as girls of Irish descent from as far a field as New York, Boston and Australia, to compete for the title of The Rose of Tralee. It's a little like a Miss World competition but much more wholesome.
The festival hits prime time television in Ireland and is watched by nearly a million people, while in Tralee itself a carnival atmosphere prevails as the Roses are paraded on floats through the streets accompanied by open air concerts. The festival has in the past attracted the likes of James Brown, INXS and of course Westlife and has been opened by many an Irish premier looking to further their popularity.
This year's Rose of Tralee Festival is held in August with parades on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening. The latter brings events to a close with the Midnight Madness parade, led by the newly crowned Rose and followed by a fireworks extravaganza.
The highlight of the Festival is the hugely popular Festival Fashion Show as the Roses model the latest collections from Ireland's top designers. Throughout the Festival, Tralee will be hosting a range of family entertainments with a Circus, Fun Fair, marching bands and plenty of craic.
On the week prior to the Festival, the Roses take a scenic tour of Ireland on the Roses Coach from Dublin to Tralee, stopping at some of Ireland's top hotels and most popular visitor attractions.
This year the Roses will visit the National Museum of Ireland and the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin . They will then travel to Co. Carlow and Co. Wexford before visiting to the historic Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary. The Roses will then spend a night in the culinary capital of Ireland, Kinsale , in West Cork. On the final leg of the Roses Tour, the ladies will take a trip around the Ring of Kerry, a tour of Killarney , no doubt taking in Ladies View, before arriving in Tralee.
The festival has been held in Tralee each year since 1959. However it wasn't until the 1970s that organisers decided to name the festival after the famous song of the town, the Rose of Tralee.
The song tells the tale of a doomed love affair between Tralee merchant William Mulchinock and kitchen maid Mary O'Connor in the 19th Century.
William's family were wealthy brogue and linen merchants, Mary was the daughter of a poor brogue maker and lived with her family in a thatched cottage on Brogue Lane in the middle of Tralee. At 17 Mary got a job as a kitchen maid in the grand Mulchinock family home, West Villa and when William met her it was love at first sight.
William and Mary would meet secretly each day by the well in the grounds of West Villa and sometimes they would stroll together up Lover's Lane and go to the dance at Clahane. One night under a pale moon William proposed to Mary. But William's family deeply disapproved of his marriage to a broguemakers daughter. Although Mary loved William, she declined his proposal as she didn't want him to be disowned by his family.
William wrote the song to try and convince her to marry him, but she still refused. Heart broken William left the country only to return to Tralee six years later with Ireland in the midst of the Great Famine. William was intent on seeing Mary again only to find that she had died from tuberculosis.
Mary O'Connor is buried at the graveyard in Clogherbrien on the Fenit Road out from Tralee and William, at his request, is buried beside her.
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For more information on the festival log on to the official web site of the Rose of Tralee, or ask one of our vacation specialists for more details.
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