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By Mary Maguire

Around the same time in August 2011 as The Fleadh was being held in Co. Cavan, so also was another one of Ireland’s acclaimed and longest running festivals, THE ROSE OF TRALEE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL in Co. Kerry. The Rose festival celebrated 50 years in 2009.

This festival evolved from one of the best loved of all Kerry songs “The Rose of Tralee” a simple love ballad, by William Mulchinock, the son of a 19th century wealthy merchant. The Mulchinock family lived in the grand house West Villa. They also owned a considerable amount of land around the Tralee area. They had servants, coachmen, gardeners and farmhands. William’s family considered him to be a dreamer, a good-for-nothing and even worse – a poet.

Mary O’Connor was born and reared in Brogue Lane, in Tralee. The O’Connor family of five lived in a thatched cabin. Mary’s father was a broguemaker (shoemaker) and her mother worked as a dairymaid. She began working in the kitchens in the Mulchinock House and later was given the position of Nursemaid to William’s nieces. Mary was very beautiful. She had long dark hair and soft shining eyes and was very kind and intelligent. William fell in love with her as soon as he saw her.

Because of the difference in social class between the two families their love affair was discouraged. William emigrated and some six years later in 1849, he returned to Tralee. He was on his way to visit Mary and stopped off at The Kings Arms pub for a drink. The Landlord began to draw the curtains as a mark of respect to a passing funeral coming down the street. On enquiring who the funeral was for, William was told it was for a local girl from Brogue Lane, a lovely and fair young woman named Mary O’Connor. William was broken hearted and expressed his love for her in the words of the song “The Rose of Tralee”.

The famine was at its height in Ireland at this time and most of the country’s one million people were trying to survive on a diet of potatoes alone. William married a local girl and they moved to New York. They had 2 children but he refused to forget Mary O’Connor. Consequently the marriage, sadly, did not last. He then returned to Tralee in 1855 and lived the rest of his life in Ashe Street. He died in 1864 at the age of 44 and at his request, was buried at the graveyard in Clogherbrien next to his true love Mary.

The heart of the ROSE OF TRALEE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL is of course the selection of the Rose. This year around 30 Roses from the UK, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East and of course Ireland, competed for the coveted title of Rose of Tralee. Each Rose must be of Irish birth or ancestry. The Roses take time to visit various attractions in Tralee and meet Festival-goers in the town. They can also be seen at any of the three parades that take place during the Festival. The Midnight Madness parade on the final night is led by the newly crowned Rose of Tralee, and followed by a fireworks extravaganza.

The Festival comprises Rose Selection, family carnival, Rose of Tralee Fashion Show and live concerts. Sharon Shannon was one of many top Irish Performers to perform at a free concert on the streets of Tralee. The town's streets are transformed into a feast of parades, music, circus, funfair, markets and live performances along with the Rose of Tralee Fashion Show which is a Festival highlight.

The Festival opens with a Gala Rose Ball, accommodating over 900 guests. Anticipation reaches its highest point at the Rose of Tralee Selection on the last two days of the Festival when supporters fill the 2,000-seat Dome to capacity.

The 2011 SAN FRANCISCO ROSE is Sheila Ashtiani. Sheila is currently studying at San Francisco State University for a degree in Nursing and hopes to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a midwife. The 20-year-old is a member of California Community College’s academic fraternity Phi Theta Kappa which recognizes students who maintain high grades and a commitment to studying. She has been competing in Irish dancing competitions since the age of seven, and also enjoys running, spending time with family and friends, cheering on her favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, and volunteering at her local hospital. Sheila received Notre Dame High School’s Chemistry Award, Social Justice Award and won the vote for Best Personality. She regularly takes part in the San Francisco Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and tries not to take life for granted.

Did you know that there is an actual rose named The Rose of Tralee? Sam McGredy was an internationally renowned Portadown rose grower who became involved with the Festival in the 1960s. He bred and registered the Rose of Tralee rose and presented rose bushes to Tralee, which still grow in the Town Park.


Dublin-born Queensland Rose Tara Talbot (27) won the Rose of Tralee last night. The school teacher is passionate about human rights and a big Liverpool FC fan. Her father is from Dublin and her mother is from the Philippines. Along with taking home the sought after title, the lucky winning rose also took home Newbridge Silverware jewellery, Carlton Hotel gift cards, a €25,000 world prize, a Philip Treacy tiara and a car for the year!