‘She was fair and beautiful as a summer rose’: this 19th-century ballad inspired an international beauty pageant to choose a young woman of Irish descent, which was criticized for its lack of diversity.
Dubbed the “Rose of Tralee”, the televised competition made a comeback this year after being canceled two years in a row due to the pandemic.
As the week ended in this town in County Kerry (southwest of Ireland), the candidates, thirty-three young women in colorful evening dresses, sang the famous song.
Known as the ‘Roses’, they are Irish or from the Irish diaspora around the world and have won local elections attracting thousands of entrants.
As her grandmother had done in 1965, 24-year-old law student Katrina Collins represented the Irish community in New York City. “It was a big thing for me. Growing up I always heard about it,” she told AFP.
A country of five million people, Ireland has traditionally been a country of immigrants, which changed in the 1990s when the economy picked up, attracting European immigrants in particular. Most residents identify as white, but the country’s ethnic diversity is increasing.
But despite candidates from around the world, the 2022 candidates were all white, prompting criticism of the lack of diversity, including that of former “Rose” Brianna Parkins.
“There seems to be a lack of diversity,” the 2016 candidate told Irish public broadcaster RTE. “They truly reflect Irish society,” she added.
Last year, the competition announced a series of changes to revamp itself. Married women are now allowed to participate, the age limit has been raised from 28 to 29, and transgender women are welcome.
Founded in 1959 and a fixture on Irish television since first airing in 1967, the competition has tended to evolve over time.
Irish writer Mary McGill recalled that it was founded at a time when “Catholic Puritanism” formed a “large part” of Irish identity and subjected womanhood to “a form of extreme scrutiny and expectation. Extreme in terms of morality”.
“Because of that origin, I think that baggage still exists,” she said, considering the competition “can strangely tap into the spirit of the times.”
“It has been able to breathe new life into the 21st century because of its connection to Irish identity, nostalgia and the international community.”
– “Identifier” –
Bodybuilding enthusiast Joy Quigley, 26, a competitor from Wexford (in the southeast of Ireland) struck a few poses for the crowd in a bright green dress with a tattoo on her arm.
“I think the modern Irish girl is not a pretty, glamorous princess. We’re a bit rough and it’s important that we can relate to that,” L. told AFP.
Broadcast two consecutive evenings in prime time, the competition surfs a kitsch image.
In Queensland (northwest Australia), men in the audience were moved to tears as they heard the candidate recite a nostalgic poem.
She mentioned chip sandwiches, which are very popular in Ireland.
The ‘Rose of Tralee’ celebrates the links between Irish communities around the world.
Meizen Tinkler, from Toronto, Canada, who was diagnosed with autism a year ago, said she received support from other contestants.
“Rose of Tralee” executive chairman Anthony O’Gara said the criticism was “absurd”. He expressed his excitement by pointing out that three of the last four winners of the competition were of mixed race: “I’m tired of people finding new reviews every year to attack the competition”.
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