Sunday 23 October 2016

Making the Rose of Tralee festival relevant is a minor modern miracle

When we talk about the brands that are most admired and successful, we almost always focus on big, flashy international corporates like Apple, Coca-Cola, Guinness, Samsung.

Their scale provides an intrinsic credibility that can blind us to successes much closer to home - and there is no greater than the Rose of Tralee.

By any objective measure it should have been taken out behind the woodshed and shot long ago, but the cleverest of strategies has kept this venerable institution alive.

The Festival, as it is now called, hates being reminded of its status as a beauty pageant (technically a "lovely and fair" pageant, but they're two sides of the same pretty coin).

Watch footage of Terry Wogan judging the Jersey beauty contest (the winner got a nice holiday in the Channel Islands) and then watch him present the Rose and you'll see the thickness of a cigarette paper separates the two events.

As the decades have passed, one has been dropped as an embarrassing historical anachronism, the other cherished as a much-loved national treasure.

There is a well-known and possibly apocryphal story of an ad executive in New York being interviewed about how the Tylenol brand could be saved after the pills were linked to a number of murders in the US.

His quote was based on the assumption that only a miracle would work. "I want to find the guy who does that and get him to turn my water cooler into a wine cooler," he said.

That task looked easy compared with getting the Rose of Tralee to thrive in the modern world. No matter how it is spun, the central truth is that a group of unmarried young women are paraded on stage to be judged by a panel on their comeliness.

This is where the miracle occurs. By all reason, that central principle should hole the entire undertaking below the waterline. That it doesn't is thanks to a number of things.

l Careful casting. The Roses are varied in looks and backgrounds and many come bearing sympathetic personal stories. Several are laden with ambition and PhDs;

l Ingenious packaging. It is a two-week event culminating in the dome, not a one-night parade of ladies;

l Perfect hosting. Daithi O Se has the wonderful ability to befriend the contestants, knock craic out of them and remain a likeable red-blooded male without ever getting within an ass's roar of sleazy.


Social media should eat the Festival alive. The fact that it doesn't, that criticism is usually limited to a few "lovely girls" gags, is astonishing.

It's an achievement that should be a lesson to the Apples of this world.

It's one thing to sell cutting-edge laptops; it's another to make an aged dowager from a forgotten era hang with the kids. But that's what the Festival has achieved.

Every year she reaches over to the bedside table, pops her dentures in, slips on a frock and heads for the dance floor. Our own little miracle.

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