The Rose of Tralee is fantasy Ireland. It has no place in our reality
Opinion Ireland The Rose of Tralee is fantasy Ireland. It has no place in our reality Tara Flynn It always seemed outdated, but in the era of #MeToo this beauty pageantâs whitewashed version of womanhood has surely had its day
The Rose of Tralee was always a grim prospect. Growing up in County Cork in the 1980s, surer than blackberries and hay bales , the annual pageant signified the end of the summer: back-to-school was surely around the corner. We would huddle around the telly watching this âcelebrationâ of Irish roots and female comeliness, brought to us by the only channel we had, RTÃ.Irelandâs abortion debate has already succeeded in shifting my position | Gaby Hinsliff Read more
The national broadcaster had us exactly where it wanted us. And where it wanted us, it seemed, was in the 1950s. The Rose of Tralee contest is a festival of wholesomeness, the competitive search for a woman as âlovely and fairâ as Mary, the woman in the song from which it takes its title. This week, just as they have done every August since 1959, young women of Irish ancestry from all around the world line up on a stage to proclaim just how Irish they are, how pure, in dresses at which even the most loyal of bridesmaids would turn up her nose and say, âNo. Itâs just too pouffy.â There is no swimsuit section, but a lot of terrible poems are read.
The pagaent, which is still screened live by the national broadcaster, was anachronistic even in my 1980s schooldays. Inconvenient women were still being shut away in Magdalene laundries (the last closed in 1996) and the amendment banning abortion had just been inserted into the Irish constitution. Yet even then, the Roseâs whitewashed version of womanhood seemed of another time. Ireland was changing. Quietly pushing back against the constraints of the Catholic church, demanding contraception and divorce, Irish women were tough â" fighters who were dragging Ireland into a more modern age despite systemic shame and stigma.
But none of that was in evidence from the festival dome in Tralee, County Kerry, where women who must have been getting it on with their tuxedoed male âescortsâ had to pretend to giggle when the host would look knowingly to camera as he bent to remove their strappy stilettoes, the better for them to jig or reel about the stage for the obligatory turn. âAnkles!â his face seemed to say. A capable lawyer from Boston would then have to dutifully blush. Her fourth-gen Irish parents were in the audience, after all. Competitors who ran farms, who could deliver a calf with their bare hands, would join in on this outdated non-joke. The whole spectacle was cosy and non-threatening and an utter lie.
But there were blips; jarring moments when roses (as the contestants are known) did not comply, which became national scandals. Actually, they didnât, neatly illustrating how out of touch the competition has become. When Maria Walsh from Philadelphia revealed she was gay after her 2014 win, much of the country cheered: it was just a year before Ireland overwhelmingly voted for marriage equality. If the Rose of Tralee wasnât ready, we the voters certainly were. And when, in 2016, Sydney entrant Brianna Parkins advocated the repeal of the constitutional ban on abortion from the stage, t he organisers almost fainted: the festival was no place for politics, they said. But it turns out that Ireland was ready for that, too, as evidenced by this yearâs landslide referendum to update our abortion laws.
Of course, there are bigger fish to fry: an out of control housing crisis, Irelandâs shocking treatment of asylum seekers, the popeâs upcoming visit after decades of church cover-ups of sexual abuse.
But in the era of #MeToo and standing up to sexism, should Irish feminism have this throwback (which has taken until 2018 to let a single mother get to the final) in its sights? Thereâs a line in the original Rose of Tralee song that is its real point: it speaks of âthe truth in her eyes ever dawning, that made me love Mary, the Rose of Traleeâ.Irish feminists target 'women in the home' clause in constitution Read more
If people want a fantasy Ireland that never really existed, let them have their Rosy fun. But truth i s what the rest of us are after.
â¢ Tara Flynn is a comedian and the author of Rage-In: Trolls and Tribulations of Modern LifeTopics
- #MeToo movement
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