Monday, August 23, 2010

The Rose of Tralee - the First Fell Sign of Winter

Is there a more grim harbinger of winter in Ireland than the annual return of the Rose of Tralee to our TV screens? An Spailpín has grown to hate the winter as Iago did hate the Moor and, to his sensitive soul, the saturation media coverage for this week’s event in Tralee has the same effect as hearing the carpenters building the gallows outside the condemned man’s cell.

The Rose of Tralee is a wintry vision because the experience of watching the pageant precisely mirrors what the deepest winter months are like. Stuck in the house with nothing to do but watch telly, and what’s on telly is absolutely, unrelentingly, inescapably cat.

There are things to like about the Rose of Tralee. Being a lovely girl is something to be praised and celebrated. The nation has a surfeit of lovely girls, thank God, and they are a priceless commodity of which we can never have too much. And it’s nice to see the fathers in the audience who live abroad seeing their daughters’ connection with Ireland confirmed, which means a huge amount to them of course.

But dear God, eight hours the thing lasts for! Eight hours cruelly stretched over two nights, like Father Murphy upon the rack. Could they not just do a half-hour highlights piece like Oireachtas Report?

Not that anybody watches the Rose of Tralee, of course. Oh no. One no more admits to watching the Rose of Tralee than one admits to voting Fianna Fáil, going to Mass or reading the Sunday Independent. Yet all these things still seem to get done, somehow.

Ask ten women what they think of the Rose of Tralee and eight of them will deliver a withering look, tell you they couldn’t be bothered with the Rose of Tralee, and return to whatever it was they were doing before you enquired.

Gentlemen interested in investigating the veracity or otherwise of these claims may conduct the following experiment next week: just as the horror is unfolding on the TV, and Daithí Ó Sé is asking a lady from New Zealand if she likes a nice bit of hake for the dinner, remind your darling that you have Tight Lines, Sky Sports’ excellent fly-fishing show on the Sky+, and maybe now would be a good time to watch it together, as a couple.

Next thing you know, your morning and evening star has leapt from the coach, wrenched your arm half-way up your back and catapulted you out into the garden in a move expertly copied from the matchless cinema of Ms Angelina Jolie. And as you sit there, in the dark with the cats who live under the shed, you will know exactly who’s watching the Rose of Tralee loyally every year. But you will still struggle to understand just what is the attraction of eight indeterminable hours of soft old chat and barefoot Irish dancing.

Back in the day, the Rose of Tralee had a sister competition. It was the Calor Kosangas Housewife of the Year competition and, as its excellent Facebook tribute page points out, it was a competition for Roses who had grown old.

Both the Rose of Tralee and Housewife of the Year were presented by Gay Byrne, and both were aimed at the same lovely girl demographic. A lovely girl cannot exist without her diligent mother, and it is any lovely girl’s destiny to become that same diligent mother and home-maker herself as the great wheel of the world rolls around.

Time has caught up with the Housewife of the Year but the Rose of Tralee rolls relentlessly on, even though there is now no grown-up show for the Roses to enter. The most to hope for is a guest panellist spot on Midday on TV3. Unlike the housewives, the ladies spend very little time among the pots and pans on Midday on TV3, but my goodness gracious, you really can’t fault them for gas.