At the hour of writing, the New York Rose, Róisín Wiley, has just been named the 62nd International Rose of Tralee for 2023. She was a worthy winner, even if it is instinctively hard for me to congratulate a New Yorker. Over two nights, after in-depth interviews with a three-member judging panel, 32 Roses from across Ireland and throughout the world took part in a nationally televised program of entertainment and conversation with co-hosts Dáithí Ó Sé and Kathryn Thomas, both well-known Irish media personalities.
The Boston & New England Rose, Dorchester’s Fiona Weir, shone, as did her Co. Leitrim-born grandmother, Rosaleen, who concluded her video message to Fiona from a Boston area nursing home with “This is Granny, bye!” and stole everyone’s hearts in the process. Each in her own way, the 32 women who appeared on the stage excelled and did themselves, their families, and their communities proud. Viewership figures have not been released, but it is consistently one of the most watched events on RTÉ and also draws a massive global audience online.
The Rose of Tralee event is, in my view, a wonderfully unique festival of young women, of Ireland and of the Irishness that so many millions of us share. It is notable that the Roses wear long dresses, have an enviable record of academic, athletic, cultural, and professional accomplishments and demonstrate a special range of talents. It absolutely is not a beauty pageant and is not remotely tawdry.
These facts do not deter its detractors. In August, without fail, the Rose of Tralee is subject to relentless attack on two fronts. First, that it is an embarrassing relic. Second, that it is inescapably sexist and arguably misogynist. The Irish Times columnist Justine McCarthy was quite harsh this year, writing that while “the contest does have its charm,” it is a “spectacle” that is “antediluvian…way past its sell-by date” and “springs from a stubborn, unconscious bias.” RTÉ should “pull the plug” on it. Others have written, and said, worse.
As a long-time aficionado of the Rose of Tralee who refuses to skip a second of it – I know, I know. My brother, friends, cousins, colleagues, wife and children all find it slightly odd – I strongly disagree with the detractors. But I will leave the last words on this vexing debate to the new Rose, Ms. Wiley, the daughter of immigrants from Co. Limerick and a vice-president of a marketing company in Manhattan:
“There is nothing outdated about celebrating women and Irish culture and what makes us beautiful and different. I have never felt more beautiful and strong in myself, and I think the 31 other women would say the same thing. It’s not because of the way we look or the way we dress…When you look at the 31 other girls and everything we’ve brought to the table and the experiences that we’ve brought…I do believe it represents modern Irish women.”
Róisín Wiley’s powerful sentiments are more than good enough for me. Critics be damned, I will always be a Rose of Tralee fan!
Another debate that has raged for some time in this country revolves around the ubiquitous use of posters with political candidates’ names, faces, and parties emblazoned upon them in cities, towns and villages come election time. Three points should be established at the outset for uninitiated readers:
Aspirants for high office in Ireland cannot purchase time on the airwaves to raise awareness of their bids. For whatever reason, bumper stickers and lawn signs are exceedingly rare. And the duration of campaigns is strictly regulated. They typically run for weeks, not for months or years as in the United States.
The Minister for Local Government, Darragh O’Brien, has asked Ireland’s newly created Electoral Commission to consider reducing the number of posters and the places where they may be displayed. Opponents of election posters frequently cite environmental concerns and clutter, as well as the potential for obstructing pedestrians or distracting motorists. Yet election posters can be recycled. Any regulations obviously must have regard for public safety.
In my experience, however, a palpable dislike of politics and politicians animates many who want to rid the landscape of election posters. Especially given the ongoing threats to democracy and the rule or law internationally, election posters are to me important symbols of a vibrant, functioning republic and of free, fair elections. They are not a blight; they are a direct, simple, and vital means for candidates to put the people they wish to serve on notice that they are getting into the arena, which in itself is commendable.
Take election posters down immediately once votes are cast. Recycle them. Ensure they do not endanger anyone. But do not limit their use in Irish elections. That’s my short and sweet proposal to the Electoral Commission.
Continuing with the debate theme, the first gathering of Republican presidential hopefuls in Milwaukee ahead of the 2024 primary season is now in the history books. It is a sad reality that perhaps the most prominent aspect of it was Donald Trump’s absence. He, possibly at the urging of his advisers, reached the decision that with holding a roughly 40 percent, no good could have come from sparring with his challengers. The conventional wisdom is that this was a shrewd assessment. Yet one wonders if he missed opportunities to humiliate his rivals, to fire up his base and, crucially, to reassure some conservatives beyond the base who have drifted in his direction in the wake of four indictments they deem politically motivated that he was not seeking to bypass the nomination process.
Whatever the comings and goings of the 45th POTUS, the segment from the debate rebroadcast here repeatedly featured the insurgent billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy’s loud declaration that “the climate change agenda is a hoax!” To say that the Irish people, at the tail end of a summer rife with horrific weather occurrences and consequential human tragedies, were collectively aghast at such a contention is actually an understatement. Much has been made of the divergence in transatlantic thinking on a host of topics in recent years. Indeed, Ramaswamy is an extremist, but still, the variance in outlook between Americans and Europeans may be most pronounced on what is happening to the planet.
Finally, it will be a tremendous privilege for me to return home to Boston on a short visit to present – on behalf of my family – the first annual Brian J. Donnelly Award for Leadership in Public Service to James T. (Jim) Brett on Sept. 21st at the Omni Parker House. I was delighted when Martina Curtin and Jerry McDermott of the Irish Cultural Centre of Greater Boston approached me with the idea. And I know how much it means to my Aunt Ginny and my cousins, Lauren and Brian, for their late husband and father to be honoured every year in this way.
There is no more deserving recipient of the inaugural award than Jim Brett, my Uncle Brian’s long-time friend and fellow native of Dorchester. He has been a tireless advocate, both as a state legislator and subsequently, for people in need of assistance. Jim Brett is a public servant in the truest sense. Details of the event on the 21st, including ticket information, are available at irishculture.org/whats-on/events/.
Larry Donnelly is a Boston born and educated attorney, a Law Lecturer at the University of Galway, and a regular media contributor on politics, current affairs, and law in Ireland and the US. @LarryPDonnelly