The year is 2112. Planet Earth is a very different place. Mighty empires have fallen and new ones have risen in their stead but despite all the upheavals, the Rose of Tralee has still survived. Even its staunchest critics, who lambaste some of its more anachronistic practices, will grudgingly admit that the 160 year-old competition still has a certain odd charm. Here’s Cork News’ very-veteran humourist Colm O’Regan to give a quick preview of the favourites for the crown and a word on the host – an old favourite who has returned to give the festival a timely boost.
It’s easy to be cynical about the Tanora Rose of Tralee. More than anything, one still bristles at its newly acquired title. One after another, inexorably, depressingly, the names of the most cherished landmarks and pillars of Irish society have been sullied by Mammon. The latest outrage, that mobile phone company sponsored 1916 Rising Bicentennial (“OUR charges along the Liffey won’t prevent your independence”), still leaves a taste in the mouth so it should have been no surprise when the Rose of Tralee was plucked.
However that it should be Tanora Enterprises must stick in the craw. For those of us old enough to remember, Tanora was the name of a sparkling tangerine flavoured mineral which could only be found in Cork. When it was discovered that it could be used as a coolant in mobile communication devices, the company has now gone on to become one of the world’s largest companies with a market value of 25 Trillion yuan.
But let us leave cynicism alive for one day. After 103 years of writing whimsy and smartarsery – which has won me three Kellogg’s Pullitzer prizes I might add – I write now in celebration, not in denigration of that most Irish of institutions.
It’s clear to see that this time around the festival has gone all out to recapture some of the magic of its first 100 years. No one was more synonymous with it than Gay Byrne. It was often said he possessed more charisma in his big toe than his successors did in their careers. Now we have a chance to put this to the test as the sprightly 178 year-old – for whom a left big toe is the only non-biomechanical part of his body – returns to the Dome.
The veteran broadcaster will find much changed. Many of the Rose cities he would be familiar with have been buried underneath rising sea levels and some new destinations associated with the ever-expanding Irish diaspora have been added.
The overwhelming favourite for the 2112 crown is the North Korean Rose Kim Dae Dervla. Her pedigree is flawless. Even in her own right, she speaks fluent Donegal Irish, she has red hair and works as a sean-nos hip-hop dance instructor. However it is her ancestry that makes her the raging hot favourite this year. Kim is the great-granddaughter of Crystal Swing’s Derek Burke. Burke made history as being one of the first Western performers ever to play in Pyongyang after leader Kim Jong Un saw a video of the Cork lad doing the Hucklebuck. Legend has it the famously hermetic dictator misunderstood the gyrations as an homage to North Korea martial opera.
Kim Dae Dervla would hope to be do considerably better than the first North Korean Rose. In 2087, when told by Daithi O’Se that she was ‘gas craic’ she shocked festival goers by condemning the whole occasion as ‘a bleak example of capitalist decadence’.
Kim’s strongest rival could be the Greenland Rose, Lippikka Foley. The public have been fascinated by her riches to rags life story as she grew up in one of the most powerful Irish grain-growing dynasties in Greenland. Following the 2107 property crash, which notably only affected Irish investors, her family lost everything and she is now trying to see herself through college working as a waitress at one of Greenland’s 24-hour sunshine resorts.
The dark horse for the bookies is of course The Alien Rose, Zirton-5 O’Donnell. Alien Roses have had a mixed reception in the competition. Many Tralee natives will have less than fond memories of an incident five years ago when the Alien Rose devoured her escort after he surprised her with a gift of a hurley. This year’s Alien is altogether more benign and although entirely gaseous, she confirmed to reporters that she would be singing Danny Boy.
While the contestants have changed, at least Gay Byrne will find the format familiar. The girls will come on stage, have a chat and perhaps perform a party piece.
It is lucky for Byrne that he will not have to preside over the Rose of Tralees of a half a century ago when the competition was based loosely on The Hunger Games. Although incredibly popular, the site of sash-wearing models running through forest hacking at each other with machetes, avoiding killer-bees and all while trying to dance a jig, was a particular unedifying spectacle. There was a general sigh of relief at the time when Channel 4 announced they would not be renewing their interest in the show.
Whoever wins, the Tanora 2112 Rose of Tralee will be a special celebration of the best that this little country can offer and with Ireland half-way through its fifteenth IMF bailout, we need all the good news we can get.