The future of the Rose of Tralee Festival, which features girls of Irish ancestry from around the world competing for the festival crown, was in grave doubt at the end of 2003, when Siobhán Hanley, the event’s chief executive admitted that they needed to raise Euro250,000 to save the annual event.
The Irish government refused to bail out the festival, saying that Euro500,000 had been allocated to the event since 2001, and that no tourism money was available to clear the festival’s debts, estimated at Euro900,000. However, after a last-minute plea to the public by Festival organizers significant finances were privately raised to save the Festival from liquidation.
The failure of the festival would have been a huge loss to the area. While the event costs around Euro1 million to stage, it attracts thousands of visitors to County Kerry who spend an estimated Euro25 million.
It was with an eye to tourism dollars that the Festival was first organized in 1959. A group of local business people decided to revamp the annual Tralee Carnival Queen festival to encourage tourism to a town suffering from postwar emigration. This was not to be a beauty contest; the winner would be picked for her good character and personal qualities. And a trip was made to America to attract Roses from New York and Boston. Today, the festival has expanded into a truly international event. The winner of last year’s competition was homegrown Dublin Rose, Orla Tobin, but previous victors have hailed from countries across the world including the U.S., Australia and Italy. ♦