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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Ciara O'Loughlin

Rose of Tralee: ‘Why shouldn’t married and trans women be allowed to take part?’ – Contestants welcome more inclusive pageant

From left, Cork Rose Jenny Byrne, Ohio Rose Sarah McInerney and Arizona Rose Sophie Owen on a visit to Wexford Lavender Farm yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh

The Rose of Tralee festival is back after a two-year break, and there was warm approval yesterday among the 33 competitors for new rules reflecting modern times.

Married women will now be able to enter, the maximum age of entrants has been raised to 29 and transgender women can also take part.

Galway Rose Clare Ann Irwin said it was “absolutely fantastic” that the criteria for taking part has been broadened. 

“It wouldn’t have directly affected me because I’m not married, I’m not trans and I’m only 26, but I do think it’s absolutely fantastic,” she said. 

“Why should they not be allowed to celebrate and take part in what is an inclusive and incredible festival?

“At the end of the day, it celebrates women, and I think the changes to the criteria are also really a sign of the times and how progressive we’ve become as a nation.

“In my opinion, if anything, women who are married and women who are later in their 20s have more life experiences.

“It’s amazing that different women from all walks of life are brought together.”

Jenny Byrne (25), this year’s Cork Rose, said she heartily agrees with the move to extend the maximum entry age to 29.

“I think it’s very good that women who are a bit older are allowed to enter because I’m 25 and in previous years I probably would have felt a bit of pressure to get in before my time runs out.

“At least with the age range being extended it gives us a little more time. I would still consider women in their 30s to be young women. 

“Anything that moves the festival forward and brings it closer to the 21st century and into the mainstream of acceptance is brilliant. 

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“We’re constantly seeing the festival and society in general changing and evolving, so I think it’s great that we’re moving with the times.”

Rachel Duffy (23), who is representing Westmeath, is delighted that something as traditional as the Rose of Tralee is moving with the times.

“I think the Rose of Tralee is something that’s so traditional in the scope of Irish culture and Irish life, and in so many ways Ireland has come far in the last 30 or 40 years in terms of inclusion and diversity,” she said.

“And I think now to see the Rose of Tralee making space for people to just be themselves and be proud of who they are, no matter how they identify, or whether they’re single or married or have a child, I think it’s brilliant.

“It’s great to see it moving with the times. There’s always room for improvement, and to see the Rose of Tralee making those improvements, I think it’s amazing.”

All three women said they decided to enter their local Rose competitions in a bid to make new friends because they were craving socialising after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I thought that entering the Cork Rose competition would be a great way to make new friends and get to know some people in my home county that I was away from and then moved back to,” Ms Byrne said.

“And I think after Covid as well, we were also lonely being stuck at home. I ended up meeting some really lovely girls that I’ve stayed in touch with. It was a great way to get to know some new people.”

Ms Irwin said she entered the Galway Rose competition because many of her friends have emigrated and she wanted to meet new people, but she also wanted to share her story about working in a male-dominated job. 

She is the first female embalmer and funeral director to work in her family’s funeral business since it was established in 1834. 

After working as a teacher for three years, she decided her true calling lay in the funeral business, but she was not encouraged at a young age to pursue the career because of her gender. 

“I’m so much happier in the funeral business. I could have stayed teaching – that’s a lovely job and I liked it, but I knew deep down it wasn’t my true purpose.”

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