No Rose of Tralee this year. But just the mention of it brings back so many memories!

Gay with some of the roses in the Eighties.

No Rose of Tralee.

What a pity that is.

It will be missed, of course, by businesses in the town for whom it is a great opportunity to make a few bob as thousands of visitors pile into the town.

It will be missed by those thousands of visitors.

It will be missed by those hundreds of thousands of people who watched on television.

It will be missed by the girls who were due to take part.

And it will be missed by the people who, every year moan and bitch and whinge about it being demeaning to women (which it is not) dated (maybe a little – but that’s part of the joy of it) and a crashing bore (which is most certainly isn’t, especially if you’re there.)

My association with the Festival of Kerry – of which the Rose contest is a part – goes back, God almighty, 49 years!

A school friend, St John Donovan, was from Spa, just outside the town.

And he asked me if I’d like to join two other locals of our own age, and sing in one of the local pubs in Tralee.

Of course I did.

It was 1971 and we sang in a pub on the Square – it might have been called O’Connors. It might even be where the excellent Cearnóg now stands.

We belted out the usual fare, Peggy Gordon, Big Strong Man and the ballads which, if you listened, you could hear being sung in every pub in the town.

So we chanced something a bit different.

We did Beatles. And it worked.

Our pay was, as far as I remember, zero. And if customers bought us pints, we were given pints. The suggestion that we get the price of the pint in lieu of the drink was dismissed.

Anyway, so began my association.

Local man Dick Spring with Roses at Leinster House,


Not too many years later I was sent to cover the festival for the Evening Herald. And I think our readers might have had almost as much fun as I did because I was sent back year after year.

What do I remember?

Well, the press room was in a bar, the Chamber of Commerce bar I think.

And we were looked after by two legends, Joan Quirke and Ann Boyle.

They had a lot to put up with.

Well, there was drink involved, your honour.

But a few things came to mind when news broke of its cancellation this year.

The late Ted Keane was the boss. A wonderful man.

Every year he would address the gathered newspaper men and women. You could tell the ones who hadn’t been before. They actually wrote it down when Ted said “this year’s festival will be bigger and better than ever before.”

He used to smile at the regulars as he said it.

And he would talk about a permanent Dome – the Dome was the massive marquee where the actual contest was held. It was all tongue in cheek but the hacks there for the first time didn’t know that!

I remember the Brogue Inn, packed to the rafters every night because it was a great pub run by a great man, the late Bill Kirby.

I remember staying in Benners and arriving home one morning at about four am. I was with some members of the Garda band and as we neared the hotel, they struck up a tune. A window in the hotel opened and another member of the band stuck his head out as he joined in with a trumpet. Then another window and a clarinet. Another with an oboe. Soon, ten windows were open and the most incredible and, I think, beautiful scene unfolded as the Garda band played. What a pity we didn’t have our mobile ‘phones back then so that moment might have been saved for all to enjoy!

I shared the room with a Garda – John Galvin, still a friend.

We had ordered breakfast in bed and sure enough when 8.30 came there was a knock on the door to tell us breakfast had arrived.

We heard a little kerfuffle – and then John went to get our grub.

It was gone.

It had been nicked by the gardai in the room next door and we could actually hear the knives and forks hitting the plates as they ate. And laughed.

Racing was part of the festival then.

Of course, there’s no racecourse anymore.

I don’t like race meetings. But I had to go as part of my job.

I was given a tip for one race. “Can’t lose,” I was told.

So I went to put a quid on it.

Odds were 5/4 or something. So I decided to back a horse with a nice name.

I put my quid on Shannons Light at 30/1.

And it won!

That first year, 1971, St John and I went to the races and I put a shilling on a horse called Persuming which won at 13/1. Pure luck. (I remember the names of the horses, by the way, because I think they’re the only two winners I ever backed in my life.)

I went to collect my 13 shillings and the cranky bookie told me to come back.

I waited and went back half an hour later.

He pointed to his clerk and I handed him the ticket.

He began handing me pound notes. “One, two, three, four…”
And then it dawned on me.

I had forgotten to get my change. So they had taken it that I’d put a whole pound on this outsider.

So I won £13. In 1971. Sure, you’d nearly buy a car with that much money! A pint wasn’t even five shillings!

(I have been asked if I owned up and told the bookie I’d only meant to put a shilling on the horse. What do you think?)

Did we have a drink?

Yes we did.

Tralee. I had great times there and thousands and thousands of people had great times there.

Indeed, I ended up on the Dublin Committee at one stage. And the Festival committee in Tralee awarded me the honour of making me a Friend of the Golden Rose. The male members of this select group were presented with gold rose cuff links. I still treasure mine!

So I’m sorry there’s no festival this year.

I look forward to its return in 2021.



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