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Ireland - Rose of Tralee -

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(generated from captions) Hello, I'm Jane Hutcheon in County Kerry, west Ireland. Every year, for almost half a century, the town of Tralee has played host to an international pageant to find the so-called Rose of Tralee - a young, beautiful and talented woman with an Irish background. More than a million people all over Ireland tune into this event - it's televised over two nights - but, recently, the crowds haven't been what they used to be

and some cynics have suggested that this old-fashioned pageant should be retired. MUSIC PLAYS Festival time in Tralee comes around each year as certainly as Christmas and Easter.

Young and old cram streets for a glimpse of the star attractions. They are known as 'Roses' and they represent Irish communities from all over the world. They are nice girls next door - you know, there's that feel to it. They are the kind of girls

that you know mammies would love their sons to meet, you know. It's wholesome - that's the word I'd use - it's very wholesome. It's just hokey, you know, and I think that it's not something you want on your CV.

It's not empowering to win the Rose of Tralee. I think it's just a bit embarrassing really. They may look like beauty queens, but the Roses say they are much more. The little girls look up at them and they are not just a pretty face. They're some people that have - they may have - you know, university degrees. This year, we have dentists, we have police officers, we have teachers, nurses - I mean, there are women coming from all walks of life, from all around the world, and that's another nice part. Padraig Kenelly is the founder of the local newspaper 'Kerry's Eye'. He recalls that the festival was started back when Tralee was a dying town. There was huge emigration here in the 1950s, 1951 on, and the country has been denuded - it was a very black outlook. Emigration was the main feature. This was to capitalise on the people who had gone to Australia, who had gone to America and Britain and have something to bring them all back, and it was highly successful. This year, 31 girls are vying for the title. After touring Ireland, they now have just a week to impress the judges with qualities attributed to the original Rose of Tralee. The town's traders came up with the idea of a competition based on the words of a sentimental 19th century ballad written by a rich merchant named William,

who falls in love with a poor house-maid, Mary - his Rose of Tralee. Mary died before the two could be married, but in his musical tribute to her, William describes her as lovely, but stresses, "It isn't her beauty that makes her special." And, so, a festival was born, but whatever you do, don't call it a beauty pageant. The girls are encouraged to be friendly and natural, but the judges, who observe them on every official outing, are looking for virtues that may not be immediately obvious. It's not a beauty contest. It's about what I call internal beauty and external beauty and I would see it as a contest to find goodness - real goodness - in people. There's a Shakespearean actor from Philadelphia,

a Dubai real-estate agent, and accomplished dancers like Lisa Marie Berry. She's from a tough neighbourhood in County Wicklow, just outside Dublin. We're trying to rejuvenate the reputation of the area I live in. It hasn't really got a good name because of crime, high unemployment, etc. So, obviously, coming from an area like that, and being here, and if I won the Rose, I could promote the kind of - like you're living proof that just because you come from a lower-class background, that you can succeed.

Orla Neff from Perth is a police officer. She has no time for people who put down the competition. Is it a beauty contest? No way! Somebody egged one of the floats the other night. I think that's just disgraceful, so I think those people need to have a better insight as to what the festival is all about.

For me, it has brought my family back to Ireland - we haven't been back here for 10 years. Returning to Ireland is a major theme of the festival where the Celtic spirit is celebrated at every turn. MUSIC PLAYS The outstanding Rose is chosen at the climax of the festival in a TV talent show. Last year's winner was a dark-horse from the other side of the world. ANNOUNCER: The 2006 Rose of Tralee is the Queensland Rose, Kathryn Ann Feeney! I wasn't expecting this, this is incredible. I've just got to pinch. She won a tiara and a travelling fund worth more than $50,000. She spent the last year doing charity work

and promoting the Rose of Tralee festival around the world. 300km away, in sophisticated Dublin, not everyone zealously anticipates Rose of Tralee time. They don't do bikinis? No, they don't do bikinis - in fairness, they don't. But there's still an aspect to it which is judging women on their appearance. Now, there are other aspects, you'd have to ask them exactly what they are.

It seems to be all-round good egginess from I can see - being a lovely girl and that sort of thing. What bothers Martina Devlin is that the contest is rooted in an era when times were desperate and woman weren't particularly liberated. And I don't think it's very representative of Irish woman today. I think it conjures up an image of Ireland where women were happy to put on a pinny and bake scones with the children running around their feet. You can have cappuccinos and Irish dancing at the same time. You can have lovely girls and supermodels at the same time. In other words, there's room for everything. It's 14 minutes to 10. We're going to be talking Motown after this. Ryan Tubridy is one of Ireland's top broadcasters and a former host of the Rose of Tralee show.

Though he admits the festival is a bit old-fashioned, it still has its place. And I think it's an element of that new-found confidence, if you like -

economically, politically - that we can say, "Yes, we have skyscrapers emerging from the dust," and, "Yes, we have this other little competition." Which is what it is - a little competition. You could just use this and get them to sign their name on top of this. Do you think? For some little girls, the lure of the Rose is beyond debate. At the county library, the Roses have come to open an exhibition.

A pink army blitzes them for autographs. Some have spent hours lovingly preparing scrapbooks. Also here are Carmel Cantillon and Mary Lavelle.

And do you watch the televised program on a Monday and Tuesday? We all do. We might pretend we don't, but we all do! Our husbands don't - our husbands won't watch it - but we have to be uninterrupted.

We pretend we don't care. But don't believe that - we all watch it! We do! As the festival high-point approaches, Tralee Mayor Miriam McGillicuddy gushes over the Roses. They're treated like royalty wherever they go. You're multi-tasking Roses, taking things to a new level, as you show us how to sing, dance, look fabulous, obtain qualifications with ease and still have a sense of your place - where you come from and your heritage. Whatever image the festival conjures up, many Irish viewers only know it as a marathon TV show - six long hours over two nights. Despite this, it's a ratings winner - watched by around 1 million viewers. I've got my own two guns here. Nice pair of guns. And after hours of exuberance, a last look at the line-up before a new Rose blooms. ANNOUNCER: The 2007 Rose of Trelee is... ..Lisa Murtagh! She's everything the organisers hoped for to keep the critics at bay and young girls dreaming of Rose fame. How do you feel? I'm shocked. Lisa Murtagh, who's 27, is a thoroughly modern Rose of Tralee - a lawyer from New York. In the age of Paris Hilton and other starlets, where fame seems to come all too suddenly

and often without much reason, the people of Tralee salute their festival. It doesn't please everyone,

but it seems all good, innocent fun and a way of re-connecting with the Irish diaspora.