Coming from the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, my viewing habits developed differently to some of my fellow countrymen.
In my house we had what are referred to in Ireland as "The Channels", i.e. BBC, ITV and Channel 4 as a matter of course, whereas some areas down the country weren't so fortunate, their viewing restricted to the two RTÉ stations.
Over time Irish broadcasting choice expanded to allow for TG4, a predominantly Irish language station that is ingeniously niche in its programming and TV3, which is part ITV warehouse, part homegrown tabloid nonsense for which the people responsible should be prosecuted in The Hague. Even with the choice of Irish broadcasters to watch doubling in the 1990's, I still thank the Baby Jesus and his subsequent phases in life every day that I had "The Channels" to preserve my youthful sanity.
That said, Irish TV did provide some reasons to be cheerful, like a red haired puppet called Bosco, an ad for the Electricity Supply Board that has me welling up just thinking about it and a Sunday evening soap opera called Glenroe, the end of which hastened preparations for school the following morning. And, every year in August, there was also The Rose of Tralee.
An event as Irish as red hair, green fields and widescale financial mismanagement, The Rose of Tralee started life as a way for a town in Co Kerry to bring people in over the summer, and over time evolved into a massive international festival, the centrepiece of which is a televised pageant that heralds the inherent loveliness of the ladies of Ireland and its diaspora. The girls, who all have to be between 18 and 28 and never married (though three years ago they allowed unmarried mothers to enter the contest, the crazy liberals) generally split neatly into two categories. There's the home-grown girls, a startling number of whom are primary school teachers, who tend to play up their rural credentials with a general "Hup ya boy ya, keep 'er flyin' Patsy!" demeanour, whereas the international roses are generally a bit more circumspect but invariably full of perky anecdotes about how great it is to be back in the homeland. All the while, the roses are supported by banner-waving friends and family who cheer 'til they're hoarse. They're also each supported by their own escort, who in exchange for charity fundraising and generally being great lads get to tend to the roses' every whim for the week leading up to the show. The one constant in a never-ending carousel of girls is the MC Daithi O'Sé, who is the latest in a long line of well-known Irish personalities who front the thing. Basically, it's one long chat show with a host of guests you'll not have heard of peppered with audience participation and the occasional song and dance. As a concept for a two night annual TV special it places pretty highly on the WTF scale, but would I miss it? Would I heckers.
First of all, anything that provides the basis of a brilliant parody by Father Ted is always worth a look. Second, it's curiously compelling in a Eurovision sort of way, and appeals to the same side of my brain that makes Roger Moore my favourite Bond and Adam West my favourite Batman. Sure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but what would life be like without a show where a grown woman can do a dance about bananas on TV? A bloody dull one, that's what. Besides, it's miles better than the Calor Gas Housewife Of The Year, which actually existed at a point in time somehow.
Tradition has a lot to do with it too, and collective water cooler moments such as these are rare in the modern fragmented media landscape. Plus, if I may lay down my default acerbity for a bit, I just plain like hearing beautiful and talented women talking and stuff. For instance, the Philadelphia Rose this year used to work on Sesame Street, hosts fundraisers for animal welfare charities and presents a Beatles-themed radio show with her dad. What sort of robot creature wouldn't find that awesome?
As it happened, none of my favourite roses won, not the aforementioned Philadelphia Rose (who did have the impertinence to have a boyfriend) or the Edmonton Rose who had a sort of nineties indie bassist thing going on, or even the Dublin Rose who probably would have won but scuppered her chances with her now notorious party piece by putting a banging donk on it. The honours went to Queensland Rose Tara Talbot, who'll now spend the year being an ambassador for the festival. And when she comes back next year to hand back her tiara (yup, they do the tiara thing) we'll still all be watching.
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