When Irish Country Living speaks to Dáithí Ó Sé, the presenter is in full preparation mode for the Rose of Tralee. After eight years of hosting the live show, he knows full well what’s in store.
“If the craic is too good you can get swept away in it,” he admits. “I’ll be ducking and diving people until the Tuesday night when all the work is finished.”
“So I’m taking it easy as much as I can. A few handy walks in the evening and messing around with the young fella during the day.”
It’s a dream gig for the RTÉ presenter, who is originally from Feothanach, in the Gaeltacht near Dingle.
“It’s really nice. It means a lot to (the people of Kerry) that one of their own is doing it, and it certainly means a lot to me,” he says. “At the parade on Saturday all the Roses will have family there and one or two of them will have posters with my head on it, which is kind of strange, but humbling at the same time.”
“It’s just a great show to do and there is a huge amount of positivity around the place. Everyone is shouting for everyone, so it’s unique like that,” he says. “I go to the ball on Friday night and on Saturday I’ll lead the parade around the town, and there will be 10 or 15,000 there, so you get into the spirit of it before the TV part.”
Running since 1959, the Rose of Tralee festival is a uniquely Irish institution. Far from a beauty pageant, the festival celebrates the aspirations and ambitions of Irish women across the world.
“I tell you one thing – I have an honours degree in History and Irish and I have almost 20 years in television done, and when I see what they’ve done I feel like I’ve achieved absolutely nothing with my life,” says Dáithí. “They’re all in their mid-20s and a lot of them have MAs, are going to do Phds, and have travelled the world. The Rose of Tralee is a good reflection of Irish women in society.”
Some argue that the event is outdated – what does Dáithí think of the critics?
“They’re certainly entitled to their view, but I wouldn’t agree with it. For example, three years ago we happened to have a Rose of Tralee who is gay. If you went back to the 1980s and said that, my God people would have been shocked and surprised. That happened three years ago and people were like, big deal? So the Rose of Tralee has moved along with the times,” he says.
“For me, the Rose of Tralee is a celebration of Irish women. Just because it has this wholesome feel... these women have achieved a lot in their lives, through education and charity, and outside those realms as well. They have done a lot of positive things and some people feel like they can criticise that because it’s not down in the gutter like other things.”
After eight years of presenting, there are a few moments that stand out for Dáithí.
“There are a few of them and one is something that never happened at all,” he says. “One year, probably four or five years ago, there was a Rose from Ottawa and she was a farmer. One of the chores she used to do as a child was milk a cow. So I said, why don’t we milk a cow on the Rose of Tralee. The cow was just outside the dome and I was going to walk her outside to milk it. Then I heard ‘the cow is gone’ in my earpiece. ‘Keep talking’. I was so excited about the cow that I’m after forgetting what I asked her. Anyway, the cow had bolted outside.
“We had the live proposal too – that was definitely a standout moment. The first night I stepped out in 2010 also stands out in my mind.”
The Rose of Tralee has a special place in Dáithí’s heart for another season – he met his wife, Rita Talty from New Jersey, during the festival in 2008. The pair married in 2012 and welcomed Mícheál Óg in 2014. They now live in Co Galway together.
“Both her parents are from Clare, she has aunts and uncles up the road. She settled very well – and then the young fella came along and he’s unsettling the whole thing,” he says.
“The Rose of Tralee is very dear to me because of that. I met her when I was on the judging panel. Obviously she couldn’t win, because that would be very unfair – to marry me and win the Rose of Tralee,” he laughs.
The Rose of Tralee airs on RTÉ One on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 August. CL