Little Nellie, Leo vs LCD, guns, marilyn manson

Wee 23 of the column, in which I drop a steaming deuce on all of Cork and all religions ever.

 

Little Nellie Of God has worked another miracle. The ‘unofficial patron saint of Cork’ (sorry, Gerald Kean) has somehow managed to land Spike Island, her former home, with the title of the best tourist attraction in Europe. Little Nellie lived on Spike in the heart of Cork harbour while her soldier father was stationed there, and the tour of the island begins on the pier outside her house. The tour of the island is fantastic, covering the rich history of the island, from monastic settlement, to star fort, to holding pen for penal transports across the world.

However, Little Nellie must really have pulled some strings to win them the title of top European tourist attraction for 2017 at the World Travel Awards, beating competition from the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Acropolis of Athens, but also our own remarkable attractions such as the Skelligs, the Cliffs Of Moher, or Kilmainham Gaol. Perhaps even more miraculous is the fact that this is Ireland’s third win in a row, with the Titanic Exhibit and Guinness Storehouse winning the same title in the last two years. While all are worthy winners, the fact it is a public vote (with tourism staff getting double votes, bizarrely) brings to mind the time in 2002 when the BBC World Service asked the public to name the greatest song of all time, only for the Wolfe Tones’s belting rendition of A Nation Once Again to take the crown. Spike Island is a fantastic tourism asset, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there are other attractions in Europe that might actually be – whisper it – better. Perhaps this is just a cynical outlook, after all, I also find it odd that Little Nellie’s life of illness, hallucinations, constant pain and death whilst in the care of nuns at age four is somehow seen as evidence of a kind and compassionate god.

There are many great rivalries in music – Tupac versus Biggie, Katy Perry versus Taylor Swift, The Wolfe Tones versus the BBC World Service – but few are as odd as Leo Varadkar versus LCD Soundsystem. Leo attempted to have a night off and enjoy some great music, but after popping backstage to say hi to the band, he allegedly disrespected Al Doyle’s Repeal tote bag, whilst allegedly enjoying a free taco too. Leo learned a few harsh lessons – never meet your heroes, don’t go on Twitter, and don’t leave your gaf until this referendum is out of the way.

The downside of the spat for LCD Soundsystem, one of the cooler bands of the last 15 years, is their credibility being in shreds due to the fact that they had a bunch of politicians at their gig, the death knell for any hipster outfit. Let’s hope Leo mentions that in his upcoming diss track.

Another mass shooting in the USA, and another moment for the world to stop and marvel at America’s love affair with weaponry. The fact that someone was able to get their hands on an estimated 23 guns so powerful that they could kill more than 50 people from the 32nd floor of a hotel is terrifying, but the response from pro-gun groups is confounding. In the aftermath of mass shootings and in the fact of overwhelming evidence that gun controls could have made a difference, they come out with lines about how control is not what is needed, and that there was no way to prevent this.

Nevada has some of the most lax gun laws in a country that is notorious for lax gun laws, so it’s hard to understand how they think shootings would take place if there were no guns. The majority of gun-related deaths in the US do not happen in large groupings. More than 33,000 people die each year from gun violence in the US. Two thirds are suicides, the rest homicides. There is a constant, steady flow of gun murder, but it is the mass shooting that make the world wonder why they cannot give up their guns. In fact, in the aftermath of shootings like the Orlando nightclub massacre, gun sales actually go up – people are scared, so they get more guns, and their much-touted ‘price of freedom’ climbs ever higher. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school killings, it became clear that America will never give up its guns, and ‘the greatest nation on Earth’ will continue to reap a bitter harvest.

 

In the Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s documentary about the Columbine high school massacre, musician Marilyn Manson made the point that American consumer culture has trained people to be afraid and angry, as it made them easier to control. This fear also made them cling to their guns. Manson was scapegoated for the Colorado shootings, after he was incorrectly identified as being one of the bands the shooters listened to. Manson was injured this week during one of his shows, prompting the cancellation of the rest of his tour. The singer tried to climb a prop on the stage only for it to fall on him and knock him unconscious. The great irony of all this is that the prop was in the shape of two huge handguns, making Manson another victim of gun violence, albeit in a surreal way. If only Dr Leo Varadkar had been nibbling a taco backstage, he could have tended to his wounds.

 

Culottes, Varadkar looks like Bob Hope, Malaysia, water charges

Week 22, how did we get here? How have I managed 22 weeks of writing for the biggest newspaper in the country? WTF is going on?

 

In the ongoing nuclear soap opera that is the US versus North Korea, it is clear who wears the trousers – Kim Jong Un. This isn’t because of his brave move of threatening to kill us all, but rather in his bold fashion move of bringing back culottes for men. Not since the golden era of the Jazz Age have men been allowed to wear a trouser twice the width of their bodies, and while back then the billowing pleats complemented their heroin-addled dance moves, Un’s pants truly are worth getting in a flap about.

You might not have noticed his stylish lower half, as you don’t see his legs too often; he is usually pictured sitting at a desk on the launch site of an ICBM, or standing over a Soviet-era machine in a factory that doesn’t make anything. However, there are photos where you can witness the splendour of his absolutely massive trousers. They are at least twelve inches wide from upper thigh all the way to the ground, showing that this Un is not for tapering. What makes them even more bold is that they are suit trousers – these are not skater jeans, to be worn with wallet chain and Offspring T-shirt, but rather a formal attire worn to staged photo ops with children smiling at gunpoint.

His Un-fashionable pantaloons ask the question – is that an intercontinental nuclear warhead in your trousers or are you just Un-happy to see me? Here in the so-called civilised world we are shoehorning ourselves into skinny jeans whilst sipping skinny lattes on lean, zero-hour contracts. Meanwhile, in North Korea, Un is showing that a real man wears his leg wide and his hair in the style of an oversized beetle perched atop his massive head.

Un’s trousers have shown that Trump’s long, miserable red ties are a sad attempt at phallic symbolism, instead looking like a Dali painting of the red button he is going to push to doom us all. I suspect that Trump’s travel ban on North Korea is more about how threatened he feels by another nation’s obvious style, even though part of him must be dying to get into some bespoke clown pants to conceal his yuge backside.

Of course the real victims of the travel ban are the (presumably) tens of thousands of stylish North Koreans who holiday in the US each year, where they go to spend their millions on exotic treats they can’t get at home, like food and basic human rights, whilst also enjoying that home away from home effect of still being in a nation controlled by a despot.

I suggest that all world leaders take a leaf out of Un’s book – our own Taoiseach would cut quite the dash in colossal pants that look like he borrowed them from a Slimming World champ. It would certainly look more fitting than the tan slacks and bomber jacket – a kind of  ‘Bob Hope entertaining the troops’ look – that he wore to the ploughing, offset as it was by the overall appearance of someone who wished there was a travel ban on sophisticated urbanites going more than 50 yards from a Starbucks.

One of the saddest travels bans enacted recently was by Malaysia. The government there has banned both the Better Beer festival set to take place next week, and what they claimed was an upcoming ‘gay party’ (presumably not a political party). But they went one step further and have now banned anyone who had planned on attending either event from entering the country. This followed criticism from an Islamist government party (presumably not a gay party), warning it will turn Kuala Lumpur into the “largest vice centre in Asia”. If you have been to Asia, specifically Thailand, you will know that this is a fairly big claim, as the prospect of a few craft beer heads nerding out over IPAs or a bunch of lads having a dance somehow pales in comparison to moral bankruptcy of the seedier parts of Bangkok.

Great news everyone: We are getting our water charges back by the end of the year. It will be such a great feeling to lodge that cheque and reminisce about all the arguments with friends and family about whether we already pay for water or towards water, and how water conservation is an important part of not killing the planet, and how metering is the only way to ensure we are conscious of each drop we use. I know I will thoroughly enjoy getting that money back, as I bathe in the many joyous memories of falling out with those around me, as I tried to do the right thing, only to learn that it wasn’t the right thing at all, it was completely the wrong thing. Ah well, it’s all just water under the bridge, water that probably came from a leaking pipe that will most likely not get fixed any time soon. Hooray for progress.

Goodnight sweet prints, myanmar, fake news, nuclear war

Week 21 of the column, in which I perform a remarkable about-face on my attitude to print media, now that I am making some money from it. Lol jk – journalism is actually important. Stories are great, but there has to be facts.

 

When I left the newspaper industry three years ago, I thought we were heading into a brave new world. I had spent 12 years working as a subeditor in a regional paper, and saw how the digital revolution democratised communications and gave everyone a voice. I thought this was going to be great – everyone would be a citizen journalist, reporting live from global events, large and small; instead of having a small number of media outlets, we would have a chorus of unbiased, verifiable sources for our information.

The reality, of course, is slightly different. When you buy a newspaper, you are invested in it. You generally read it cover to cover, as you paid for it and are committed to it. You are exposed to things you would otherwise not see, opinions you might not like, ideas and information that you could otherwise miss. The commercial aspect of newspapers also meant that if they get things wrong, they get sued; there is accountability.  The overall ethos of the paper you buy may reflect your world view, but you are still opening your mind to a variety of opinions, insights and facts.

On the internet we tend to only look at the things we like – this is anything from cat videos to celebrity nip slips. The more we hit that like button, the more the internet gives us what we want. It refuses to challenge us. In an age when we have the entire world at our fingertips, we seem more concerned with being entertained than informed. This was brought home to me when I asked a friend if he thought Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan still sing Unplayed Piano, the ballad they wrote in 2004 about Aung San Suu Kyi, now that she has been released from house arrest and seems intent on looking the other way while ethnic cleansing takes place in her country. I got a blank stare. Whatever about knowing the back catalogue of Rice and Hannigan, I thought he might have heard about a massacre that has left an estimated thousand dead. He had not. For all the time we spend on our phones, we seem a lot less connected to the world around us. The grim eventuality of this is currently being playing out across the Atlantic.

In 1938 Orson Welles decided to teach America a lesson. He felt they swallowed everything they heard on the radio a little too readily, and created The War Of The Worlds, a radio play that led many to believe that the planet was under attack from aliens. The Trump election campaign did something similar – it deceived people into believing they were under attack, that aliens were coming for them, and that only one man could save them. Trump said the media organisations that tried to hold him to account were fakes, and people believed him, not them. If there is a lesson there for us, it is that actual news matters more than ever.

Three years ago I picked up my redundancy cheque and headed off into my brave new world, where I believed news would be truly democratic. I was, as I am much of the time, dead wrong. Now I am seeing that newspapers matter, because facts matter. And I’m not just saying that because I get paid to write this, but because the bright lights of news media need to be kept on, for all our sakes.

The death of Harry Dean Stanton didn’t come as a surprise. At 91, there were periods of the last decade when he would pop up in a cameo and I would suddenly remember that he wasn’t actually dead. Like all great character actors, he disappeared into the roles he took. He was the go-to for the hangdog American everyman, and seemed to play a succession of people who had not-quite achieved the American dream. The film critic Roger Ebert once said that no film with Harry Dean Stanton can be altogether bad, although he later qualified this by adding that teen body swap comedy Dream A Little Dream, starring Coreys Haim and Feldman, was a clear violation of this rule.

His greatest role was in Paris Texas, where he played a drifter walking the roads of the southern states as a form of atonement. I loved the film from the first time I saw it as a troubled teenager, but it was only years later I could see that this was because it spoke to me. Being adopted, then central themes of family, abandonment and redemption all resonated in my teenage subconscious. As an adult, I love Paris Texas because I spend much of my time like Stanton’s character Travis, wondering if my family would be better off without me, if I should take to the highways and byways of Munster as penance for being a fairly dismal parent. But as this is Ireland, I probably wouldn’t get far before I got clipped by a passing SUV or drowned in a pothole.

A less notable death this year was that of Stanislav Petrov, aged 77. Although he passed away in May, news is only breaking now of his passing and of the minor incident in 1983 that saw him save the world.  In the depths of the Second Cold War, Russian satellite warning system alerted authorities that a nuclear missile had been launched by the US, and was followed by several others, all headed for Russia. This was an act of war, and the Russians had to scramble to retaliate. Lt Col. Petrov, however, discerned that it was a false alarm, stood down the Russian weapons systems, and prevented what could well have been the end of civilization as we know it. It seems strange that one man had the presence of mind – and faith in humanity – to know that this was a malfunction. Despite all the technology teling him otherwise, Petrov knew that the computers were wrong: He saw information on a screen, and was able to discern that it was false. If only we all had this ability.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave an address to her nation yesterday. She condemned any human rights violations in her country, and previously said an iceberg of false information was being put forward about the situation. All she needs to do now is stick on a little red cap and claim there are good people on both sides, before promising to build a wall around the Rohingya, who the UN have said are victims of a military ethnic cleansing programme. Here in Ireland, people seem strangely on the fence. In a poll of 1,000 adults for Claire Byrne Live, 42% of people said they think the Myanmar leader’s award of the Freedom Of Dublin should be rescinded, 11% disagreed and 47% were unsure. Assuming the 11% were just massive fans of the song Unplayed Piano, it is still incredible that 47% were unsure how to feel about what is happening in Myanmar. If ever there was a case to be made for people to just pick up a paper and have a proper read of it, there it is.

The clown’s pie, the zodiac killer, drunken foetuses, branson’s pickle

Week 20 of the column.

 

My parents were strict. Products of the Forties and Fifties when Catholicism ruled supreme, they took a somewhat North Korean approach to cultural products they deemed unsuitable for me. I have fond memories of my father switching off an RTE matinee showing of Black Narcissus when I was ten (still one of my favourite films), banning heavy metal when I was 15 (I still love heavy metal), or refusing to get me a skateboard for Christmas because, they claimed, people were using them to worship the devil. Years later I realised that they were mixing skateboards up with ouija boards. One thing they never censored were books. They held the belief that reading could almost never be bad for you, and so it was that I found myself reading Stephen King’s IT aged 13.

The genius of King’s work lies not in making us scared of what we can see, as Lovecraft did, but in looking deep into the human soul and showing us the simple horrors of life on earth, such as family holidays (The Shining), figuring out how to work domestic appliances (Maximum Overdrive), the perils of cat ownership (Pet Semetery), the importance of a religious upbringing (Carrie) or American democracy (The Stand). But in IT he tapped into one of our most understandable fears – that of clowns. As another remake of King’s meisterwerk hits our screens, it would appear that one bunch of clowns aren’t going to take this pie in the face to their profession lying down. Two professional clowns appeared on the UK’s GMTV to point out that – spoiler alert – the Pennywise character from IT is only one of the many physical manifestations of the being, before going on to say the film was cheap, a low blow, even coming from a pair of men wearing clownpants and facepaint on live TV.

But perhaps the best protest of IT was in the US, where professional clowns though the best way to win back hearts and mind was to stage a protest outside cinemas screening the film. This resulted in members of the public, emerging blinking into the sunlight following two hours of clown-based horror, only to be confronted with a bunch of angry clowns. King must be delighted that his self fulfilling prophecy has come to pass. The clowning profession might do well to note that the only way back from this PR disaster is to kill the media circus – and the only way to kill a circus is to go for the juggler.

Speaking of sad horrors, spare a moment for depressed vampire Ted Cruz. After the ignominy of an presidential race that saw Trump repeatedly humiliate him, and an ongoing joke about him being the Zodiac killer (which he isn’t, by the way), the American Senator has now hit the headlines for his Twitter account liking a pornographic tweet. Were he a Democrat, it would be taken as a sign of the moral decay of liberals everywhere; sadly for Cruz, he is a member of the Republican Party, whose puritanical zeal means enjoying a bit of filth on Twitter is not ok. It seems that poor Cruz is doomed for humiliation no matter what he does, so perhaps he would be better embracing his own decline – and appearance – and star in an X-rated remake of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot titled Count Cuckula. It couldn’t suck worse than the last 12 months of his career.

Rejoice, pregnant ladies – or at least rejoice as much as you can whilst incubating a ten pound loaf of a child. A report this week in the BMJ Open has revealed that a glass of wine during pregnancy is not going to do major harm, and while total abstinence might be healthier, you don’t need to cause yourself anguish over a drop of chablis during a Narcos marathon. This is great news for the entire population of Ireland, whose entire lives from conception onward is fuelled by medicinal boozing. Frankly, how anyone gets through the various delights of pregnancy without a drink or two is a miracle in itself.

Finally, spare a moment for Richard Branson, the billionaire whose Caribbean island home was trashed by Hurricane Irma. Branson laid the blame for the hurricane squarely at the feet of man made climate change. Given that he owns a massive airline firm, whose planes presumably do not run on sunlight, it was a plot twist akin to the moment in horror films when you realise that the killer is inside the house. If there is a lesson for us all, it’s that those Euromillions ads that suggest we should buy an island are really quite misleading. That and the planet is dying.

ESRI, Chris Rock, iPhone, filth

Week 19 of the column:

 

Signing our son up to the the Economic and Social Research Institute’s sprawling Growing Up In Ireland project seemed like a great idea when he was born back in 2008. As reasonably civic minded people – ie, not quite at the Tidy Towns level, but not fly tippers either – we thought it would be exciting to have his life tracked as part of a social document that could go on to influence Government policy. As part of the Infant Cohort – a wonderfully dystopian title for the phalanx of children born in 2008 – the ESRI call to us every couple of years and ask us a series of questions. Except, as the years have gone by, the visit has become a long dark night of the soul. They weigh and measure us to remind us that we are getting both wider and shorter, and then begins the survey. How much time do you spend playing sports with your son, how often do you read to him, do you bring him to art galleries or libraries, all are met with a resounding ‘not much’ or flat ‘no’. All it’s short is the survey taker pulling out an acoustic guitar and cracking out a heartbreaking rendition of Cats In The Cradle while you sob about all those lost moments.

Once you’re done feeling like an emotional failure – which seems to be about 95% of parenting generally – it’s time to move on the economics, where my repeated acts of professional harakiri are laid bare for all to see.

Then on to the truly awkward questions – the confidential ones you do on a laptop – where you are asked how often you fight in front of the kids, how often do you mention divorce, do you shout at each other. It’s like doing one of those multiple choice questionnaires in a magazine to determine which EastEnders character you are. But in the end, we are happy to take part. We see it as an important social document, even if our input skews the results downwards by several points. My only hope is that when the ESRI swing by in another four years or so, we are all still alive and well, still bickering about money and feeling like failures whilst trying our best.

Chris Rock’s decision to ban phones at his upcoming Dublin gig is a bold move, as it seems impossible to attend any event these days without some goon lofting a phablet in front of your face so that he can catch shaky footage of a solar eclipse, holy apparition or car crash.

Rock’s point was that the footage shot at his gigs ruins his punchlines, but it is the fact that they ruin them in such an atrocious manner that is so awful. Nobody engages in good quality piracy anymore. Back in the 1990s, bootleggers used to smuggle microdisk recorders into gigs and stand at just the right spot to capture the audio. Now, thanks to smartphones that we are never quite sure how to work, we have terrible audio, terrible footage, and terrible photos that make every event seem like we missed nothing. So if you want to share your gig experiences with friends and family – or complete strangers on the internet – please try to do it well, or not at all. If you want to share gigs, buy another ticket, as your Blair Witch style camera work makes everything look like you strapped a webcam to a small dog and sent it crowd surfing. Let’s just hope that Rock’s gig is one to remember and that he doesn’t just phone it in.

The ubiquitous iPhone is about to be born again, this time in its eighth iteration. Rumours abound as to the capabilities, but for non-techies – ie, most of us – it’s the name that is of interest: The iPhone X. This alleged title is to mark the fact that it is the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, rather than the fact that it has been the greatest conduit for pornography since those late night films on RTL in the 1990s.

Back in the days of yore, before the internet, one had to forage for tattered copies of H&E magazine across wasteland, or rely on a school chum whose dad had a dog eared collection of jazz mags that dated back to Famine times. Nowadays it’s all just there for the taking on your phone, rather than on a pack of playing cards someone brought back from a holiday in Greece in 1978, which you had to barter your Subbuteo set for. Spoiled is what ye are.

Congratulations to Hugh Maguire from Meath, whose entry to the 22nd Golden Fork Awards in the UK – a smoked black pudding – saw him take the top title of Great Taste Supreme Champion. Congratulations in a more general sense to whoever it was who realised that ‘black pudding’ is a fantastic rebrand for something that should really be known by the more accurate name of ‘blood sausage’, a terrible name that still manages to sound less weird than iPhone X.

 

 

 

Coffee, Uranus, gas, spoilers

‘Week 18 of my column’ – words I thought I would never write.

 

Finally science is starting to give us some good news. After a week of terrifying weather events, there were glad tidings for those of us who are unable to function without coffee – it may be helping us to live longer. A study of 20,000 men and women found that three to four cups a day may help us to live one third longer.

This is great news for the caffeine junkies among us, who are unable to have a civilised conversation in the morning before they have at least one pharmaceutical-grade coffee, and possibly two on Mondays. The lead researcher in the Spanish study said that it is the antioxidants in coffee that provide the benefits, which I – like all sensible people – take to mean that I should get dosed up to the gills on premium grade Java to the point where my heart is jackhammering and the veins at my temple bulging.

Of course the only problem is how to come down off this obvious health kick – well, science has done it again, this time via the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which has published a study that says moderate drinking may be beneficial to us physically, apart from helping us unwind from a day of guzzling black gold until our eyes pop out of our heads.

Moderate alcohol use in this study was considered to be less than 14 drinks a week for men and seven for women, and was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of overall death. Our path to a longer, healthier life is clear – jugs of the strongest coffee available without prescription, and a healthy dose of grain alcohol to wind down of an evening. After all, having fallen from first place in the year 2000 to an embarrassing 12th in an EU survey on national alcohol consumption, it’s important that we all don the green jersey and start chucking down the Irish coffees. We need to stagger back up the rankings, otherwise the Public Health Alcohol Bill might seem a little unnecessary.

Our frenemy science also gave us a wonderful headline (or terrible chat-up line) this week with the revelation that Uranus is stuffed with diamonds. Perhaps you thought that the light emanating from it was the sun shining out of there, but no, it’s far more exciting than that.

Uranus, despite being the butt of jokes since German astronomer Johann Elert Bode named it after the Greek god of the sky, or possibly after a co-workers backside, is a massive gassy cloud, but one that produces huge diamonds in its interior which then sink to the centre. It was a nice moment for a mass that for centuries failed to be recognised as a planet as it was considered too dim and too slow. The upside of the planet’s goofy name is that people in the mainstream media actually like writing about it – perhaps if we had named all the other planets of the solar system in this manner we would pay more attention to them, and gaze up at the night sky sniggering about the beautiful brown rings of Shaturn.

Bathers along the Sussex coast at the weekend were hit with a mysterious cloud of noxious gas (not from Uranus this time). The occurrence had a slightly apocalyptic feel to it, coming as it did after another bi-annual ‘storm of the century’ pummelled the southern states of America into the mud, while a scaled down version tried to wipe Donegal off the map. A cloud of poisonous gas seems unlikely to be the result of anything other than human endeavour, you can’t help but worry that maybe the planet has really had enough of us trying to kill it.

Perhaps it had this secret defence mechanism all along, much like in the incredibly weak M Night Shyamalan film The Happening. Aside from the moment the credits roll, the high point of the film – an ecological scare story of a sudden wave of human self destruction sparked by nature itself – was Marky Mark Wahlberg pleading with a houseplant to give humanity a second chance. If the Sussex gas did happen to be belched out by an angry planet, I think I would rather smother in its noxious fumes than have to explain to my decrepit vicus about why watering it once a fortnight was too much hassle, or explain to my velociraptor-friendly lawn about how ‘work has just been really crazy recently’.

If you haven’t seen The Happening, firstly, lucky you, and secondly, sorry for not offering a spoiler alert. However, there is a Shyamalanesque plot twist here – a study published by the US Association for Psychological Science showed that people actually preferred watching films when they knew the twist was coming. Some 800 subjects were recruited by the University Of California, where they were read stories by authors like John Updike and Raymond Carver, some with the plot twist revealed beforehand and some without. It transpired that the listeners enjoyed the stories more when they knew what was coming, and could see the machinations of the writers, as they conspired to misdirect them and camouflage the looming reveal. Perhaps we can console ourselves with this when scientists the world over say ‘we told you so’ as the planet self-combusts.

 

Another goddam hot take on the Rose of Tralee

Did this for the Examiner:

 

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Rose of Tralee? The answer, obviously, is a resounding yes – there are many, many people who do not like the Rose of Tralee. There are many reasons why this is so – it is seen as an anachronism, a throwback to the 1950s era that spawned it, when Church and State worked hand in hand to create an atmosphere akin to The Handmaid’s Tale. Fr Ted may have thoroughly skewered the festival via the Lovely Girls contest, but perhaps we have come out the other side of it and can now appreciate the Rose festival for what it is – slightly awkward, relatively harmless fun.

The Rose of Tralee is a many splendored thing – here are just some of its wonders

It’s not a beauty pageant: From the outset it has never been a beauty pageant, because that might suggest humans feel desire, and that wouldn’t have gone over well back in the 1950s when we reproduced via pollination. The Rose of Tralee is meant to be more about the kind of beauty that doesn’t actually matter in the real world – inner beauty. The qualities they seek are those reflected in the song of the same name – that she be lovely and fair, like the first rose of summer. Or beautiful, as it is also known.

Escorts: Like a fringe festival of Lovely Boys, the escorts play a pivotal role by looking like they are going to a dress dance in Templemore training college, whilst making sure their Rose is assisted when alighting from buses or getting back onto buses, or that overseas Roses are taught about important aspects of Irish culture like why we hate the British, what a spicebag is, or how to sledge someone effectively at a puck-out.

The Build-Up: Even though the event is best known as a brief TV spectacle, the Roses actually have to endure a long tour of duty around the country for some awkward photo shoots. Nowhere is safe –  shopping centres, wildlife parks, self service filling station forecourts, public amenity sites, no space is too insignificant or bleak for the Roses to be herded off a bus, only to get assaulted by a llama while someone else takes 300 photos.

The host: From Gaybo, to Raybo, to Tubbs, to Dáithí, the key element to being the host is to be as awkward as humanly possible. This helps the Rose feel more normal, despite being trapped in an actual episode of Fr Ted. The secret is to be asexually bland, and not steal the limelight from the poor Rose – Ray D’Arcy caused consternation the year that he did a cartwheel across the stage as it was deemed much better than most of the Roses’ performances and almost saw him win the title.

The party piece: Some Roses are clearly destined for greatness – look at a pre-stardom Gabby Logan’s professional performance back in 1991. Then there are the Roses who look like they just found out they were expected to do a little party piece, and rattle out a bawdy Limerick or show how they can turn their eyelids inside out. Of course few can compare with the 2011 Dublin Rose, Siobheal Nic Eochaidh, whose wildly thrashing hip-hop dance routine looked like one of the scenes cut from The Exorcist.

The controversies: Somehow you would expect that this gentlest of events would avoid becoming a scene of controversies, but sadly it seems even the Rose Dome has become a sort of analog Twitter in recent years. There was the fathers rights activist who dressed as a priest and stormed the stage with an illegible sign that made everyone think it said Farmers For Justice (which no doubt got a few cheers from the Macra escorts), to last year’s Down Rose, who said the Roses were treated like animals in a circus, which was very upsetting as she had clearly never been to a circus. Those places are awful.

The Rose festival even had its very own Inception moment, when in 2013 a shot on Monday night’s show included cutlery with the crest of the eventual winner printed on them, suggesting that – shock, horror – the winner might be decided before Dáithí opens the envelope on the Tuesday night. Although it seems fitting, given that the winner is meant to have the rose-like qualities espoused in the song, and thus would need to be a plant.

The Rose Of Tralee may have its detractors – and many awkward photo ops on actual tractors – but it is still a very Irish affair. Until the organisers try to modernise it and turn it into some sort of reality TV Battle Royale, perhaps we should just appreciate it for what it is – slightly quaint, gentle fun, that is definitely not a beauty pageant.