Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 14:41 UK

Unmarried mothers can be Roses

American roses from 2007 competition
Roses come from far afield including these US entrants from last year

Unmarried mothers are being allowed to take part in the annual Rose of Tralee competition for the first time.

The County Kerry festival is in its 49th year, attracting young women of Irish descent from around the world.

Entrants are judged on personality rather than just beauty, and are required to do a party piece, such as singing or reciting a poem.

The festival's managing director said like any long-running event, it was important to move with the times.

"We try to balance tradition with the modern world, which is sometimes a difficult balancing act," said Anthony O'Gara.

Not married

The rules of the competition for women aged between 18 and 25 still specify that contestants must not be married, but offspring are no longer outlawed.

Qualifying heats are under way around the world, ahead of the festival in August.

"I know some people who say they're role models, but we don't think a woman is any less of a person because she happens to have a child," Mr O'Gara said.

The young women who come to us bring the modern world to our door, and through them we are a renewed organisation every year
Anthony O'Gara
Rose of Tralee managing director
"We are proud to reflect that's part of the world we live in, and we want to live in the real world."

Inspired by a 19th century song, judges are advised to look for an indefinable quality that captures what its lyrics call "the truth in her eyes".

The event is broadcast live on television and is a fixture of the Irish cultural calendar.

"The Rose of Tralee is like any event which has been around for a long time - it's like a sporting event where the teams playing and the media coverage is very different to that 10 or 20 years ago," said Mr O'Gara.

"Over the last few years, some young ladies have come to us who happen to be single mothers and because of a rule, they weren't allowed to participate so we decided to change that, as we've changed many rules in the past.

"The young women who come to us bring the modern world to our door, and through them we are a renewed organisation every year."


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