The Rose of Tralee and its loyal volunteers: David Hanbridge

Trying to keep pace with David Hanbridge long enough for him to reflect on his Festival of Kerry memories is no easy task.

avid is continually on the move during his busy working day. It’s this same working ethos that for many years has benefited the Rose of Tralee.

David brings the whole idea of volunteering to another level.

He joined the Festival of Kerry in 1973 as a committee member and a Rose escort. He is one of the longest serving members on the board having also served as chairman and vice-president.

David made the Festival Dome what it is today as it’s his job every year to arrange its layout. There is a slight break in tradition in 2022 as the Munster Technological University (MTU) is the venue (more on that later).

David is also responsible for reviving the popular Rose Escort association with the festival. In the early 1970s, escorting Roses was not what it is today. Its evolution, in large part, is thanks to David’s vision.

“It [escorting] wasn’t working out in those days and the reason is we had 12 local lads and 30 girls, that just wouldn’t work out,” he said.

“In 1976 I became Chief Escort and matched 32 escorts with 32 Roses. Most of the lads were from outside the county, they came from different Rose Centres. That was the start of the escorts as we know it today,” he says.

When David’s escort work was complete, he moved over to the Festival Dome to oversee a seismic and logistically difficult job.

He served in what he calls his ‘Dome apprenticeship’ which was far from easy. This internship later evolved into director and chairperson of the Festival Dome.

“I actually introduced the Fashion Show to the Dome many years ago. We did have a type of Rose Ball in the early years. But in the early 1980s I brought the sit-down meal idea to the Rose Ball.

“I met with Lyden House in Galway, and they covered the meals for 1,100 people. We did this with two kitchens on site,” he said.

“That was the start of the Rose Ball. The Dome has always been a huge expense, but I worked out 14 door openings for shows throughout the week. I found this diluted my expense some bit. We had some fantastic nights in the Dome. I remember we had Brendan Bowyer when over 3,000 people turned out to see him. It was fantastic,” said David.

The live Rose selection is at MTU this year. While it’s accepted the festival has always been in transition, David is not slow in coming forward regarding his views on the move.

Yes, David will give his usual 100 per cent. But if you thought this was enough to conceal David’s opinion, think again.

“I certainly wouldn’t be happy with it. The festival will either end or it will go forward. I think we need to go back to the Dome, to the town, and to the people; back to the foundation of the festival and start building again,” said David.

“This year we must work with the tools we have. I certainly will be giving advice to go back to the town for support. You don’t have to bring in high professional shows that cost a fortune. The local people support it very well as it is. Tralee people know exactly the feel of the festival.”

David continues: “In all the years I worked for the festival I always had a fabulous team. I was carrying 75 percent of the festival for years in terms of organising; the more I got the more I loved it. I remember the late Ted Keane when we had the Kerry Rose selection in the Brandon [Hotel] live on radio. It worked very well. We need to go back to the people and keep it simple.”

David will be at MTU at 6am on Rose selection days preparing the seating and overseeing other aspects of an event that is watched by thousands of people on television. 

“We have to work around what we have. I certainly will be giving it my best again this year up there [MTU]. I’ll be there at 6am as we layout 2,000 chairs according to the RTE plan. The lighting has to be changed, cameras must be installed,” he said.

“RTE will place each Rose Centre in certain places in the audience, everything has to be mapped out. We will work 12 hours on the Saturday and Sunday, and with RTE from Monday on.

“It’s a challenge but a great challenge to have. Once we finish off with a good show, that’s what matters. The show is good for Tralee and good for Kerry.”

When asked what memories stand out most in all his time with the festival, David ponders for a rare second in silence.

“I think putting all the escorts together. The challenges faced were very rewarding. Starting the Rose Ball is also up there. People said you couldn’t sit 1,100 people in a tent in a car park. Of course we could, and we did,” he said.

“Over the years I’ve met so many fabulous people from all over the world. A woman might come up to you and say, ‘Hi David, I was the such-and-such Rose in whatever year’. It’s a fantastic time in our lives.

“More local people should join the festival as it’s absolutely brilliant looking at it from the inside out. This is what life is all about. The festival must stay, and we must grow it,” said David.

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