Heard on the Hill

They wear tiaras and sashes. But don’t call it a beauty pageant

Senate staffer hopes for luck at Ireland’s Rose of Tralee International Festival

Molly Eastman was selected to represent Washington, D.C., at Ireland’s Rose of Tralee International Festival. (Courtesy Molly Eastman)

Molly Eastman is not competing in a beauty pageant. “That would very much be the American take on something like this,” she laughed over the phone from the Hart Senate Office Building. 

Eastman is representing Washington, D.C., this weekend in Ireland’s Rose of Tralee International Festival. Don’t get too caught up in the polished tiaras and evening gowns — “It’s basically a big celebration of Irish heritage,” the staffer for Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo told me.  

The annual event in County Kerry, celebrating its 60th year, lasts five days and features street parades, live entertainment, a fashion show, Rose Ball Gala and even a circus. Hunger won’t be an issue with help from the food at the daily market festival. And thirst? That’s what the Guinness is for.

“Oh, I love Guinness,” Eastman told me. She recalls her grandad letting her scoop the foam off the top of his stout when she was younger because she thought it was whipped cream.

A native of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Eastman is a dual citizen of Ireland, her mother’s native country. She’s been visiting family there since she was a little girl, and even though you might not assume she’s Irish based on her last name, her ability to break into an unblemished brogue makes it hard to refute.

Eastman will be one of 32 “roses” contending for this year’s crown and one of seven hailing from the United States. The contest, with its sashes and spotlights, can feel exclusive, and it wasn’t until recently that the non-pageant evolved toward inclusion. In 2014, winner Maria Walsh made waves when she revealed she was gay just days after receiving the crown, for example.

Through a series of televised interviews, judges will determine which woman is the best “ambassador” to represent Ireland locally and worldwide. Eastman anticipates conversational banter with host and Irish TV icon Dáithí Ó Sé, but she’s ready for any political inquiry that might come her way.

“These are questions I’m getting every day,” said Eastman, who works as a legislative correspondent for Crapo. “I’m going to answer them as truthfully and diplomatically as I can.”

While the festival opens Friday in Ireland, the two-night rose selection begins Monday, Aug. 26. Viewers in the United States can follow along here.

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