"The Rose of Tralee", a song which gave the name to the "Rose of Tralee" beauty contest held annually, has quite simple, and not very original, lyrics. Apart from the local name-dropping, putting the song very much into County Kerry, there is absolutely nothing that distinguishes it.
In essence, "The Rose of Tralee" is another of these sweetly-sickly Irish songs from the 19th century that harp on about a (presumably somehow lost) love.
To make these songs more topical, they were often given a location ... "Molly Malone" got Dublin, and we find another Mary in "Mary from Dungloe". If the author had been somewhere else at the time, it might well have been "The Rose of Clonee" or "The Rose of Dundee". Witness Percy French, who name-checked whenever he wrote a song ... from Ballyjamesduff to the Mountains of Mourne.
The Rose Of Tralee - the Lyrics
The pale moon was rising above yon green mountain,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea,
When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair, as the rose of the summer,
Yet t'was not her beauty alone that won me.
Oh no, t'was the truth in her eye ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee!
The cool shades of evening their mantle were spreading,
And Mary, all smiling, stood list'ning to me,
The moon through the valley her pale rays was shedding,
When I won the heart of the Rose of Tralee.
On the far fields of India, mid war's bloody thunder,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me,
But the cold hand of death has now torn us asunder
I'm lonely tonight for my Rose of Tralee.
Note that the last verse is often omitted from live performances and song sheets as well ... it does also somehow not quite gel with the rest of the song, I think.
Who Wrote "The Rose Of Tralee"?
First of all , there are Marys by the dozen in any Irish village, Tralee in the 19th century must have had a few hundred of them, from virgin to mother to crone. So looking for a specific connection on either the name or location seems to be a futile thing. And even tracking down the real author is a drag ...
Most people outside Tralee agree that the music was actually composed by the Englishman Charles Glover (1806-1863), and that the words were written by his rough contemporary Edward Mordaunt Spencer, who may or may not have spent time in the area around Tralee. A book of poems by Mordaunt Spencer can be found in the British Library, it was published in 1846 and contains "The Rose of Tralee". The note here, however, states that it was "set to music by Stephen Glover and published by C Jeffrays, Soho Square". Stephen Glover (1813-1870) was another prolific composer at the time. The British Library also holds material that claims that the music was composed by Charles Glover around 1850.
Now in Tralee itself it is a different story ... here tradition has it (and they even have a later monument to prove it, sort of) that "The Rose of Tralee" was instead written by a certain William Pembroke Mulchinock (1820-1864), a wealthy Protestant.
He wrote it for a specific Mary, namely a certain Mary O'Connor, a Catholic servant girl employed in his parents' house. Upper class guy, servant girl, Protestant, Catholic ... you know how it ends. He was sent abroad, only coming back a few years later, to find (no surprise there) that his beloved Mary was already dead and buried.
Mulchinock indeed dabbled in writing, and in 1851 (five years after Mordaunt Spencer published the lyrics) a collection of his poems was published in the USA. However, this did not contain "The Rose of Tralee". You decide ...
That Christy Moore Song ...
Aficionados of Irish folk may notice that there also is a song on the same theme, namely the Rose of Tralee, by Christy Moore. This has, however, not a lot to do with the original one. For starters, it is a lot more fun.
And it pokes fun at everything Irish that is holy. Just the right Eurovision Song Contest material, thought Christy. With a few comely Irish dancers in the background he might even have wowed the non-comprehending crowds (and "Krauts", who like their Christy).
To find out more, see the "Me and the Rose" song lyrics on Christy Moore's website ...