Growing Up Irish: Welcoming The New Rose
by Maureen Ginley
As many of you know from my articles in the Ohio Irish American News, my many tweets, and countless photos posted online, I am a huge fan of the Rose of Tralee International Festival. My experience of going through the 2015 Ohio Rose Selection was nothing short of amazing, and I find the Festival as a whole to be a wonderful celebration of Irish heritage and strong, inspiring women.
These thoughts were 100% reiterated when I watched the Festival’s Stage Nights on the RTÉ Player on August 17th and 18th. Over the course of two evenings, thirty-two young women from all over the globe spoke of their Irish heritage, their hobbies, and what the Festival meant to them. A few even performed a song, poem, or other unique talent! I found myself laughing, crying, or cheering along the whole time.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I continued to be involved with the Festival despite not being chosen at the 2015 Ohio Rose.
“Why bother? You weren’t chosen, so I’d think you’d be a little bitter. I know I would be.”; “You should just forget about it and move on.”; “Are you going to give it another go some other year?”
These are just a few of the comments I brushed off and forgot about as I went on Quinn Irish Radio, attended the Claddagh Ball and joined the 2015 Ohio Rose Kaytee Szente (amongst other wonderful women I’m blessed enough to call Rose sisters) on a float in the Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I just have no bad feelings regarding not being chosen as this year’s Ohio Rose, and I am so proud of all of the work Kaytee has done to make our Centre known around the area and all the way over in Portlaoise!
“You have to be a Rose to know just how wonderful the experience truly is,” I would tell the naysayers and negative nellies I encountered.
The beauty of the Rose of Tralee Festival is that it fosters positive female friendships rooted in something real, something personal to so many women around the world – being a part of the Irish diaspora. I saw this positivity unfold during the week of August 14th to 18th as photos from the Rose Tour were posted online and videos were shared by various Rose Centres.
Everyone – Roses and Escorts, volunteers, Rose Buds, and even our 2014 International Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh – looked like they were having the time of their lives. The smiles on everyone’s faces were genuine; the laughs in the background of videos posted by the Festival on their Facebook page were loud, and almost endless; the updates from different Centres connected those of us unable to attend the Festival in person to the fun that was occurring in Tralee. Even if you weren’t in Ireland, it sure felt like you were.
When the Stage Nights were broadcast online, I was blown away by the poise each of the Roses possessed. It reminded me of the Ohio Selection Night and how maturely my Rose Sisters presented themselves! Dáithí Ó Sé, the host of the Rose of Tralee television nights, interviewed each Rose, asking them questions about their family, their hobbies. He joked around with them, and they joked back. It was almost like watching two old acquaintances paling around each time a new Rose walked onstage to the sound of thunderous applause in the Dome.
One moment from the Stage Nights that I remember distinctly occurred during the Meath Rose’s interview. Elysha Brennan, who would go on to be crowned the 2015 International Rose of Tralee, spoke with Dáithí about how she was a terrible driver. The way she spoke about this with such candor made me laugh out loud. As someone who is probably not the greatest driver either, I felt a kinship with Elysha, and I found myself saying “right on!” as she continued her interview. As she spoke of her schooling and overcoming Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I grew to be more and more impressed with her confidence and positivity. As someone who has gone through so much, she presents herself with the grace and fairness that the Rose of Tralee Festival is all about.
When Dáithí called her name at the end of the evening, announcing that she had been chosen as the 2015 International Rose of Tralee, her Rose sisters bombarded her with congratulatory hugs before she was presented with her new sash and tiara from Maria Walsh. She seemed shocked – I expect anyone would be in that situation – but quickly recovered and gave a speech thanking the Roses who stood beside her and the one that presented her with the stunning headpiece just moments before.
On her year ahead, Elysha says, “I’m really looking forward and excited for the year ahead, I hope to represent myself, my 64 other rose sisters and the Rose of Tralee festival proudly. This time next year I hope to be able to look back on my year as the Rose and say I gave it my best shot and made a positive impact in some way.”
If her presence in Portlaoise and Tralee are any indication of how she’ll do, I’m positive she is going to be an incredible International Rose of Tralee.
I cannot say it enough: the Rose of Tralee Festival is one of the best things that has happened to me in recent years. During a time when I was trying to reestablish myself back home after being away at college for four years, it helped me to find a community of people that inspire me every day. It showed me the kindness and warm heartedness I had always known was so inherent to the Irish. I was able to not only make new friendships that will certainly last a lifetime, but grow as a person even more proud of their heritage than I was before.