It has been about four months since I was named the 2023 International Rose of Tralee. I can confidently say that my life has been forever changed.
I replay the night of August 22nd in my head every day. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace throughout the whole night, even after I was selected. I can so vividly remember everything. The moment our Kerry Rose, Kelsey, finished singing and we had all finally finished our moment on stage, I think I can speak on behalf of all the Roses and myself that we felt the biggest sigh of relief and happiness. All we wanted to do was hug one another and celebrate. We had a moment of that backstage, while the Tumbling Paddies were performing, which was pure bliss. Then, someone was asking us to form a line. I was very confused for a moment, I forgot there was anything more to come.
Dáithí did his classic moment where he ran through each of us on stage, and before I knew it, I remember very faintly hearing Kathryn and Dáithí announce, “REPRESENTING NEW YORK…”. It will forever be the most surreal moment of my life. Before I could process my name being announced, the girls had huddled around me. I remember every face, every feeling, it was not a blur. I am so thankful for that, I needed them more than anyone at that moment. Rachel Duffy then came out on stage to present the new sash, and in the few words she spoke to me, she made me feel so at peace and supported.
I walked down the aisle of Rose Escorts and I felt like I was living a dream. It was like a mix of feeling like both Princess Diana and James Bond. I got to hug my parents, but I think we were in such shock that we didn’t know how to react. I remember giving my escort Tommy a big hug, and before I knew it, I was escorted out of the room. The adrenaline kicked in, and I knew we had a night of celebrations, fun, and some business ahead. We got a few quick interviews done, and then hopped into the Garda escorted car and we made our way into town. Here’s where the James Bond feeling kicked in – we’d approach a barrier, and then someone would pop out of nowhere to remove it. We were taking all the secret back roads to avoid traffic, and I almost felt like we were in a car chase.
Before I knew it, we were on the streets of Tralee – this is where I started to feel like Princess Diana – it was so funny to see people’s faces when they realized I was driving by. Everyone was so kind, and happy to see me, no matter who’s flag they were waving – it was truly magical. We made our way up Denny Street and all of my fellow Roses were waiting for me, I was able to hug a few of the girls, it was so special. After pulling the name of the KIA car winner, there was a countdown and I launched the fireworks. Midnight Madness on Denny Street was like nothing else I’d experienced before. To be in Tralee during the Festival, feels like you’ve been transported to another world. Those moments felt like a dream, watching the fireworks and rose petals fly, dancing with the Roses and Rose Escorts – I hope I never forget that feeling.
Back to my James Bond moment, we got to the Meadowlands, and we sped past the crowds at the front door and were escorted through the back entrance. I vividly remember “What Do You Want to Know” by Michael Moloney playing over the speakers, one of my favorite songs that summer. The next hour was spent meeting the judges, my family, previous Roses of Tralee. It was a bit of a blur, but I am so happy I had those moments to thank everyone. Throughout the night whenever I would run into any other Roses, we shared moments that solidified the fact that this is about SO much more than being named the Rose of Tralee. It’s the connections we made, and how we will support each other for the rest of our lives. We spent the night dancing and celebrating with my family. We even had a few surprise guests make the trip from Limerick to celebrate. It was a night at the Meadowlands that I will never forget.
The night very quickly turned into morning when I started one of the busiest days of my life so far. Running on about 2 hours sleep, we started a day of media and 20+ interviews. After a nap in the evening, I got to meet up with my fellow Roses and Escorts, and that was one of my favorite moments of this whole experience – they were all waiting outside to greet me and cheer me on. How lucky am I to have such a supportive group of people around me. The party didn’t stop on Wednesday, when a group of us made our way to Adare to celebrate my Irish homecoming. The Woodlands Hotel hosted us, a place where my family has been visiting since I was a little baby – I was Christened there! The week of selection was truly a whirlwind filled with the most wholesome love and support I have ever experienced in my life.
Reluctantly, I had to get back to my “real life” in New York City. On the following Saturday, I departed from Shannon Airport, and I did not want to leave. I couldn’t wrap my head around leaving Ireland, just a few days after I was named the Rose of Tralee, but in hindsight, coming back to New York has probably been one of the most important factors of this experience for me. I am the New York Rose, and I am representing Irish America. I get to represent the Irish people abroad, and I truly believe that it’s when you leave Ireland, you become prouder of your Irish roots. I have grown up so close to the Irish culture, and in effect have been an unspoken ambassador for Ireland my whole life – myself and all the International Roses can say that. And now, as the Rose of Tralee, I have the honor of formally representing the Irish people, in Ireland and abroad. This has been very important for me, throughout my time between Ireland and New York.
Here are a few highlight moments of my time so far as the Rose of Tralee in New York:
- Friday Morning Coffee Chat at the General Consulate: I was invited by General Consul, Helena Nolan, to host a Coffee Chat at the Consulate a few weeks after my selection. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I was on stage speaking to a crowd of 100+ people who made the trip at 8am on a Friday morning, I felt like I had made it. This was my first official event getting to meet new Irish in New York – whether it was people who immigrated 20+ years ago, or students who had arrived that week on their J1. This event really ignited my happiness to be back in New York as the Rose of Tralee.
- Meeting Tánaiste, Mícheál Martin at the Consulate: A few weeks later, I was back at the Consulate to meet the Tánaiste. Mícheál’s time was very limited, and I felt extremely honored that he made time to meet me and give me some advice on how to prepare for the Ploughing Championships (which I was flying back to Ireland for that evening). He gave me a very kind mention in his speech which really encapsulated the importance of maintaining your pride in your Irish Heritage after leaving Ireland.
- A Night of Wellness at Thérapie Clinic hosted by Navigating New York: Our 2015 New York Rose, Sophie Colgan, has been a role model for me since I met her in 2022. To be invited by Sophie to speak on a panel at Thérapie Clinic’s first NYC location ignited a bit of an imposter syndrome moment! At this event, I got to see some familiar faces and meet new Irish in New York and really loved speaking about different ways to maintain your own wellbeing.
- New York GAA Gala hosted by Marty Morrissey: My first Marty Party! What a night in Times Square to be interviewed by Marty Morrisey on stage, and to sing my song from the Rose of Tralee.
It’s certainly been a bit of a balancing act since returning home, amid working full time and it being one of the busiest years with friend’s weddings! Any time I get a bit overwhelmed, I am reminded how lucky I am to be busy with these kinds of things. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t pinch myself with the opportunities this title has brought to me and the people I’ve gotten to meet. Some of the most surreal moments have come from interviews I’ve been asked to do. Over the last few months, I’ve been interviewed by several amazing publications and platforms – a few that specifically stick out are the Ireland Calls radio show, the Bram Stoker podcast at Trinity College, the Convent of Mercy Secondary school in Roscommon, and Lycée Lalande, Bourg-en-Bresse – a school in France! I must give specific mention to the class in France – I joined the Zoom interview not knowing what to expect, to see a full class of 30+ students, each with a question prepared for me. The class is learn ing English and had spent the semester studying the Rose of Tralee Festival. They had read up on all the Roses and understood the meaning of the Festival. What a surreal moment to learn that a classroom in France had dedicated a full semester to learn about this Festival. It just shows the power and reach that the Rose of Tralee has all around the world.
In September, I made my first official trip back to Ireland. The initial purpose of this trip was to attend the Ploughing Championships (which I had never heard of before). I started to pick up on the humour of going to this event when everyone would giggle a bit after I mentioned it. It is a bit ironic that my first official event back in Ireland required me walking around a field in wellies. I was happy to change up the Rose wardrobe a bit! My Rose Escort Tommy was roped back in for escorting duties, and we were also joined by a few other Roses and Rose Escorts. I was so thankful to have the Wexford Rose, Brónagh, and the Laois Rose, Sinead (my roomie), there for the day. I had a fabulous day meeting people and seeing part of the infamous Ploughing Championships; however, I did not see any actual ploughing. The day was mucky, but bearable, and we got to meet the Flemings (from Kerry – of Instagram fame)! I was star struck.
After the Ploughing Championships, we headed back to Tralee for a few days. I made my first school visit to Kilmoyley National School where my cousin teaches – that was very special. It was my first time having chats with young kids since being selected, and it’s so funny to hear that they really think the Rose of Tralee is a princess with “a castle, a Ferrari, and butlers.” I also spent time in Kerry visiting St Joseph’s Nursing Home in Killorglin, Austin Stacks Football Club in Tralee, and met some of the wonderful students from Skills for Life at Tralee Culture Night. I also got to meet the wonderful Listowel Community Rose, Debbie Woulfe, to present a cheque to the gym in Listowel that had just been impacted by a fire. It was a special moment to visit the Listowel community with Debbie, and to be able to give back to a local business that had suffered so unfortunately. As I’ve traveled around Ireland and met the Roses, I see the pride that each Rose has in their own counties and communities, and it’s highlighted the value and importance of the representation that comes with wearing a sash. The prestige and honor that the Rose of Tralee title holds extends to the community level, and I am very excited to see the network of community Roses continue to grow!
I am now just returning from my second trip back to Ireland. We’ve kicked off launching the 2024 Rose Selections, which was the bulk of my Rose duties while over this time. I spent a wonderful day in Galway with our 2022 Galway Rose, Clare Ann – we met Ollie Turner in the morning and made an appearance on Galway Bay FM, and then spent the day in Galway City. I then made my way to Frankfurt, Germany with 40 of the International Roses and Rose Escorts. This was our first official reunion since August, and it did not disappoint. The Germany Rose Center and our very own Germany Rose, Megan, did an amazing job of hosting us in our base town of Höchst, about half an hour outside of Frankfurt. The General Consul and City Leaders invited us for a reception at the city center Christmas Markets, which was an absolute honor! The Christmas Markets are unbelievable, you really feel like you’re in a Christmas movie, except you can’t understand anything because the language is so different haha… I ordered some sort of sausage for lunch. I’m not too sure what it was, but it tasted good! We were also invited to officially open the Christmas Markets of Höchst – it was very special to visit both the small town and city markets. It somewhat reminded me of Tralee during the Rose of Tralee International Festival as you can see that the people are so proud and invested in upholding the tradition of their annual celebration. I think I can speak on behalf of the Roses and Rose Escorts in saying that we all did not get enough sleep in Frankfurt, but we wouldn’t change it for the world. It was amazing to think that after only really meeting for one week, we all bonded so much to want to take an international trip together. I have trouble planning with friends of 10 years, no mind friends I met ~10 weeks ago. We’re all feeling very lucky to have this new group of friends in our lives.
After Frankfurt, I traveled back to Ireland. I felt like I was on the Rose Tour again, sleeping somewhere different every night! It really has been a bit of a whirlwind, but I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to do it. That week, I traveled to Cork to meet the Lord Mayor and was given a tour of the English Markets, by Rose of Tralee VIP, Paul O’Donnell. Another Princess Diana moment, everyone was so welcoming and kind as I made my way around the market! I also had the pleasure of meeting Adi Roche of Chernobyl Children International – what an amazing partnership we have with Adi’s organization. It’s remarkable work, and so inspiring to see Adi’s passion to continue to help. I also launched the Kilkenny, Kildare, and Dublin 2024 Rose Selections. I was reunited with our 2023 Dublin Rose Beth, and got to meet the 2022 Kildare Rose, Ashley, and 2022 Kilkenny Rose, Molly – it’s been so special to have one-on-one moments with the Roses, and even more special in their home counties. I feel like I’m getting a fast-forwarded version of a tour of Ireland because we’re moving quick, but I have gotten to see more of Ireland than I’ve ever seen before! Oh, and I must mention that I’ve been driving myself! This is a big deal for me haha….my first time driving in Ireland. I’m very lucky to have a beautiful automatic KIA, with a back-up camera (thank goodness). I must give a shout out to my uncle, Joe O’Reilly, for riding with me. I needed a bit or moral support, especially when we got to the round-abouts, but I am very happy to have made it through my first few days driving in Ireland, scratch free!
On my last few days of the trip, we really got in the Christmas spirit. Rose Escort of the Year Tommy Cunningham and I shot the Christmas card photos in the beautiful Meadowlands hotel. I got all dolled up with the help of a Sean Taaffe’s hair stylist and a TRNDBTY makeup artist and I felt like a movie star! Tommy and I then made our way from Tralee to Dublin to attend the Clíona’s Foundation Christmas Gala Ball. I had met Brendan and Terry Ring just a few weeks prior in New York City, so it made the night even more special to be there supporting the wonderful foundation they lead for their daughter, Clíona. I spent the next few days in Dublin. I had intentionally made no plans, knowing I’d probably have been a bit exhausted from the 10 days prior. However, I ended up meeting up with a few of the Roses on Friday night, who convinced me to go out since it was my birthday the following day. My first night out in Dublin was a success, and I spent my birthday exploring Dublin, doing a bit of shopping on Grafton Street, and walking around Stephen’s Green. The day ended with the best surprise meet-up with my Rose roommate, Sinead, our Laois Rose. I was feeling very self-reflective on my birthday – I just kept thinking how proud and in awe young Róisín would be of me today. Even Róisín from this time last year! To be in Dublin and having spent the last two weeks in a mix of Germany and Ireland as the International Rose of Tralee – I would have never believed this day. I have seen myself grow so much in the last year, and I feel so blessed to be where I am in my life at this moment.
Next up, New Years Reunion! I will be traveling back to Ireland to ring in the New Year with the Roses and Rose Escorts at Barberstown Castle. We’re all counting down the days. I’m also preparing for a very important trip to Poland in February, where a few of us will be visiting orphanages with the Happy Kids Foundation and raising funds for both Happy Kids and Chernobyl Children. I am really looking forward to this. I feel as though I have been given so much this year. I want to give back and am very thankful to have the opportunity to make this trip.
Overall, I absolutely love holding the title of the International Rose of Tralee. I am overwhelmed in so many ways, and I don’t think anything could prepare you for the responsibility that this title brings, but I feel as though I was made to do this. I hope that I can continue to get more involved with the Irish community in New York as well as plan a few more weekend trips back to Ireland and internationally in the New Year to attend the 2024 Rose Selections. This year is already going by so fast, and I want to make the most of every moment and opportunity. I am constantly thinking about how I will feel this time next year, and I just want to look back and know that I’ve given this my all and my best.
Thank you to everyone who continues to support me. I would not be able to do this without you, and I will forever be grateful for your encouragement, love, and guidance. Wishing everyone a happy & healthy holiday season. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! Roll on 2024.