I’ve tried to sit down and write about my time at the Rose of Tralee International Festival so many times now. But how do you describe a once-in-a-lifetime event like this?
Back in February of 2016, on that night when my life changed forever, the Rose of Tralee was a faraway adventure waiting to be had.
I would soon buy more dresses than I’ll ever wear again, fill out intense paperwork, decide on talent songs and stage gowns. I would talk to former Roses and share my anxieties with my soon to be Rose sisters across the world.
And despite this research and copious amounts of planning – nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in Ireland back in August.
The Rose of Tralee was one of the most exciting, exhausting, wonderful, frustrating, life changing experiences I have ever had. I grew more in 11 days then I ever thought possible – both in confidence and in understanding of self – and gained life-long friendships that spread across the globe.
From the moment I checked into the Maldron Hotel in Dublin to begin my Rose journey, I entered a fairytale land that I will likely never enter again.
The women I met that August day in the hotel lobby, from all around the world dressed in their finest clothes would soon become more than travel companions. We would laugh together, cry together, sleep and dance and sing together. Our bond extends beyond the Dome and that tour-bus and embodies everything it means to be modern Irish women.
We toured the best of what Ireland had to offer. From the Guinness Storehouse to the Kildare Villages to the Races – we were Irish royalty and treated as such.
If we thought the Rose Tour was good – getting to Tralee was a fairytale on steroids.
Arriving in Kerry was like an outer-body experience. To say the people of Tralee were accommodating would be an understatement. From my pub, the Brouge Inn (shout out to the “Sassy Girls Club!”), to the Rose Hotel, to the Kerry Hospice Foundation, to the wonderful stylists at Sean Taaffe Group who made us feel beautiful on stage – it was overwhelming the amount of kindness and generosity we were shown each and every day from so many people.
Crowds awaited our arrivals, little girls looked up with awe to get our autographs, prosecco filled glasses greeted us at each event. For the first time, every Rose was brought to Tralee to experience the festival (in years passed girls had qualifiers in Post Laois and then those who made the final were brought back for Tralee). This special experience allowed us all the opportunity to be in Tralee where the magic happened; to see firsthand the crowning of one of our friends as the International Rose of Tralee and be a part of the beautiful festival that has had such an impact on the global Irish diaspora.
My time on stage in the Dome went by in the blink of an eye. Getting interviewed by the one-and-only Dáithí Ó Sé, singing in front of hundreds of people, talking about my family history and why being Irish is the best gift of all – nothing could compare to this experience.
Nothing until we met our Rose Buds. These little girls, little Roses in training, paraded around us with pure joy and goodness. When I met my Rose Bud Sarah for the first time, I asked her “What do you like to do for fun?”
Her response? “I like to shop for shoes.”
She said this to the International Rose that brought 17 pairs with her to Ireland. Needless to say, it was a match made in heaven. She was easily one of the best parts of my entire Rose experience.
We were told from the very beginning that we were “65 Roses to start. 65 Roses to finish.” One lucky girl would be selected to represent our entire class but “Once a Rose, Always a Rose.” And I am happy to say that these points ring true. I’ve already been back to Ireland for Rose events post Tralee and will be there to cheer on our Arizona Rose in 2017. I’m even happier to say that the lucky girl selected to represent us as this year’s International Rose of Tralee, Chicago’s Maggie McEldowney, is beyond humble, down-to-earth, and indeed deserving of the title. I know she will represent the class of 2016 with distinction and personality and look forward to following her year connecting the global Irish diaspora.
A few thank yous: Thank you to my wonderful Rose of Tralee Escorts John Slowey and John Finnerty for putting up with me – you lads made me feel important and at home every time we walked out of that dining room and for that I am ever grateful. Thank you to my roommate, the Longford Rose Caroline for the laughs and wonderful friendship. Thank you to my friends for understanding when I had to bail on plans for an event. Thank you to the Arizona Irish community for supporting me and wishing me well every step of the way. Thank you to the Colleen and Rose committee and judges for selecting me and allowing me the opportunity to represent AZ.
But most importantly, thank you to my family. Thank you for your constant love and support; for putting up with me all year (and every year) and traveling thousands of miles away to see me run around Ireland.
It’s cliché to say the Rose of Tralee changed my life – but it certainly did. What a dream come true it was to represent my friends and family and home state and honor my grandmother’s memory. By the time this piece is published, there will likely be, or will nearly be, a new Arizona Colleen and Rose. To you, my new sister, I wish you a year of wonder, of growth and of pride. Take risks, go to every event you can, appreciate every moment at home and in abroad – because it is over before you know it. You are a fierce Irish woman and this is your year for feeling good.
Here’s to the next adventure!