Roses flourish in Westport despite downpours
For the first time, all 32 Rose of Tralee contestants visited Mayo in the build up to this week’s festival. Ciara Galvin went along to meet the local connections.
Last Wednesday evening saw the 32 participants in this year’s Rose of Tralee competition arrive into Westport. On a day that saw some of the country receive a month’s supply of rain fall in a matter of hours, the people of Westport gathered at The Quay to welcome the Roses, imploring the Gods not to water them.
A first for the international festival, all 32 Roses arrived in Westport for an overnight stay at the Carlton Atlantic Coast Hotel (The Carlton Hotel Group are one of the main sponsors of the 2012 Rose of Tralee Festival) as part of the ‘Roses tour’ in the run up to the main event in the Dome which kicked off in Tralee last night.
The scene was set, the stage erected, and a steady trickle of tourists, families and Westport-folk were all on site to welcome the beauties. The only thing that wasn’t organised was the weather, but, as the singer on stage proclaimed, ‘the sun is shining’, the crowds rejoiced, as distant sirens and beeping notified them of the Roses’ imminent arrival.
Leading the procession of Roses onto the stage was our very own Mayo Rose, Dervla Kenny, flanked by two male Gardaí.
The Mayo Rose was first of the Roses to join a group of young escorts and mini-roses who presented each participant with a rose.
The mini-roses and escorts got the chance to talk to their designated Roses and get photos taken with them after winning The Carlton Atlantic Coast Hotel colouring competition in The Mayo News recently.
The crowd was addressed by Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council, Cllr Ollie Gannon and Executive Chairman of the Rose of Tralee, Anthony O’Gara.
Cllr Gannon extended a ‘warm welcome and a Céad Mile Fáilte’ to the Roses and expressed hope that the girls would enjoy their stay. He suggested that they might ‘come back to visit us in the future’.
With four of the Roses linked with Mayo either directly, in Dervla Kenny and Perth Rose, Lorna Gallagher’s case, or indirectly, with the Philadelphia Rose, Elizabeth Spellman and the Denver Rose, Tiffany Antikainen, The Mayo News caught up with some of them to see how they’re preparations for Tralee were coming along.
Reiterating her sentiments on stage as she addressed the crowd, Mayo Rose, Dervla Kenny told of how ‘overwhelmed’ she was at standing in front of the crowd in Westport.
“It’s the first time the Roses have ever stopped in Westport and I’m honoured to be here as the Mayo Rose. I can’t begin to explain how wonderful it is.”
Describing the week-long tour as ‘fabulous’ and ‘really exciting’, the Occupational Therapist said she has made ‘such a huge amount of friends’.
When asked about her preparations, Dervla acknowledged her employer, the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dun Laoighaire, for giving her two weeks off for the competition.
The Dun Laoighaire hospital is no stranger to Roses, as Dervla informed us that 2008 winner, Aoife Kelly, the Tipperary Rose that year, also worked in the hospital as an Occupational Therapist.
Enquiring about her fellow ‘Mayo Rose’, Perth’s Lorna Gallagher, Dervla described the two, as ‘bus buddies’.
“We were randomly paired up as bus buddies and we’ve just laughed and giggled all the way down from Dublin, maybe it’s the Mayo understanding.”
Asked if her famous uncle, An Taoiseach will hinder her success, the diplomatic Rose acknowledged that people have been ‘making reference’, but was adamant that her godfather would have no bearing on her position in the competition.
“I’m an individual in this and while I see this as a friendship building exercise, and a positive, for our culture and for tourism, so does my uncle, he supports everything. I don’t think it will be an influence.”
Perth Rose, Lorna Gallagher, who hails from Ballina, emigrated to Western Australia in 2009 and described the opportunity of being in The Rose of Tralee, as ‘the best reason to come home’.
“I have a huge sense of pride in representing Perth in this year’s festival. I’m the first Irish girl the Perth Rose Centre have sent.”
Lorna, who is an Orthopedic Nurse, expressed her delight at being part of the international festival.
“There’s a huge Irish community in Perth and I’m privileged to be representing them and all those who have emigrated over the last number of years.”
Speaking to the Philadelphia Rose, Elizabeth Spellman, we learned that her Irish link was closer than those usually claimed by Roses from the United States. Elizabeth’s Great Grandmother Catherine Duffy was from Ballinrobe. The Spellman family, who were well clued in on their lineage, informed us that the Vaheys in Ballinrobe and the Colemans in Claremorris are cousins of the family.
Elizabeth, who said she was ‘excited to be here’ and explained how everyone had been treating them ‘like royalty’, last visited Ireland eight years ago.
“Myself and my family have been back for family reunions every so often in Connemara,” explained the social worker.
Speaking about the highlights of the tour so far, Elizabeth outlined the visit to Croke Park as being ‘awesome’, and thoroughly enjoyed walking the Etihad Skyline and receiving her certificate of Irish heritage.