My Rose of Tralee experience: a lot more than a “lovely girls contest”
My fascination with the Rose of Tralee began in 2014 when my good friend Kat Mahon was crowned the Longford Rose. Always having the misconception of the Rose of Tralee being a “certain type” of woman and knowing what a fun, down to earth (and bit of a divil) Kat is, it opened my interest to the competition. The same year, Maria Walsh was crowned the Rose. She is a woman who I highly admire as a strong, fun and inspiring role model. These are two women I hold in extremely high regard and it was then the notion of “lovely girls competition” left my mind. It was a total game changer and completely refreshing to see. Possibly it had always been this way but it had never struck a chord with me before.
Why I entered the Rose of Tralee
I moved to Germany a few weeks after the 2014 Rose contest and out of curiosity I added the German Rose Centre on Facebook. That was as far as I went and actually forgot about it until the following April when to my surprise I received a message on Facebook from the German Rose Centre. They asked me to enter the German selection for the competition. While I considered it, it was bad timing as I was moving back to Ireland three days before their selection; typical! I text Kat to ask her advice and she said why not join the Longford selection as it was being held on the same day. I’ll be honest, the thoughts of this horrified me! I was open to making a fool of myself in the German selection where nobody knew me but in Longford? Gosh no! I told her this but she convinced me that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself and I should enter…so I did!
I moved home to Longford exactly 55 hours before the Longford selection; it was a whirlwind. It was very surreal, I had been globe trotting for eight months and yet there I was on my third day back in Ireland entering an international competition for women in my hometown. The other Roses I met on the day were fantastic and it was a huge reflection on what a stunning and admirable Rose Kat Mahon was the year previous that such a high caliber of women entered.
Let me tell you when they say the Rose is loads of craic they’re not lying. I have no idea what goes on in Tralee but the selection night in Longford is fantastic. On the day we arrived at 9am for a day of interviews, rehearsals, pampering and getting to know each other. It was wonderful.
Wouldn’t you know it, I was first up! I was delighted with this as it meant getting it over and done with so I could relax then and support all the other girls. That night on stage I spoke about my education having spent six years in college to finally graduate with a Masters in Digital Media and I recalled my worldwide adventure and how happy I was to be back to settle in Longford. For my party piece I was so proud to sing a sing I wrote in school about our friend Sarah who died in a car crash. I cannot describe how amazing and confident I felt. As someone who suffers badly with anxiety, it just melted and I felt like a Rose; a glistening, confident woman who really had a purpose and something of value to offer.
As you may have guessed considering I went on to enter another two times, I didn’t win the title of Longford Rose. That went to the fabulous Daphne Howard who went on to represent Longford in the Dome and spent twelve months as a fantastic ambassador. While I didn’t win a title, what I got was an inner confidence which had grown from eight months spent living abroad alone and was allowed to shine in front of my family, friends and community.
Rose of Tralee – round two
There was never a question of me entering a second time; I loved it and felt I had so much more to offer. The twelve months between each selection was a hugely interesting time for me. My grandad, who I loved dearly, passed away in February 2015 just before the first time I entered. I moved home from Germany to live in his house which was now so desperately lonely and empty. I struggled to look for work and moved to Dublin in the hope of kickstarting my media career and there I continued to struggle for a desperately dark seven months during which I battled a crippling depression, isolation and self-esteem issues. There was some debilitating lows but some incredible highs.
It was also during that time I established this blog and my music blog ceolcaint.com. I got a radio show “A Cuppa With Rachel Masterson” on 8radio.com, which I still have today and is a complete dream come true. Rach Writes Stuff got to the finals of the Irish Blog Awards 2015 and in January 2016 I was named one of top three young Irish female Journalists to watch. With all this amazing stuff happening I left Dublin, returned to Longford and set up my own Digital Media company – Mast Media. I had and still continue to have amazing support from family, friends and business associates and it was with that support and as a newly established entrepreneur I went on to enter a second time.
This time it was different. This time I went in it to win which is absolutely the wrong way to think about it. Joining a competition like this to win is really setting yourself up for a fall. I was so nervous I didn’t enjoy it despite the pampering, the wonderful clothes, the incredible outpouring of love and support and again the opportunity to meet a group of fabulous ladies. In my interviews I spoke about how far I had come in a year, my accolades, my blogs, my depression and again about how happy I was to be back in Longford. I sang the Auld Triangle in memory of my grandad and when I came off stage I was so relieved it was over; I had myself worked into such a state. When Caroline Doyle was named Longford Rose 2016 I was delighted for her, knowing what it meant to her and what a brilliant representative she would be in Tralee – watching her kickboxing Daithi was definitely a highlight.
The week after the selection I went on a trip to Seoul which was a welcome break. I felt completely deflated, disappointed and it had knocked my confidence a bit. I reminded myself that my journey is meant to be different and the road to Tralee is clearly not for me. Anyway, would I really be able for all the fuss of Tralee and 64 Roses considering I spend most of my time by myself….who knows!!
So why did I enter AGAIN??
I swore I wouldn’t, that enough was enough and it wasn’t meant for me – what’s meant for you won’t go by you and all that. Again, the twelve months between selections brought more challenges and more amazing experiences. I was head hunted and hired by Electric Picnic to be the official blogger of the festival (a job I was delighted to accept again this year)! It meant being at the festival in Stradbally and getting PAID to review music…is this real life?! My dream was always to be a Music Journalist and here I was, at the biggest festival in Ireland, heck one of the biggest in Europe, writing the reviews for their website! Amazing. Roll on next week until it all happens again.
Following Electric Picnic, I entered the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition and low and behold I won!! I was named Longford’s Best Young Entrepreneur in the new business idea category and went onto the regional finals in Sligo with two other amazing Longford business people; Brian from Cityswifter and Louise from Fabiani. A friend said to me at the time “this is your Tralee” and it really was.
More challenges arose when in January 2017 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic illness which leaves me in pain and exhausted most of the time. It’s been a difficult few months, I’m learning about how to self-heal, pace and not be so hard on myself all the time (mostly).
Entering the Rose for 2017 didn’t even enter my head until I was in New York at the St Patrick’s Day parade and I saw the Roses and Escorts marching in the parade. It was an amazing reminder of the fun, friendship and real family spirit that the competition brings to people. It’s an institution of which once you become part of, you will always be part of; the Rose Family. And so, my head was turned once more and I checked the rules to see if I was still within the age limit…only just so…one last chance!
Honestly I entered again because I had such a buzz in year one and felt so shit after year two that I wanted that confidence boost. The Fibromyalgia had really kicked the shit out of me and I just wanted to feel valuable, worthwhile and make the most of getting dolled up like an absolute princess again. I made sure to enter this time with the soul purpose of making friends, having a good time and feeling good about myself again. In my interviews I spoke about my illness, fighting back with exercise and self-care, winning the IBYE and all the charity work I was able to do as a result of owning a business and working in the music industry. I had run a number of music nights in aid of Oxfam Ireland and Syria and also did media workshops with the local youth group. I sang the Auld Triangle again and had an absolute ball. When I got off stage I smiled so so much.
Myself and the other Roses got on so well we all just giggled and for a moment I actually forgot we all had to go back out on stage to find out who won. We were all winners as cliche as that sounds. I was just so happy and in that, I had achieved what I set out to do and won my own internal contest. I couldn’t have been more happy for the 2017 Longford Rose Laura Ward as she began her Rose Journey and know she will have the most amazing year representing Longford.
More than just a lovely girls contest
Over the three years I met about 30 other young women in Longford alone who entered the selection. These ladies were a mix of doctors, psychologists, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, fitness experts and much much more. All of these fine women and all of the women who enter the competition have great educations and jobs, have selflessly given their time in charity work across the world, have wonderful personalities, strong opinions and are, yes, lovely people. To call the Rose of Tralee a lovely girls contest is just simply untrue. It’s a contest empowering women to be confident and celebrate their achievements, not to hide away for fear someone might have the wrong impression of us. Women are fearless, powerful, intelligent, beautiful people and that should be shouted from the rooftops.
Does the Rose need a little updating? Possibly, or maybe more women need to be encouraged to enter to help grow its diversity. The competition this year has impressed me with the variety of women, most notably for me of course seeing a blogger, entrepreneur and band manager all take the stage! This notion of a lovely girls beauty pageant needs to end because let’s face it, those women in Tralee are mighty and all of who entered themselves so please don’t insult their intelligence by thinking otherwise.
I personally would love to see Maria Walsh or another strong female representative present the show. While Daithi is a great host, entertainer, the ultimate professional and seems to be loved by all who meet him, the constant referrals to boyfriends, aspirations of marriage and if the lad is going to propose any time soon has to stop. The persona of this mad craic jack the lad is all well and good but it really does nothing for the perception of the Rose. Plus they all deserve someone who truly gets the entire journey to interview them on stage.
Do I wish I got through?
No, I really don’t and I wouldn’t mind saying if I did. I have other dreams and aspirations to work towards and for me the Longford Rose selection was part of my journey in realising that. It was unique for me as it marked the beginning of my life back in Ireland and the two subsequent years to where I am now. I’m really really happy for the girls who did go on to Tralee as I know each made the Rose title their own and had the experience of a lifetime in doing so.
One take away I’ll never forget is a Longford Rose committee member saying to us: “You should all be proud of yourselves, it’s really really hard. I mean, you basically have to stand on stage and talk about how great you are without sounding like an arsehole.” And that is so perfectly true.
I would really recommend any young woman to take part as it really gives you the confidence to go on and give anything you were shy about trying a go. It’s not a competition about winning but about community, meeting new people and celebrating everything that makes you a unique rose.