It’s tough being a Rose - spending hours in high-heels, posing for selfies at every turn, the constant smiling and waving, as the tour trundles towards Tralee.
But they all got to kick off their heels and enjoy a cuppa today as the Rose of Tralee Tour made its first stop in Cork in 11 years.
And little wonder for the stop-off, given the strong Rebel shading to this year’s Rose line-up, with seven of the 32 contestants in this, the 60th anniversary year of the Rose of Tralee International Festival, boasting rebel roots or connections.
At a reception hosted in festival sponsors Audio Medical Services’ (AMS) clinic in Carrigaline, London Rose, Laura Kennedy, from Glenville, who works as an IT business analyst and project manager with UBS global investment bank in London, said it feels great to be home.
“We’re all representing different areas, but coming off the bus just now, it was just really special to know that we are home, in a sense - the reaction has been really special but this felt extra poignant,” she said.
Cork Rose Stephanie McCarthy, from Douglas, had two very special people waiting to greet her - her kids, Kayla, six, and Logan, two. Their grandmother, Antoinette, said the entire family was very proud of Stephanie.
“She’s always wanted to be a Rose, and she was getting close to the cut-off age so she said this was her year. We used to have Rose of Tralee nights at home, and she was always talking about wanting to be a Rose - so it’s a great achievement for her,” she said.
Antoinette’s sister, Noreen, is flying in from Dubai to join her, along with Stephanie’s twin sister, Shauna, their brother, Aaron, as well as Stephanie’s partner, Jan, who is Logan’s dad, in Tralee for the festival next week. But Stephanie said Kayla, who will be allowed stay up late to watch her mum on TV, doesn’t view the festival as a competition.
“I’ve taught her that it’s about us all coming together and celebrating all the different cultures, the different people - that’s what it's about,” she said.
South Australia Rose, Simone Hendrick Buchanan, 19, who was born in the former Erinville Hospital in Cork, grew up in Dingle, and is studying to be a teacher, recalled her excitement of attending the Rose parade as a child.
"Since emigrating to Australia, it has more sentimental value to me and to my connection to home,” she said.
Simone, who has worn a hearing aid since the age of six, said she has never let her hearing impairment hold her back.
"The only way it’s impacted my life is it’s made me strive to do greater things. I have never let me disadvantage me in any way,” she said.
That’s why I want to become a primary school teacher - to teach children that they can push the boundaries of what they think are holding them back.
AMS founders, Charles and Kay Lewis, said they hope their sponsorship will highlight the challenges that hearing loss poses.
Abu Dhabi Rose, Karen Cashman, from Carrigtwohill, who has been teaching primary school kids since last summer, said she was honoured to be a role model for young girls and women.
“My message would be to always reach for your dreams, go for it, just be yourself, present yourself in the best possible light,” she said.
Limerick Rose, Sinead Flanagan, a recently qualified doctor whose mum is from Ballyhea, Sydney Rose Rebecca Mazza, a paediatric speech therapist with family connections in Kanturk, and Western Canada Rose, Sarah O’Shea, who grew up in Douglas and who is now a structural engineer in Calgary, complete the Cork line-up.
As he welcomed the Roses, the Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan, described the festival as “a celebration of women”.
And as the Roses donned their heels to board their bus for Tralee, London Rose Laura had some good advice for the escorts.
“Give us a hand when the heels are hurting - a good bit of support on the arm,” she quipped.
The Roses tour Dingle and Killarney tomorrow before the formal launch of the festival in the square, Tralee, at 12noon on Friday followed by a free evening gig by the Hot House Flowers on Denny St.
The live shows will be screened from the Festival Dome on RTÉ One next Monday and Tuesday night.