First Published August 2022
“I’VE HAD THE SUMMER OF MY LIFE”
As the summer’s later days begin to drift closer to us, one of the great traditions of Irish life – the ROSE OF TRALEE Festival – also begins to come into view. The business-end of this year’s festival gets underway just a few weeks from now on Friday, August 19th. And one thing we can already be sure of, unfortunately, is that the famous tiara won’t rest atop the head of an Offaly Rose this year… because under the current set-up of the festival we don’t have someone there to represent us who might have the chance of following in the history-making footsteps of Jennifer Byrne back in 2017.
However, there IS an Offaly connection to this year’s festival that’s very much worth taking note of. Mount Lucas born designer CHARLOTTE LUCAS has teamed up with TIPPERARY ROSE AISLING O’ DONOVAN, with Aisling all set to wear a gown created by Charlotte on her big night in Tralee. That’s reason enough for OTRT to throw all of our support behind Fethard native Aisling this year! And, I’m delighted to say that we had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Aisling last week.
Aisling has already held the title of Tipperary Rose 2022 since back in March, so before we got on to the subject of her link-up with Charlotte, I began our chat by asking her to take us back to how her journey on the road to Tralee began…
“I actually applied to do the Tipperary Rose in 2020, and was all good and ready to take part in it when the pandemic struck, so it didn’t happen. Then it was postponed and postponed again because of the pandemic. When it rolled around to 2022, my life had changed a lot: I’d completed my Masters, I had a new job, we’d been making developments on our house, we’re going to be building, hopefully soon. Life had moved on, and I really wasn’t sure if I was gonna still take part in it. My application was gone in, but I was humming and hawing still. I was getting my make-up done for a wedding and my make-up artist said, ‘Look Aishling, I’ll sponsor ya, just do it, you won’t regret it’. Then it all just came right for me on the day, I was super lucky, and so glad that I took the plunge and went for it. I was very daunted by the idea of speaking on stage, it’s an intimidating thing to put yourself out there [like that]. It’s different to performing in a group, or standing up with a group of people. When you’re standing up and talking about yourself, you’re a bit exposed, I guess! [Laughs]. But I’m so glad I did it. It’s the most positive thing that’s happened to me – bar the engagement (Aisling recently said ‘Yes!’ to boyfriend Colm) – in a very, very long time. It’s been amazing.”
So when Aisling did first apply for the Tipperary Rose contest a couple of years ago, what had made her want to go for it then?
“I was starting my Masters at that point, and a lot of what my Masters was going to entail would be speaking in front of groups. I’ve since done webinars on wellbeing and that kind of thing, and I wanted the experience of public-speaking more than anything, to get a bit out of my comfort-zone. I knew that if you were successful in being an ambassador for the county, you’d be in positions where you’d have to be mixing with a lot of people. I just thought it would be a good confidence builder. It’s a very empowering thing to be a Rose, you get incredible support. And it empowers women no-end to really celebrate what it means to be a female in Ireland. I thought having the opportunity to be in that position would have been amazing. So that’s why I put in my application in the first place. It was one of those things where I said, ah sure I’ll chance my arm and see how I get on, just give it a lash [laughs]. The worst thing that would come out of it is that I would get to meet a whole new group of people, get up on stage, and put myself out of my comfort-zone. I really wasn’t expecting them to call my name on the night. But then when they did, it opened up a whole world of new opportunities for me. It’s been unreal, amazing!”
Did Aisling have a vision in her mind of what it might be like to become the Tipperary Rose, and if she had, has the reality of actually becoming the Tipperary Rose lived up to those expectations?
“It’s surpassed all of my expectations in that it’s been far more positive and exciting than I ever could have imagined. It’s a really special thing. Once you’re involved in it, you see the magic of the Rose of Tralee Festival, and what it means to be a Rose. I probably didn’t really see that full picture before. I’d watched it on the telly and seen all these amazing women that have gone on to do unbelievable things. You look at the likes of Maria Walsh, she’s an MEP now, and a real leader. You see people like that doing well, but that’s all I knew about it, the telly side of things. But it’s the lead up to it that’s incredible. I can’t wait to go down to the festival now and have the tour and everything like that. I’ve had the summer of my life! And not even just the summer, the last six months have been just absolutely incredible. The amount of nice people I’ve met is amazing. Even today now, in Clonmel when I went in, the kindness of people, their generosity is so heartwarming and refreshing. We heard so much doom-and-gloom during the pandemic that it’s really nice to be reminded that the world is a really kind place, and there’s so many lovely people out there. It reminded me of the sense of community and the spirit of what it means to be Irish. Irish people are very generous and kind, and that spirit is brought to life by the Rose of Tralee Festival for me, definitely. It’s pretty magical.”
So far during her time as Tipperary Rose, Aisling – among other things – has been honoured at a Mayoral reception at Clonmel Town Hall, courtesy of Mayor Michael Murphy, and has also crossed paths with Ultimate Hell Week star, Ray Goggins, running into him at a Ladies GAA event. And one thing is for certain, there will definitely be many more memories made over the course of the weeks ahead. But I wondered if Aisling happened to have a highlight from her time so far?
“Hmmm. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I suppose meeting the girls (the other Roses) has been really, really cool. We’ve been able to meet each other at different selection nights and things like that. Just connecting with that group of ladies has just been unreal. It’s exciting to think of everything that’s still ahead of us. We’ve had such a laugh together already, and anyone I’ve met already is just really lovely. So that’s been really special. But more locally, it’s been getting to know more people across the county, and sharing the joy of the Rose of Tralee with people locally has been magic. I went on a day out there in Nenagh a while ago and there were all these people that I’d never met before, but the warmth of the welcome that I got was unreal. They couldn’t have done more for me on the day, and just being mad to show everything Nenagh had to offer. It was so lovely to celebrate their community with them. Tipperary is an unreal county. If you were a tourist coming to Tipperary, there’s so much to do! The walks, the views, the businesses. And there’s so many places to even eat, things like that that I know about now. And I love going for lunch, let me tell ya! [Laughs]. So yeah, getting to know my county on a different level. I do think that when you get used to a place, it’s not that it loses its magic, but you kind of end up just going to the same places. This has widened my perspective of all that there is to do in Tipperary. Because it’s a really big county, and it has so much to offer. I’m really, really proud to be from Tipp after this summer. I was always proud of it anyway. It’s a special place and I’m glad that I was born here, and that I can be an ambassador for it, ya know…because Tipp is class! [Laughs].”
Before we moved on to talk more about everything the next few weeks – and who knows…maybe longer! – has in store for Aisling, we had to turn the conversation back to Offaly! And with good reason. As already mentioned, Aishling has teamed up with one of the most exciting new designers in Irish fashion, and she’s from Mount Lucas in Offaly! Charlotte Lucas was a nominee in the Designer of the Year category at the 2020 Irish Fashion Innovation Awards, having been honoured in that event’s Ones To Watch category the previous year. Her work has also been featured in several national publications, including The Gloss magazine, the Mail On Sunday magazine, and the Irish Independent’s Weekend Magazine, as well as being seen on national television on Virgin Media One’s long-running and hugely popular morning show, Ireland AM.
I asked Aisling to tell me how she and Charlotte came to be working together on Aisling’s Rose journey this year…
“Ahh, she’s amazing! It was kind of a bit of a chancing-my-arm story again. My grandad used to have a great phrase…what was it…look for forgiveness not for permission [laughs]. Just go for it, he would say, chance it. He was a wicked chancer, but the nicest man that you’d ever meet. He instilled that in me, for sure, to always give something a go. So I literally just reached out to Charlotte on Instagram. I came across her name on the Council of Irish Fashion Designers website. I was looking up designers that might have been able to work with me on a style that I might be suited to. When I came across her there, I went looking at her Instagram and social media, ya know, that’s the power of the connection of that. And I just loved her work immediately when I saw it, it was really my style. I wore one of her jumpsuits to the races in Galway last week, and I was so, so comfortable in it. And it’s really, really me. So yeah, I just sent her a message from there and she was so receptive to the whole thing and really interested, She’s been so easy to work with, there’s been no drama [laughs]. She’s cool-out, like, and I think I’m kinda the same, there’s never any panic on. She’s been really helpful. What I really liked about her when I met her the first time was that she really listened. And she wasn’t listening to have an opinion, she was listening to actually hear what I had to say, to make sure she was taking on board what I liked and that kind of thing. I felt really well looked after on that front. It’s important that I feel comfortable when I wear it, her piece. So it’s great to have someone like her. She’s a really talented lady, but she’s also really kind and really helpful. I’m just so blessed that I found her! Thank God for the internet, because I might never have come across her otherwise [laughs]. My knowledge of the fashion circuit, I suppose, is probably limited enough. It was a stroke of luck that we connected, but it’s been great luck.”
With the Rose of Tralee Festival now just weeks away… how is Aisling feeling about it?
“I’m feelin’ good, yeah, definitely. We’re actually going on tour next week, I’m actually going to go down the night before with my mam, and we’re starting the tour on the Thursday morning. So I’ll be gone from Thursday. We go on the tour, and head to the festival then on the 19th. We have nine or ten days of tour-time before we actually make it down to Tralee at all. So yeah, it’s a week away! Which is bananas [laughs]. I can’t believe it in one way. March seems like forever ago, but also like it was ] just yesterday. The time has just flown. And I know it’s a cliche, but they say time flies when you’re having fun, but the last month has been an absolute whirlwind. I’m really excited to go down [to Tralee], I’m very much looking forward to the experience of it all, it’s very different to anything I’ve ever done before. I just think trying something new is amazing. And getting to try something like this is kind of unimaginable really. People dream of being in the position that I’m in. And I’m extremely grateful to be the lucky girl that gets to go down from Tipperary this year. There hasn’t been a Tipp Rose in three years, and a Tipp Rose doesn’t go every year. Like next year there’ll be nobody going to Tralee, and then the year after there’ll be another Tipp Rose again. So I think it’s unreal that I get to do this, out of the whole county. I’m just so lucky. And really, really excited. I just hope that I can do everybody really proud, and put my best foot forward and just enjoy it. That’s a big thing for me, to make the most of the experience, really soak it up and be present when I’m down there. I want to enjoy every minute.”
Apart from wanting to do Tipp proud (of which there’s no doubt she will, by the way), what would it mean to Aisling personally if she was to be crowned THE Rose of Tralee in a few weeks time? And, has she given any thought to what that moment might be like if it happens?
“Oh wow! Do you dare to dream, really?! [Laughs] Isn’t that the saying! I’ve tried not to think about that too much because I don’t want to put any pressure on myself, I just want to really enjoy the experience. But if I was to delve into dream-mode and then to think about it a little bit…it would be an incredible honour! Representing your county has been a pinch-me moment for the last six months, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. But getting to represent the entire festival, the country, and beyond…I mean, there’s Rose Centres all around the world! Imagine being an ambassador for all of that, like? That’s man-on-the-moon stuff to me! It would be an incredible thing to happen, and a huge honour. What the Rose of Tralee stands for, in my opinion, is the root of Irishness, and heritage, and women, and culture, and diversity, and inclusion. It stands for so much. Being the lady who might get to be the ambassador for all that…would be surreal! It would be so special. And it would mean a lot to my family and to my fiancé, they’d be really proud to see me do that, too. It would be class! [Laughs].”
When I interviewed Jennifer Byrne, who won the Rose of Tralee for Offaly back in 2017, I asked her what advice she would pass on to whoever followed her as the Offaly Rose and to whoever would eventually take the ultimate crown as well. Part of Jennifer’s answer was for those Roses to make sure they took some time to take it all in – even by just consciously making the decision to take ten seconds every now and then to make a point of looking around at everything that’s happening in front of you, who’s there, what you can smell, what you hear…everything – because it will all pass so, so quickly.
I shared this advice with Aisling, and it resonated with her straight away…
“I did my Masters in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, and a lot of that is about being ‘in the moment’. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years was just to be present. It sounds so simple, but if you don’t do it consciously, life can pass you by so quickly. You get so much more joy out of things when your awareness is greater. So yeah, I’ll definitely be doing my best to tap into ‘the now’, and staying focused on the time that I’m in, not getting carried away with where I need to be next or what’s next on the plan, that kind of thing. Going with the flow, it sounds easy but…! [Laughs]. Yeah, it will be important to have that awareness to make the most of it. You really get value for your time if you’re present in it. It’ll be important to me that I do that.”
~ This year’s ROSE OF TRALEE FESTIVAL takes place from FRIDAY, AUGUST 19th to TUESDAY, AUGUST 23rd. You can follow AISLING O’ DONOVAN at aislingodonovanx on Instagram, and CHARLOTTE LUCAS at charlottelucasstyle on the same platform.