Now based in Dalkey, the Mount Lucas born designer revealed the news in a post on her Instagram last weekend, writing, “I am delighted to announce I will be making a gown for the beautiful Aisling O’ Donovan, the 2022 Tipperary Rose. It is a pleasure to work with a truly beautiful and ladylike girl like Aisling”.
“I was delighted to be involved in the 2019 Rose of Tralee fashion show organised by Celia Holman-Lee, and to have the privilege of showing my work amongst immense talent that night”, Charlotte recalled. “I also had the pleasure of meeting Kirsten Maher, the 2018 Rose of Tralee that same night, such a lovely and beautiful person. And of course, I’ve grown up watching and loving the festival like so many in Ireland and around the world.”
“So somewhere in the back of my mind”, she continued, “and like any Irish designer, I’m sure, the dream of the opportunity to be involved in such an iconic and world-renowned event, was always there. And I couldn’t be more pleased that I’ll be doing exactly that this year. And all the more so because I’ll be working with Aisling, who will definitely do her county of Tipperary proud, but will also be a fabulous ambassador for the whole country if she wins the crown in August.”
In response to Charlotte’s announcement, Aisling – a positive psychology coach -replied, “So grateful for your support, Charlotte, I am so lucky to be supported by someone of your calibre and talent”.
Aisling was selected as the Tipperary Rose – and as it happens, the first contestant to be selected for the Rose of Tralee in the post-pandemic era – back in March. It’s been all go for Aisling since that big night, with special appearances now a regular part of her life, including receiving a Mayoral Reception from Lord Mayor Michael Murphy in Clonmel Town Hall in recognition of becoming Tipperary’s 2022 Rose.
With that kind of drive, and now with Charlotte on her side too, Aisling will certainly be more than ready to face Dáithi Ó Sé come August!
~ You can follow CHARLOTTE LUCAS at charlottelucasstyle on Instagram, and Tipperary Rose 2022 AISLING O’ DONOVAN at aislingodonovanx, also on Instagram. You can also follow THE ÁTHAS ACADEMY on Instagram at theathasacademy.
(Main Interview First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019)
IN MEMORY OF OFFALY’S MAN FOR ALL OCCASIONS
Like so many, I was stunned by the sad and sudden passing of P.J. MOLLOY last week. A young man, seldom without a smile, always with a few minutes for a chat, a well-known face and much-loved character around Tullamore, and indeed – thanks to his love of music and Offaly GAA – far further afield as well.
The thought that we won’t be running into him again at a concert in the Tullamore Court Hotel, or an event at The Well – to be honest – it hasn’t sunk in yet. I write that as someone who moves mainly in the world of music, but I’m full sure that anyone who knew P.J. through his love and support for Offaly’s football, hurling, and camogie teams – and of GAA in general – will feel the exact same way.
To simply say that P.J. loved music wouldn’t do him justice. It was, I believe, one of the things that he lived for. And he had a lovable, cheeky, rogue-like way of making himself a part of things, so much so that he was pretty much an official part of the Irish country scene himself, as much as any artist could claim to be. If, as an artist, you had P.J. looking for a selfie with you, you’d arrived. And once P.J. knew you, he wouldn’t forget you. I can still remember his excitement at Alex Roe’s journey to the final of Glór Tíre, and how much he enjoyed those ‘live’ shows down at The Quays in Galway. And he’d been the same way a few years before when John Molloy also did the midlands proud on the same show.
And, if you take a close look at the cover of Colin Kenny’s latest release, Rockin’ and Rollin’, you’ll see that it’s P.J. right there in the middle of the scene, captured forever on the dancefloor of The Cherry Tree in Birr supporting Colin and a host of other country artists at a charity event a few years back.
Two Offaly lads, you see – Alex and Colin – so P.J. wouldn’t let them down. And what his support of John – a Westmeath man by God’s grace – proved, was that if P.J. found a place for you in his heart or in his life, even the colours of your jersey wouldn’t get in the way of that. And while P.J. had a soft-spot for many of Irish country’s female stars, he was never shy about telling anyone that Olivia Douglas held a place all of her own in his affections. An Offaly lass, you see, so P.J. was always on Olivia’s team, too.
But Alex, Colin, John, and Olivia are just a few names on a long, long list of artists and people – from near and far – who P.J. would always find time for, a list too long to even begin and probably impossible to bring to a close.
But this week, as P.J’s story on this earth came to a close, how proud he would have been to know that Alex, Colin, John, Olivia – and the immensely talented Majella Killeen – took the time not just to be there to bid him farewell, but to sing him into the next life. Music brought a smile to his face so many times throughout his life, so it was only fitting that it was such a beautiful part of his funeral service in his native Walsh Island, too, both in the church and at his graveside. I have no doubt that P.J. was somehow looking on, and smiling brightly…
And, God knows, P.J. himself brought smiles and laughter to so many different nights, in so many different places over the years. What a way to live, and what a way to be remembered.
If P.J’s passing has any lesson in it, it’s that life is short. Too short sometimes. We need to sing while we can. That’s what he did. And that’s what he’d want us all to do now, and in the days, the months, and the years to come when we remember him.
I had the pleasure of interviewing P.J. for a special feature in the 2019 edition of the Tullamore Annual (published by the Tullamore Lions’ Club). And in P.J’s memory, I’ve decided to share that chat here in OTRT today…
First Published in the Tullamore Annual 2019
If you don’t know who P.J. Molloy is, that immediately tells us something about you. For one thing, you’re obviously not a G.A.A. fan, and definitely not an Offaly G.A.A. fan. And for another thing, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re not on Facebook. You see, if you’re even remotely aware of anything to do with the G.A.A. in the Faithful County, then you would most definitely have heard of , seen – or probably had a pint with at some stage – the bold P.J!
Wherever there’s an Offaly team in action, you’ll see and hear P.J. somewhere in the crowd, cheering the team on as if his own life depended on the result. And even if there isn’t an Offaly team involved, the chances are P.J. will still be there, proud as punch in his Offaly jersey, almost like an unofficial ambassador of sorts!
But if the G.A.A. fills up his days, then it’s all about a sing-song when night arrives. And P.J. is never one to shy away from his turn when it comes. And if there’s an audience, all the better. And the bigger the better. And if there’s no audience? Well there’s always Facebook ‘live’, and a concert straight from P.J’s kitchen or bedroom. And sure you’d never know who’d be listening in, as P.J. discovered last year!
When I sat down for a chat with Offaly’s man for all occasions, we began by talking about where P.J’s love of all things G.A.A. comes from…
“Well, it’s from coming from Walsh Island, which is the heart of Offaly football really. So I was brought up with football from a very young age, going to matches when I was seven or eight. And the love that started then hasn’t left me since.”
P.J. is often affectionately referred to as Offaly’s number-one supporter, how does he feel about that?
“Well I suppose there’s a lot of people who could be called Offaly’s number-one supporter, because there’s a lot of great supporters out there, all over Offaly. But if anyone wants to call me the number-one, then I suppose that’s what I am [laughs]. But I’m happy enough just goin’ to matches. I’m not looking for any attention. I just love everything that’s Offaly.”
But when the attention comes his way, does he enjoy it?
“Ah, sure we all do, don’t we, like! [laughs]’
Taking everything into account, all of the big matches, occasions, and events that P.J. has been involved with in some way, what’s been the most memorable highlight for him so far?
“Probably singing for Jennifer Byrne at her Rose of Tralee homecoming. That has to be one of the highlights for a good few years! Jennifer won the Rose of Tralee, as you know, and the night she won I made a ‘live’ video [on Facebook], tryin’ to sing! I won’t say I was very good, but I tried [laughs]. I sang the Rose of Tralee and the Offaly Rover, and it was shared all over Offaly News and everywhere. And sure didn’t Jennifer see it herself, too. So she asked me would I sing both songs for her in Ballinahoun, and I said I would. So that’s one of the highlights of the career, so far anyway! [laughs].”
Was he nervous singing for Jennifer at her homecoming?
“A little bit, yeah. But we still gave it a good shot anyway. It mightn’t have sounded too great, but we did it!”
To narrow it down to just sporting moments, what was the one that made it hardest to keep his heart in his chest?
“Probably Ireland winning the Grand Slam in rugby, that has to be one of the best moments, EVER, the last one, against England in Twickenham on Paddy’s Day. That was brilliant. God was Irish that day anyway! [laughs]. And Offaly winning their All-Ireland in ’98, and ’94, which I can just about remember. But definitely ’98. I wasn’t there at the final, unfortunately, but I was at the homecoming. That was a good night! [laughs]. Unfortunately I’ve yet to be at an Offaly senior football or hurling match that’s an All-Ireland final, but that’ll change. We’ll be back in an All-Ireland someday.”
When I asked P.J. about who he considered to be the best hurlers and footballers in the country, his response was as much a declaration of loyalty and a demonstration of his passion for the cause as it was an answer…
“I’m not going to make that call for Offaly hurlers or footballers, because I have great time for them all. And everybody, all of them, are equal on my playing field, so they are. But looking countrywide, Joe Canning has to be up there. And Gearoid McInerney, another great hurler.”
His passion for hurling was evident again in his answer to my next question. When I asked him what it was about Joe Canning that seems to make him such a special player, without even pausing for breath, to think, or to blink, P.J. relived the moment that made Joe stand out in his eyes…
“His ability to take scores under pressure. I think back to last year and the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipp, out under the Cusack Stand, straight over the bar from about sixty-five yards out. One of the best scores I’ve ever seen. Just brilliant. I have my few selfies with Joe, too, and I have his autograph as well. Somewhere!”
P.J. doesn’t just like to meet as many famous faces as he can, he likes to get his own face into a picture with those famous faces! And at this stage, I remarked that he must have selfies with nearly everyone except the president…
“Oh yeah! Well, that’ll be the next one you see. Actually, I have one with Michael D, come to think of it! [laughs]. So Donald Trump now might be the next one!”
While the G.A.A. is undeniably the love of his life when it comes to sport, if you see him out and about in a soccer jersey it’s probably going to be that of the blue half of Merseyside, Everton. P.J. explained his soft spot for the Toffees…
“Yeah, I am, not that we have too much to shout about. I actually don’t know how I became an Everton supporter, to be honest. I was jumping all over the place once, I was even a Swindon Town fan for a while. But I eventually settled with Everton. I’d be happy with a top-ten finish this season, but it’s hard to know. But I won’t lose much sleep over them, it’s G.A.A. all the way for me.”
After from selfies, jerseys are probably the next things that P.J. is famous for.
“I have…wait ’til I think now…eighty-eight jerseys, between soccer, rugby, football, everything. Mostly G.A.A. There’s a few strange ones in there now, that people mightn’t recognise the look of! Bantry Blues is one example. There’s a few that wouldn’t be too well known at all. Anywhere I go, I buy a jersey. I’m always on the hunt for them. I probably have eight or nine Offaly jerseys at this stage, and that’s not counting clubs in Offaly. I have probably twelve or fourteen of those.”
But does he have a favourite? He surely does.
“Dan Currams sent me his Offaly jersey from when he captained Offaly, for my 30th birthday. And it was signed by Dan, too. That’s one of my prized possessions now, to be honest. It was a lovely thing to do. There’s a few more like that. I have a Rhode jersey signed by all the Rhode lads, I have an ’82 jersey signed by eight or nine of that team as well.”
It was the day before the All-Ireland hurling final when we spoke, so the hurling season was just about to reach its climax. And naturally, with P.J. right there in the middle of it all. But how many matches would he actually get to each year?
“Let’s see, tomorrow is the All-Ireland final, so that’ll be fifty matches so far for this year. I go to club, county, minor, ladies, everything. Basically, from January to September I’ll be at G.A.A. matches, if not every weekend then every second week. I went to eighty-nine (yes, he said 89!!!) one year, and still couldn’t get an All-Ireland final ticket. Every week a match! Sometimes two or three a week! And I still couldn’t get a ticket for Clare against Cork, the first game. But I wrote off to the President of the G.A.A. and duly got an offer of a ticket for the replay. I still had to pay for it, mind! [laughs]. But I didn’t mind that. At least I was going to be there.”
So when he goes to something like the All-Ireland final, when Offaly aren’t involved, is he going along to support one of the other teams or just to enjoy the atmosphere and the experience of being there?
“I’d like to see Limerick win it tomorrow, because they haven’t since ’73. Galway won it last year. Now, I wouldn’t begrudge either team an All-Ireland, but just for the sake of hurling, I’d like to see Limerick win it. And to be honest, I think they have the players to win it as well. I’ll be up there for the atmosphere anyway, in my Offaly jersey on the Hill! [laughs].”
As a matter of interest, I wondered was there anyone who P.J. would really love to meet still, but hasn’t managed to cross paths with to date?
“There’s probably a couple. The likes of D.J. Carey, I haven’t met him yet now. Eddie Keher, as well.”
Out of everyone who P.J. has managed to nab for a selfie, who was he the most nervous about asking for one?
“I think Jennifer Byrne! I met her first the night of the Offaly Rose selection, and we got a photo on that night. Then she won the Rose of Tralee itself, so I was fairly nervous asking for another. She wasn’t goin’ to say no, like, I know that [laughs], she’s too nice. But I was still nervous. And with Michael D., too, I suppose. Maybe it will be the Pope next, if I can corner him in Knock! [laughs].”
Now, being a man who takes in so many matches each year, P.J. is probably as qualified as anyone to throw out some ideas about what might be done to improve the games. So, if it was in his power to do so, what changes would P.J. make to how hurling and football are played at the moment?
“Oh scrap that black card! I don’t think there’s any need for it. If you’re gonna be sent-off, you should be sent-off. But with a black card you’re allowed to bring someone back on. It doesn’t make any sense. And I’d cut out this short passing altogether, too. Just kick the ball, lads! Get it into the forwards and hope for the best. And leave hurling the way it is, cos’ there’s nothing wrong with hurling!”
The other big love in P.J’s life – and it might even be the equal of the G.A.A. in his heart – is country music…
“I started to listen to it when I was young, Big Ed, Country Roads on Radio 3, if you remember him? Big Tom was one of the best singers ever, I saw him ‘live’ two or three times. And I’m a big fan of Mike Denver as well, and Lisa McHugh, and our own Olivia Douglas, of course! There’s very few of them I don’t have selfies with, either [laughs]. I love goin’ out to The Well in Moate for a dance, or to the Ballymore Festival each year. Anywhere you can get an aul’ jive goin’! And Sabrina Fallon, Colin Kenny too, and Alex Roe, there’s a lot of great artists out there these days. Country music is just the heartbeat of Ireland really. Like, I don’t see any conversations in night-clubs, because you can’t hear a thing anyone is sayin’! So where’s the point in even being there? Country is the music a lot of us would have grown up with. Now, I don’t mean to sound like I’m eighty or anything [laughs]. But it was country music. It wasn’t rock, or any of that feckin’ night-club stuff.”
As we came to the end of our chat, I decided to put P.J. on the spot for the following day’s clash between Galway and Limerick, and then the Dublin and Tyrone battle for Sam. And I might be paying a bit more attention to his predictions in the future!
“I’m gonna say Limerick. They have a savage bench to bring in, Dowling, Casey, and two or three more great players. So yeah, it’s Limerick for Liam for me. By two or three points only, I’d say. It’ll be close. And Galway will win the minor, they’ll beat Kilkenny. And there’s not even any point in asking about the football. Dublin will win that by about ten points!”
~ Rest in peace, P.J…you’ll be missed by many…and fondly remembered by all who knew you well.
As we all remember, Jennifer Byrne made history in the historic Dome in Tralee last year by becoming the first Offaly woman to be crowned the Rose of Tralee. And it’s hard to believe, but Jennifer’s year of representing Tralee, Offaly, and indeed Ireland, is entering its last stretch of road. Very soon a new Offaly Rose will be on her way to Tralee.
One woman with a better idea than most of what life has been like for Jennifer during the last year, is Cork’s Gerrie O’ Grady, the 1999 Rose of Tralee. Gerrie and I happened to cross paths at the Hot Country Awards recently and as well as enjoying the pleasure of her company on that particular evening, she very graciously agreed to have a chat about her own experience as the Rose of Tralee. And as it happens, Gerrie was also involved in the process of selecting Jennifer as last year’s winner. So with the selection night for the new Offaly Rose due to take place on Saturday, May 26th, what better time than now to hear from someone who quite literally has been there, done that, and worn the tiara – and sash!
As someone so steeped in the Rose of Tralee festival, being a former winner herself and now being involved in the selection process, I began by asking Gerrie what the festival means to her….
“Well really what it means is it’s an opportunity for every woman who enters to bring her own personality and identity to the festival. I think sometimes that’s where people misinterpret what it’s about, because they think there’s a mould that you have to fit into. But I always say well all you’d have to do is come along to a Rose of Tralee reunion and you’ll see the variety of personalities that actually are there from previous years. It really is about every single person who enters bringing their own personality, and advancing it a little bit more. And in that way, it has evolved over the years. And that’s what the beauty of it is, that nobody can discount themselves as not being somebody who should be a contestant. Because that’s certainly what I had thought. I thought I was the farthest thing from Rose ‘material’, ya know [laughs]. But really it’s wide open.”
Does Gerrie think that what it means to be the Rose of Tralee has changed much, in terms of what the Rose does or is expected to do, from when she wore the crown to the present day?
“I think that social media has definitely changed expectations, in terms of accessibility, with people expecting to be very connected these days. And I think that’s part and parcel of being a public figure in 2018. I didn’t have that, so I always think of that particular challenge that’s there for a new Rose. For me, I was straight out of college, I was twenty-two, and it was an entirely different world. Suddenly you’re into liaising with the media, and with the public, and it was all a bit of a learning curve at the beginning. But now it’s even more so, because you have to be always vigilant, and conscious that more than ever, you are very accessible and anybody at any time can interact with you. So it has changed from that point of view, I think. But in some ways it’s still the same. It’s just those sort of things that really do change the nature of it.”
I wondered would something like that – thinking about how people might deal with, and react in, and be able for certain situations – play a big part in the selection process, and what the judges have to consider?
“That’s such a great question! And yes! That’s the short answer [laughs]. The longer one is that now on every Rose panel there’s a former Rose of Tralee – I’m judging Cork now in the next few weeks – that’s how it is nowadays. And it’s absolutely essential [that the chosen Rose is capable of handling such situations and circumstances] because you have to be ready to hit the ground running. You don’t get a lovely long lead-in where it’s like, ‘O.k, we’re going to do six months of prep with you now…’, ya know! It just doesn’t work like that [laughs]. Throughout the judging process you have to weigh up so many different things, and one part of it is is this person resilient enough, and I suppose clued in enough, too, to be able to respond straight away and instinctively at whatever is thrown at her. Because now you just can’t be sheltered. Even before, pre-social media, back in the dinosaur days when I was doing it [laughs], I had to be prepared. Because you could be faced with any sort of question at any time, so you have to be able to speak up and think fast. So definitely, when you’re in the judging process, that’s one part of what you’re considering, how would a person navigate those sort of situations.”
Given that Gerrie is so entwined in the festival herself, what does she think about the view that some people have (wrongly, I believe) of the Rose of Tralee as being almost outdated, or pretty close to what was portrayed in the ‘Lovely Girls’ competition in Father Ted? Because that is a view that’s out there among some people….
“For sure. And every year the same thing comes around again and again. Some people have this idea that it’s a very retrograde thing. But the Rose of Tralee is a platform to speak and the voice of the woman who wins is very important. So I would say well look at the people who are entering, look at their accomplishments, look at what they’re doing and what they’re achieving, and what they go on to achieve afterwards, and all of that speaks for itself. The evidence is all there. The women who enter are accomplished women, confident women, and it’s not just all one ‘type’ of woman, it’s very diverse. The Rose of Tralee doesn’t squash anyone into a mould. It doesn’t insist that you are a certain ‘type’ of woman, nor do you emerge from it a certain ‘type’ of woman. And again, I always go back to the reunions and say if only people could come along and see how different all the former Roses are it would allay a lot of those fears or concerns that people express about it. And often times what’s interesting is when you sit on a judging panel with someone, and they’d say, ‘God, this is completely different from what I expected!’ That can be a very eye-opening experience on the inside, and I suppose maybe that’s not always as apparent on the outside. The other thing too, which surprises me, and I really got to know properly as a contestant and then as a judge of the international qualifier two years ago, is the sense of international pride that’s out there, with people coming from second and third generation Irish families entering it, and learning what it means to them culturally, too. That’s sometimes missed, that kind of connection. There’s a lot more to it than somebody just having to be a ‘nice’ girl and being able to nod and smile. And all you have to do is look at any interview with previous Roses to know that’s not the case at all.”
Getting around to Gerrie’s herself, how did her own Rose story begin?
“Well, as I said, I thought I was atypical when it came to Rose material! [laughs] So I was in my final year in college, I was doing a feminist dissertation when it was first suggested to me. My dad, who was a Guard, and he said in Macroom, where I’m from originally, the Guards have been asked to put somebody forward to the Rose of Tralee and we all want you to do it. And I literally laughed at him, and said sure I’m completely not what they’d be looking for! [laughs]. I thought I’d be far too outspoken and different from the preconceived notion of what I thought they’d be looking for. So I took a lot of convincing! [laughs]. And in the end, it was really for my dad and for the Guards that I did it, because I felt, oh lord, they’re after going to all this trouble already so I felt like I should honour that. But right up to the last minute I was going, I don’t know if this is a good idea at all! [laughs]. But I did it. And a lot of people you’ll find do it like that, where they’re thinking, ‘Really?! Me?!’, ya know! So during my Cork Rose interviews and all along I spoke really from the heart about what was important to me and what my passions were, and the thesis I was doing, and people were so open to that. It was a really positive experience.”
What did it actually feel like when she was announced as the winner? Did she have any sense at all that it was about to happen?
“Oh none, none whatsoever. Absolutely none! There genuinely is a sense of shock. They always talk about the moment when they announce that you’re the Rose, and you can almost feel all of the energy in the room just concentrated into one funnel, and it’s all coming at you! It’s quite a profound feeling. One moment you’re just standing there, just one of the women on the stage – and I had actually had a really strong feeling that a particular one of the others was going to win – so that’s what I was thinking! So I was genuinely, to my heart, shocked when it was announced that it was me. It wasn’t expected at all.”
Now involved in the judging process, I wondered what was it about Jennifer – from Gerrie’s point of view – that made her stand out last year?
“One of the essential qualities that we all look for when we’re judging is an honesty and an integrity. That’s what we all respond to. And Jennifer is a very authentic woman. She’s very true to herself and she has a very positive energy about her. She has a remarkable sincerity and she’s a very intelligent, accomplished woman. Her work means so much to her, and her recreational activities mean so much to her, but there’s something else there as well [about her] that’s really quite powerful to be in the presence of. It’s an authenticity, and you can see it in the way everybody warms to Jennifer.”
Was that something that Gerrie felt and sensed about Jennifer from the first time she met her or did it kind of grow over time?
“Jennifer makes an immediately great impression on everyone who meets her! She’s a very special woman.”
I wondered about the other side of a year as the Rose of Tralee. When it’s over, and you step back out of the limelight, is that as much of a shock to the system as the way your world changes in that moment when the crown is first placed atop your head is?
“That’s another really good question! They’re things people don’t usually ask. But yes, it’s a transition. Everyone’s story is different, between what their life was like beforehand and what it becomes like afterwards. For me, I won the Rose of Tralee just after I finished college. My plan had been to take a gap-year before I did my masters. And I ended up thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just had the most unusual gap-year you could possibly imagine!’ [laughs]. I wasn’t expecting that! [laughs]. Afterwards I had to take some time to think, o.k, where to next? What do I actually want to do next? And it does take some time to adjust to a different pace [of life] again. Because being the Rose is such an intense and wonderful year. At the end there’s a sense of o.k, I can sleep now…for three months! [laughs].”
I wondered if Gerrie had a favourite or stand-out memory from her year as the Rose of Tralee?
“There are so many memories. I’m being flooded with them now, just thinking back. My homecoming in Macroom was one highlight. You’re in a little bubble in Tralee and coming out of that and realising that life has now changed and also impacted those around you can be very profound. As I was coming home to Macroom after the win, my parents started beeping the car horn as we got closer to home. I had no idea that they were warning our neighbours that we were nearby. I was met by so many family friends and it was very moving. A few days later, we had the formal homecoming welcome and I was completely shocked and overwhelmed that thousands of people attended. Many of the memories that stand out are to do with my family and what the win meant to them. As I’ve gotten older, that has become even more special to me. In the years since my win, I’ve lost my dad and I’ve lost my grandparents. My win meant so much to them and those memories are very precious to me. And that’s what stays with you as the years go on, what it meant to people around you. That’s worth everything.” Gerrie continued, “And then of course you have the more public experiences. The travel opportunities were amazing and Texas in particular was a stand out! You have these extraordinary, huge experiences and think my God, I can never hope to replicate these! But there are lots of more intimate interactions as well and they really stay with you. Those personal connections. Like, you’ll meet somebody who’s always wanted to meet a Rose of Tralee and never has and it means so much to them.”
Has the fact the Gerrie is a former Rose of Tralee stayed with her throughout her life since that time? In the same way, for example, that Oscar winners or Grammy winners are foreverafter known as ‘the Oscar-winning…’ whoever it might be?
“Yes, definitely it has. In my day-job, I manage a deaf charity and I use Sign Language every day in work. People are often given a Sign-name in the Deaf Community so you can sign out your name in letters, or you can have a symbol that represents your name. And my symbol is a sash made using the letter ‘G’. That’s my Sign name. So in work that’s how people refer to me, and people who don’t know my story will ask’ So, why is THAT your sign-name?’ [laughs]. So even in that small way it stayed a part of my life. And of course every year I tend to be involved in one way or another [in the festival], either in judging it or attending a selection. We also have a reunion every January. So there’s always a sense of staying connected. And people will often say as well that they remember something about when you were the Rose. You’d be surprised that people can have such long memories.”
So what advice would Gerrie offer to the Offaly Roses as they prepare for their selection night this Saturday, and indeed, to whoever goes on to become the eventual Rose of Tralee for 2018?
“What I would say is to leave all of your preconceived ideas aside. Go in to show people who you are. And use it as an opportunity to explore who you are as well. You love, as a judge, getting to meet all of these wonderful women and getting to hear their individual stories, so make sure you’re telling your story. That’s the most important thing you can do. And for the new Rose, both whoever ends up winning the Offaly Rose and the Rose of Tralee as well, I would say the same. Maximise your opportunities throughout year. Remember everything. Keep a diary! [laughs]. I always wish I’d kept a better diary to record all of those moments, because it goes by in a blur! Soak in every part of the experience because this is once in a lifetime!”