Category: Archive

A rose is a rose is . . .

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The ingredients for high drama were there: a glamorous setting in the Water Club overlooking the East River, young women in evening dress with high heels to contend with, a panel of three judges, a cheeky master of ceremonies and plenty of familial support for each contestant.
However, the Rose of Tralee festival prides itself on being a different type of beauty pageant, and managed to rise above it all and the evening went off without a hitch Saturday night.
The festival, based on the premise that the contestants are representative of Irish women all over the world, is not one that requires perfect pins in a polka dot bikini, but Saturday night did require all contestants to wear evening dress, which allowed some of the young woman to get a second whirl out of their prom ensembles.
The Rose of Tralee festival is one of the most popular tourist attractions every September in County Kerry. According to a local folk song, the original Rose of Tralee was a beautiful young nursemaid called Mary O’Connor who fell in love with a wealthy merchant.
Though their love story ended in tragedy, William composed a song while courting Mary and it is this well-known ditty that rounds off proceedings every year.
Organized and assembled by Rose of Tralee winner 1997, Sinead Lonergan, the committee decided to hold the night in Manhattan, something that had not been done since 9/11.
Lonergan enlisted the help of Bartley O’Dwyer, Suzanne Seery and Elaine Giblin, and together they erected posters advertising the event around the city.
Young women all over the city submitted application forms with the requisite fee of $150 and hoped for the best. Nine, between the ages if 18 and 24, were chosen to attend the final and they all came with entourages. Family and friends were each asked to pay $135 for a seat at the dinner dance.
The result was 125 guests, a constant buzz of conversation and a busy dance floor as everyone grooved to the jazz band.
Each young woman was invited to join emcee Ciaran O’Reilly for a chat. Brimming with confidence, they confided various things to O’Reilly as the audience laughed and applauded.
Aleanbh Cox, a 19-year-old from New York, told her favorite Bob Hope joke. “I don’t go in for political jokes,” she said, “as too many of them get elected.”
Bernadette Kennedy declared her pet peeve to be dripping faucets. O’Reilly raised a laugh from the audience by asking if there was a plumber in the house.
The contestants included pretty Kathleen Touhy, a 23-year-old Long Island native. Tuohy first heard about the Rose of Tralee from organizer Sinead Lonergan when they met at a fundraiser for the Special Olympics.
“The festival was described in such a way that I thought it sounded interesting,” said Tuohy. She is sporty and was toying with the idea of juggling a football on-stage if chosen.
The second contestant was elegant Brenda McNeill, a 24-year-old from the North of Ireland. McNeill came to New York to pursue career in the media. She wore a cream and gold two-piece outfit. “I would love to do a monologue or write a poem for the talent portion if I am picked,” she said.
The third was the bubbly Christina McDaniel, aka Tina, a 20-year-old from the Bronx. McDaniel studies biology at Iona College and eventually wants to be a nurse. She heard about the competition from a Cavan native at work who said she would be perfect for the competition. “My Dad is from Sligo, so he is very excited,” she said.
The fourth was also the youngest. Therese McAteer, 18, is from Orange County. She is a dancer and has studied tap, balled and pointe since she was 3 years old. “I am not fazed by it at all,” she said, speaking of the attention and spotlight.
The fifth was the confident Cathryn Murphy, aka Catie. The 23-year-old is from Newburgh and works as a reporting analyst for J.P. Morgan Chase. Murphy got involved in the competition through an Irish networking group at work called Slainte. “It promotes Irish and Irish-American culture and industry,” she said. “Someone from Cork told me it would be a lot of fun.”
Sixth up was the giggling Christine Ricardo, 22, from Tappan, N.Y. Her cousin Elaine is on the Rose committee and encouraged her to get involved. “She said I’d be perfect as it is not a pageant,” said Ricardo. Her idea for the talent portion would be to write a song, telling the story of the original Rose of Tralee. “I think Mary’s side of things would be very interesting,” she said, laughing.
The seventh contestant was the glamorous blonde Bernadette Kennedy, 24,from Irvington. Kennedy used to watch the Rose of Tralee festival on television when she was young and even admits to some fan worship when she met the Roses in real life. “I was the little girl on the sideline asking for autographs,” she said, smiling at the memory.
The eighth was the willowy Eileen O’Sullivan Duffy, 24, who works for the pharmaceuticals advertising firm Cline Davis & Mann and spends her spare time runnning marathons. Duffy admitted to the emcee that she is not sure what is harder, training for a marathon or taking part in the question-and-answer section.
The ninth and final woman to get her place in the spotlight was Aleanbh Cox, whose mother is from Malaysia. She explained that her name meant “my child.” She wore a beautiful lime green dress with medieval type gloves and long plaited hair. She was joined by her parents and her two brothers.
The judges left the room with assurances that they would be gone a mere 15 minutes. To pass time before the winner was announced, many in the room headed for the dance floor to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
The raffle tickets are drawn and prizes were presented. They included dinner for four at the Savannah Steak House and two nights at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel.
As promised, the judges returned soon after. The women lined up nervously and all the waitstaff gathered to watch as Kathleen Tuohy was announced as the New York Rose. Tuohy’s parents were delighted and cameras were brought out to record the moment.
Tuohy was presented with a glittering tiara. Designed by Irene McBride, the headpiece is made in shimmering iridescent glass and shaped to look like the New York skyline. McBride hopes that it will be passed down from Rose to Rose as an heirloom.
As the contestants dashed around, embracing each other, the evening was brought to a close in keeping with tradition.
“The Rose of Tralee” was sung by a young man who knew the lyrics but may not have been sufficiently familiar with the tune. A guest at one of the tables plugged his ears with his fingers in mock horror.
Meanwhile, the New York Rose was delighted with her title. “It is my dad’s birthday today and he is so excited,” Tuohy said. “I wrote in my application that I could never repay my parents for all that they have done for me and that I wanted to make them proud. I would do this again in a second to see that reaction on their faces.”

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