By Olivia Tracey
Thank goodness for St. Patrick’s Day and all the festivities it engenders. Top of the list again this year was the Southern California Rose of Tralee Ball in Downtown L.A.’s elegant Biltmore Hotel. Taking place on Saturday, March 13, with 13 Rose debutantes, it’s obvious that neither committee nor contestants were suffering from any form of superstition. Indeed, the girls were as zealous as always, waxing lyrical about their Irish heritage in prose, song or verse, and dearly hoping to be the chosen one to make that much-coveted trip to Tralee this August.
The fortunate colleen was 21-year-old Kerry Lynn O’Connell, whose ancestors, despite her first name, hail not from the Kerry Kingdom but from nearby County Cork. Dressed in a slim-fitting forest-green velvet gown, the fair-haired student was as pretty as a picture, possessing a certain girl-next-door innocence that made me feel like I could have been her mother. However, I suspect that’s just me suffering a premature mid-life crisis. Of course, mom and dad, Barbara and Dennis O’Connell, were there to lend their support as were her two elder sisters, Christine and Shannon.
Professionally, the San Diego University student is doing a double major in Business and Communications as well as interning at an advertising firm. In her spare time, the creative lass indulges in photography, short story and poetry writing. Indeed she used her poetic gift beautifully on stage with a recitation in verse of what her Irish culture means to her, and will no doubt have even more to add after she sets foot on Irish soil. Like her predecessor, Allison McGuire, the Tralee pageant will mark her first trip to the Emerald Isle.
Mind you, the newly crowned beauty was not the only one with reason to celebrate that evening. Irishwoman of the Year Bridget Duffy Hana, Irish-American Mother of the Year, former Irish parliamentarian and mother of nine children, Lily Whelan, and the Irishman of the Year, publican Willy O’Sullivan were also enjoying their own honorary positions. In fact, Willy has somewhat of a triple celebration considering his marriage to the gorgeous Stacy last summer and the subsequent birth of their first baby, Aidan. Other honored guests include John Foley, Vicky Carl, and former Southern California Roses Margaret Mary Malone (1996), Eileen Hunt McKeagney (1993) and Saroj Verma (1997).
I spoke with the belle Saroj, who, in only two years, has gone from sweet and innocent teen to sophisticated young woman. She was so impressed with Ireland that she has actually taken up permanent residence there, living on campus as a medical student in Dublin’s University College, Belfield. Currently on spring break, she takes her exams in May after which she plans to spend a month in Dublin and a month in L.A., followed by an extensive tour of Southeast Asia, accepting invitations to visit all her student friends in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. So, life is pretty exciting for Saroj, who also has a steady Northern Irish boyfriend, although she admits to being impressed by the Dublin lads. No doubt they’re even more impressed by her.
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Also in the brunette beauty stakes was the outgoing Rose, 23-year-old Allison McGuire, who is as endearing as she is stunning. She looked divine in a boned red velvet and satin gown, her hair swept up with red rose accessories. She spoke of the Tralee Pageant as the big highlight of her year and the excitement of all the fans and followers lining up to catch a glimpse of the Roses. She also laughed about her escort, Dubliner John Claffey, who dared to arrive 15 minutes late on the first day, leaving the anxious Rose like some poor unfortunate bride being stood up at the altar. On his arrival, however, the tardy escort was suitably scolded by the bonny lass, ensuring that he was never late again. He even won back her total approval by giving her family special treatment, steering them in the direction of the best pubs, as we Irish can do only so well.
Finally, along with The Mulligans and The Kelly School of Irish Dancers, the emcee, Belfast actor Marty Maguire, was proving quite an attraction in his own right. You see, the Belfast actor is also a singer, having once upon a time had his own band, and so he shook and stirred the entire ballroom with his rollicking rendition of both Tom Jones and Elvis numbers, not to mention a softly crooned "Rose of Tralee" as the newly crowned Kerry Lynn danced the first dance with her father. I wish her luck and tons of fun in Tralee this August.
In the meantime, the Irish Fair’s next big event is the 25th Silver Jubilee Irish Fair and Music Festival at the Santa Anita Park Race Track, Arcadia, Calif., on June 19 and 20, with entertainment by The Fenians, The Mulligans, The Lads, The Wake, The Irish Rovers and the increasingly popular Young Dubliners. See you there.