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From travelling the world as a journalist, all roads led back to Édaein O’ Connell becoming this year’s Kerry Rose

From travelling the world as a journalist, all roads led back to Édaein O’ Connell becoming this year’s Kerry Rose

By Cathriona Murphy

Édaein O’Connell was recently selected out of 23 finalists as winner of the Kerry Rose selection at the Siamsa Tíre theatre in Tralee which was hosted by Daithi Ó Sé. She follows in the prestigious footsteps of a long line of Kerry Roses who have done the County proud, including our most recent, SallyAnn Leahy who has been Kerry Rose since 2019. Growing up in Glenderry, near Listowel, Édaein is a proud north Kerry girl. A former pupil of both Dromclough National School and the Presentation Convent Secondary School in Listowel town, she then moved on to attend NUIG in Galway city to study Civil Law. With her thirst for knowledge strong, she went on to complete a higher diploma in Business Studies in NUIG and then achieved a master’s in digital marketing from DIT in Dublin. The youngest of three with 2 older brothers and the very first baby born in 1995 a fact that her parents get great pride and enjoyment from! Mom, Mary O Connell was a civil servant in Listowel whilst her Dad Séan O Connell, was the local postman and both retired now. A thoroughly remarkable, accomplished and fascinating individual, I recently sat with Édaein to catch up on what can only be described as a whirlwind few weeks for herself, her family and the town of Listowel.

Édaein, how did the idea of you entering for this year’s Rose selection come about?
Growing up so close to Tralee, the Rose of Tralee was always such a huge part of my life so I suppose it was always something that was in the back of my mind about entering the selection process. I was living in Dublin up until March 2020 so the timing was just never quite right for me? Going for the Dublin Rose was never going to be an option for me, if I was going to enter it would only ever be for the Kerry Rose. When the selection process came along this year I saw it as my chance to finally enter so I said I would go for it. The timing was right and I also had a “healthy” nudge from my mother who herself is such a huge fan of the festival! So I just went for it and thankfully it worked out well in the end for me.

What was the selection process like to experience?
It was an amazing process, unfortunately I missed the first two events due to work commitments. I work as a freelance journalist so I had to honour the work I had committed too. But the rest of the process was incredible. The day of the selection was so enjoyable, meeting up with all the other girls was fantastic and meeting Daithi for the first time of course! The interview process with the judges was really lovely, I think people feel that its this really tense day and interview but it really isn’t. It is such an enjoyable day and I remember coming out and ringing my mom afterwards and telling her it was such a lovely experience. In Kerry the selection process is a full day culminating in the evening event. It was such a lovely experience getting ready, putting on the dress and sitting with the girls, it was great and so much fun.

How did it feel to hear your name when Daithi announced the winner?
To be honest it was all such a blur I think I was so shocked having been selected? I know people say this but I genuinely was not expecting my name to be called. I remember sitting back and looking around at all the girls and thinking which of these girls will be picked out? So when I heard my own name called out it just turned into such a blur! I do remember turning to Daithi and saying is this actually really happening and he said “It is, It actually is!”. I just think there is something extra special with being selected as the Kerry Rose, being local you are just absolutely delighted. I have to say, my own locality and the town of Listowel in particular have just blown me away with the support they have shown me since my selection. My mother, as I previously mentioned, is a huge fan of the festival so she was just over the moon and like myself, she said it’s all a blur it happened so quick! But funnily enough, my Mom and myself attended the Dublin selection about 3 weeks after my own selection night. When they announce Claire Connolly as the Dublin Rose I started crying as did my Mom and the other Rose’s in attendance it was such a happy and emotional time! We had no recollection of my own night really as strange as it sounds so it was just lovely to see someone else’s from the outside. On a personal level it was such a huge boost for my family, Unfortunately the last few years have been difficult in that the end of last year my Nan passed away. She was a lovely lady and had lived to 96 so she is very missed by all of us. Following on from losing Nan, just 4 weeks later my uncle passed away after a battle with cancer so it really was a difficult end to 2021 for all of us. When I told them I was entering the selection they were all behind me every step of the way. All of them said it just gave them such a boost, the entire family so I am just so happy I got to do that for them. It has put everyone in great form, we are now talking about something happy and exciting so it has been just great really.

What are you most looking forward too over the next few weeks besides the night itself?
I am really excited about attending the Rose ball because really, it’s the first night coming into Tralee. But I have to say I am so excited about the parade because I have great memories of attending the parade as a child. My Mom would take me in every year to see it and to get to see all the Roses up close. She only mentioned lately to me how much she is looking forward to seeing me in the parade so it has really come full circle. I am a freelance journalist so I work for myself which can be a huge balancing act at times so I am looking forward to the tour starting August 11th to take the opportunity to switch off from work and just immerse myself in the Rose experience and enjoy every minute of it. It is a really busy itinerary but sounds like so much fun so I am so excited about it.

Have you received support and tips from previous Rose’s?
SallyAnn is an absolute angel and has genuinely been so supportive to me. I met her out 2 weeks ago and gave me so much practical advice! She said to make sure to have comfortable shoes on and to get an ice bucket and soak my feet in it at the end of the long days on the heels! But besides that, she did something that really meant a lot to me. She made me a scrapbook so that I could make a record of my journey as a rose and she actually started it off for me. She has been texting me throughout and even Celine who was the Rose before SallyAnn, she reached out to me too. Ann Marie Hayes who was the 2012 Rose contacted me during the week to so I was just completely blown away by the level of support offered by the girls. They are genuinely looking out for me and so supportive. The sense of community between previous Rose’s and current is phenomenal. It really is a case of once you are in you are in for life! On the Sunday after my selection I was at Listowel races, while I was in the bathroom at the race course a woman approached me. She was Muirne Hurley who was actually the 1994 Rose of Tralee and we had a lovely chat. Also, separately to that, Trudi O’ Sullivan who was the 1993 Rose of Tralee, she sent me the most beautiful card to my house it was really nice of her. So the support has just been incredible.

When it comes to being a Rose, style is a huge part. Have you started choosing outfits yet?
The local boutiques and designers have been amazing to me. As part of my prize for winning Kerry Rose I received items from the likes of Jasmine in Tralee, Macbees in Killarney and That’s Perfect in Tralee. Previous to my selection I would have admired their products and only dreamed of owning some of them so I am so grateful to them. Rebekah Wall is going to make a couture tweed piece for me also so to even think about that is a dream come true. Carol Kennelly will also be designing pieces for me which is something beyond my wildest dreams so really I feel very fortunate to be supported by so many wonderful, generous individuals and companies. I must also mention that so many wonderful boutiques in Listowel have reached out to me offering items for me to wear so I would like to acknowledge them and thank them too.

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On a personal level, how has your own style and idea’s merged with the typical Rose style?
I love the fact it has also made me look more closely at my own wardrobe and to be conscious of reusing items I have already. The festival organisers have been encouraging us to be a lot more sustainable and to reuse where we can and that is an ethos to which I am very familiar with. My Mom would have always told me growing up not to buy clothing if I couldn’t wear it at least 5 times so this notion of wearing something once and once only is not for me. With that said, some boutiques have offered to loan clothes too which I think is a fantastic idea. I wouldn’t accept items just for the sake of it, I want to make sure I can reuse them, mix and match and that also I feel like myself in them. Being comfortable in what I am wearing is very important to me.

Finally Édaein, what does it mean to you to represent your county?
I live only 20 minutes from Tralee and here in Listowel we have our own festival, the Listowel races so I understand just how important these festivals are. It’s not just economically, while that’s fantastic in its own right, I think just for the general morale especially in Kerry where we are so proud of our traditions. We have Listowel and Killarney races, Puck Fair, but the Rose of Tralee is just unique. What I have even found in my time so far as the Kerry Rose, people are just so proud of it all. Even for the calendar, the Rose of Tralee is such a signifier of what time of the year we are in, people plan holidays around it. It is such a big part of the summer here in Kerry almost like a celebration of the end of the holidays. The Rose of Tralee is an International festival which is so unique in itself. Especially this year to see the changes in the rules also has been fantastic and so welcome, I’m all for it! I was never a sports type of girl, I was never any good at football so I was never going to be representing my county in sports so for me this is like my opportunity to represent my county. I am such a proud Kerry woman, I adore the county so this has been the biggest honour I have ever been afforded. To be part of a festival that I have watched all my life and has been such a big part of my life is just incredible. I’m still pinching myself I can hardly believe it is happening to me! I am so excited not just for myself but for my family, the own of Tralee to have it back again it’s fantastic.

Photos by : John Walsh Photography
Locations: Meadowlands Hotel
Car courtesy of McElligott’s, Oak Park, Tralee
Fashion: Jasmine Boutique and Thats Perfect

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