This time of year we like to catch up with one of our most popular people in Kerry to see how the year has been, so we joined 2015 Rose of Tralee for coffee and a fun afternoon at the Fels Point Hotel, home to the roses, she tells us what its been like so far and what lies ahead.
Hi Elysa Can you tell us how the past few months have been since you were crowned Rose of Tralee in August?
My last few months have been hands down without any shadow of a doubt the most incredible time of my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have all the opportunities I have had, & have had the chance to meet so many incredible people along the way. The Rose of Tralee experience was the best experience of my life, & been chosen as this year’s ambassador was a bonus.
The Rose normally supports a charity, yours is the Hope Foundation, why did you opt for this and have you travelled so far with it?
The opportunity to partake in charity work was at the forefront of my goals for this year. There has been an incredible history of Roses of Tralee travelling out to Kolkata with the Hope Foundation, so it was of course something I really wanted to also do. Honestly, I was quite nervous travelling out to Kolkata. Because I didn’t know what to expect & it was also my first time travelling by myself. When I stepped off the plane in Kolkata it was a complete attack of the senses. That first day I was overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds and smells but when I got to witness first-hand the unbelievable work that the Hope Foundation are doing for the children of Kolkata, I was truly blown away. The Hope Foundation was founded by an incredible Cork woman called Maureen Forrest, & they provide care & education to street and slum children in Kolkata. I have never seen such poverty and horrendous conditions, but on the other hand the people of Kolkata are so beautiful, kind, generous and loving, considering they have nothing. I feel very privileged to have had the chance to spend time with these amazing, resilient and charming children in Kolkata and I really hope that in the future I will hopefully travel back to Kolkata with my medical studies to volunteer my time and services in their Hope hospital. The Hope Foundation is such an honest, hardworking & vital charity for these children and I would encourage everyone to support them in any way possible. Visit www.hopefoundation.ie to see possible ways to donate, including the “gift of hope” a wonderful idea for a different kind of Christmas present.
Have you taken time out from your studies to be a full time rose or are you juggling both?
My first big decision as this year’s Rose of Tralee was whether to try & continue with my medical studies, or to take a deferral and put them on hold for this year. In hindsight it was a given, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has been given to a handful of women in history. I feel so deeply honoured and privileged to be an ambassador for my Rose sisters this year and the class of 2015. I wanted to give it every fibre of my being, and that meant not having to divide my time, energy and commitment between my role as the Rose and my role as a medical student. The hardest aspect of this choice, was the knowledge that I would be leaving behind my class in college, who are an amazing bunch of people who I’ve been so grateful to share the journey with over these past two years. There are pros and cons to every big decision we make in life, but my ambition as this year’s Rose of Tralee is to look back on my time and think “wow, I really went for it and did all the amazing things I set out to do” and right now, I’m working on doing just that!
Was it always your dream to be a rose?
Hand on heart, it certainly was. I was that little girl sitting at home with my family at the end of the summer holidays, with wide eyes in awe of the incredible women on the television screen. I have definitely hero worshiped the Roses to an extent, and have always had huge admiration for these articulate, educated, ambitious & driven young ladies. I’m a great fan of putting things down in black and white, & I did just this for my hopes and dreams a while back in the form of a bucket list. This was a list of things I wanted to achieve, places I wanted to explore & dreams I wished to fulfil. To become a Rose was one of these, but never in a million years did I imagine I would become the 2015 Rose of Tralee. It wasn’t on my radar. I entered into the Festival with the hope of having a life changing experience and to meet new interesting people, and I’ve certainly done that. Becoming this year’s ambassador was just the icing on the cake.
We have all read in the media stories of your cancer so we are not going to dwell on that here today and you are in good health as we speak, but did it make evaluate life and realise what some of us may take for granted a bit?
I think, as with any life changing experience… It shapes and moulds us into the person we are today. My experience of having an illness at 19 certainly changed my outlook and perspective of life and living. I do wake up with a deep rooted gratification and appreciation for my life each and every day. I’m reminded constantly of how lucky I am to be in the position I’m in. We really do, I feel, take health and well-being for granted, until it’s threatened to be taken away from us. When I ever feel as though I’m having a bad day, or struggling with something… I like to ground myself and think back to fundamentals. Am I safe? Am I healthy? If I can answer yes to these, then anything else can be worked on.
You have another 7 months as Rose and then your title will be former Rose so its life changing as you will never be just known as Elysa Brennan from Meath again how does this sit with you?
I really want to just whole heartedly embrace and enjoy the time I have left as the Rose. I have a lot more on my “to do” list. After the year is through, I want to look back and just know I gave it my best shot. My mum always says “leave people a little better than when you found them”, and that’s what I hope my legacy is. To spread kindness & do everything to the best of my ability & to have left my mark in some way or another. I think I’ll be just fine stepping back from the limelight and taking on my role again as Elysha Brennan the medical student. I’m so blessed and fortunate that I’m in a course and a career that I love so much, studying medicine really brings me so much joy and I know I’m in the right career for sure. What I definitely will struggle with is not having the incredible team around me daily. I have the amazing Valerie in the office in Tralee, who I’m in contact with daily who helps me with everything and anything.. Rose and non-Rose related. So I’ll struggle not having that daily support.
What’s next on the Rose plan for the first ever Co Meath girl to wear the crown?
There is a lot of overseas travel opportunities to come, so I’m really looking forward to seeing some more of the world and having a few adventures along the way. Something I feel very strongly about is spreading the word of the Rose of Tralee, and everything it stands for.
I hope to inspire and encourage young women and men to enter the competition as Roses and Rose Escorts. It really is so special and one of a kind, a true life changing experience. I wouldn’t change one second of my journey with the Rose of Tralee. I’m really looking forward to our 32 county tour of Ireland in January and February, I can’t wait to experience everything our green isle has to offer. There really is no place like home, and the Irish people hold the Rose of Tralee so dear and close to their hearts so the welcome I receive at home and the spirit and generosity of the Irish people is second to none.