‘Absolutely in shock’: Offaly’s Jennifer Byrne crowned Rose of Tralee

Junior doctor expresses the hope that she will do the participants all proud

The moment Jennifer Byrne was announced as the winner of the 2017 Rose of Tralee competition. Video: RTE One

 

Offaly Rose Jennifer Byrne was crowned the 2017 Rose of Tralee on Tuesday night.

The 24-year-old from Clonaderig works as a junior doctor in the accident and emergency department of University Hospital Galway.

Last year’s Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney handed over the crown to the Offaly Rose who said “I’m absolutely in shock” and “I just hope I do them [the Roses] all proud”.

Speaking just moments after being crowned Rose of Tralee, Ms Byrne said: “I’m extremely excited, in shock still. I think my heart is about to jump out of my chest but I’m really excited and genuinely can’t believe it. It’s fantastic.”

Ms Byrne said she is going to “let everything sink in” before deciding how she would juggle working in the hospital with her Rose duties.

“My family have been fantastic and they’ve supported me through everything I’ve ever done in my life. I’m just so happy for them.”

Not a favourite

Ms Byrne hadn’t been a favourite with the bookmakers in the run-up to the televised shows. This is the first time an Offaly Rose has been crowned the Rose of Tralee.

“I can honestly say if any girl is even half-thinking of going for their Rose in their county or their area abroad, then they definitely should as it’s been absolutely phenomenal,” she added.

“I just hope that I can be a good ambassador for the Rose of Tralee, I hope I can represent all 63 girls and the people of Tralee. I just hope I do everyone proud and that I’m a good ambassador.”

Ms Byrne showed off her dancing skills with an Irish jig on the opening night of the 58th Rose of Tralee festival on Monday. She has also represented Ireland in soccer at U17 and U19 level and in the World University Games.

She studied medicine at NUI Galway, and previously volunteered at a hospital in Zambia and for Barretstown children’s charity.

Though the “party pieces” were somewhat more traditional than on the opening night, an audience of over 2,000 were treated to a cooking lesson from Kerry Rose Breda O’Mahony on Tuesday and a first aid demonstration on host Daithi Ó Sé by Galway Rose Niamh Elwood.

Dublin Rose Maria Coughlan, former world champion in Irish dancing, stripped down from her blue ball gown on stage to a shorter number to perform a slip jig, while the South Carolina Rose Claire McManamon listed off all 50 US states.

This year’s 64 hopefuls were cut back to 32 for the live shows on Monday and Tuesday night, with the two successful batches of 16 announced privately last week.

There was no repeat this year of RTÉ’s behind the scene coverage which last year captured the hopefuls being split into two groups and subsequently learning their fate.

The judging panel was chaired by RTÉ television presenter Mary Kennedy and featured former Rose of Tralee winner Gerrie O’Grady, Charlie O’Sullivan of Kerry County Council and Gerard Humphries of event-sponsor Tipperary Crystal.

As the curtain came down on the final night of the seven-day festival, the Florida Rose provided a fitting close to the competition with a rendition of ‘Up the Kingdom’.

Elizabeth Marince (22) was the last Rose to take to the stage with her “party piece” in memory of her late grandfather from Listowel, Tom O’Donoghue.

“It’s a song you learnt in our family, I have 36 first cousins, he [Tom] had seven children and you learnt that in the family or you didn’t come to dinner,” she said.

She said Up the Kingdom’ was one of Kerry’s “fight songs so it’s perfect timing” ahead of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship rematch against Mayo on Saturday.

“My grandmother’s from Mayo but she knows I’m a Kerry girl,” said Ms Marince, who was the last of the second batch of 14 Roses showcased on the final night of the competition, which was being held for the 58th time.

Dublin Rose Maria Coughlan, a former world Irish dancing champion, reduced her blue ball gown on stage to a shorter number to perform a slip jig while the South Carolina Rose, Claire McManamon, listed off all 50 US states.

Ó Sé continued to take pleasure from a bit of friendly mocking of the Roses’ other halves throughout the night, stating “boyfriends are fair game here”.

Battle with cancer

Down Rose Orlagh McNally also struck a chord with the audience, having lost her brother Colm last October after a 2½ year battle with cancer. The 23-year-old who recently completed a degree in medicine, is planning to complete a skydive later this year in aid of the Cancer Fund for Children.

“He had a fantastic outlook on life. The day he was diagnosed he said ‘I don’t want any sob stories or any “poor me” I just want to get on and live my life as I would have done,’” she said. “He couldn’t go to school because he was on chemotherapy and he pushed himself to get the grades he needed to go and study mechanical engineering in Queen’s University and I think that’s amazing.”

Festival organisers have said ‘the Dome’, which is constructed annually to stage the contest, is set to become a permanent venue in coming years.

Festival managing director Anthony O’Gara said he expected construction of a permanent dome to begin by 2019.

“I think the land is available if we can come up with the finance, which we’re working hard on, and I think we will or people will on behalf,” he said. “What will be happening hopefully when it does, is that it will be used by the Rose of Tralee and it will be a very positive development for north Kerry in the sense that we’ll have a place we can celebrate all sorts of stuff throughout the year.”

The 32 roses took to the stage for the finale while outgoing Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney handed over the crown. The Chicago native said her advice to her successor would be “to not waste a minute”.