Five Roses: Where are they now?

‘I know the Rose of Tralee drives the Irish crazy. But it is nice to be part of something bigger’


Michele McCormack (Chicago Rose 1985)

Michele McCormack became the Chicago Rose “when it was still fun and not so serious”.

Even now more than three decades later, she rates it as one of the standout moments of her life. “It was the start of my Irish exploration not the conclusion,” she said. Both her mother and father have Irish ancestry.

She returned to Tralee in 2013 for the Gathering with her son Sean Padraig, an officer in the US Air Force. “It was nice for my son to go to the wall (the monument which lists all the Rose finalists from the beginning) and see how I represented my culture and my country. It made an impact on him.”

Even now competing in the Rose of Tralee provokes strong emotions in her. “I know it drives the Irish crazy. It’s not that we are misty-eyed Yanks though we come across that way. It is nice to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

After graduating from college, McCormack began a television journalist and then an anchor for various television networks in the US. She now works for the CBS affiliate in Milwaukee.

Wherever she has worked, she seeks out the local Rose centre. “I call it the Rose of Tralee magic. It allows me to make connections when I move to new places for my profession.”

Aoife Mulholland (Galway Rose 2003)
Aoife Mulholland (Galway Rose 2003)

Aoife Mulholland (Galway Rose 2003)

For most Roses, their appearance on stage in the Dome during the festival is the only brush with fame they will get in their lives.

“For that week in Tralee, you are definitely an A-lister. It gives you a glimpse of what that life might be like,” she recalls.

The experience, though, left her drained. “I remember coming home after that week and I just wanted to hide in my bedroom. I was so sick of being in the public eye. I hated that side of it. I’m quite introverted.”

The paradox of being fame-averse yet going on be to become one of the most famous ex-Roses is not lost on her.

It was the desire to perform, she says, rather than to chase fame that caused her to pursue a career in the public eye.

Three years later she achieved more enduring recognition while appearing in How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, a reality TV show. It sought to find a performer to play Maria von Trapp in a West End production of The Sound of Music.

Though she did not win, Mulholland went on to have a successful career in the theatre. She did eventually play Maria in the West End and also the part of Roxy in Chicago. “I love to perform. That’s what I was born to do,” she said.

Two years ago she moved back from London with her husband, the former Ireland cricket international Jason Molins. The couple have three children. She now runs Jolly Boppers, an interactive mother and toddler music class, and will take up a position in the Irish College of Musical Theatre as a vocal coach from September.

“The Rose of Tralee was a totally different experience to the twee image it had in the past. It was a celebration of women,” she says.

Molly Molloy Gambel (New Orleans Rose 2013) with her husband Kyle Catlett who proposed to her on live television.
Molly Molloy Gambel (New Orleans Rose 2013) with her husband Kyle Catlett who proposed to her on live television.

Molly Molloy Gambel (New Orleans Rose 2013)

Few Rose-watchers will forget Molly Molly Gambel’s appearance on stage at the festival four years ago. There was gasps of astonishment, not least from the lady herself, when her then boyfriend Kyle Catlett proposed to her on live television.

Molly Molloy’s response was to blurt out a litany of “No”s, 17 in total, before she said “Yes”. The couple were married in May of the following year in an outdoor chapel on the fringes of Mobile Bay in Alabama. They were the subject of a RTÉ One documentary The Proposal in 2014. They both work in commercial real estate and now live in Tampa, Florida with their Golden Retriever. Life is great, she says.

“We enjoy being on the water and the warm weather. We have a wonderful bar, the Irish 31 Pub & Eatery, which we enjoy going to at least once a week to remember Ireland.”

Thanks to that proposal and The Proposal the couple get recognised whenever they visit Ireland.

“The Rose of Tralee very much broadened my horizons and my heritage. It has changed my life significantly.”

Luzveminda O’Sullivan (Galway Rose 1998, Rose of Tralee 1998)
Luzveminda O’Sullivan (Galway Rose 1998, Rose of Tralee 1998)

Luzveminda O’Sullivan (Galway Rose 1998, Rose of Tralee 1998)

Luzveminda O’Sullivan was a multicultural Rose before Ireland was a multicultural country thanks to her Filipino-born mother Florita.

Two Rose finalists have been half-Filipino and both have become the Rose of Tralee. Tara Talbot, the Queensland Rose, won in 2011.

The now Ms O’Sullivan-Flannery grew up in Castlebar, Co Mayo when there were few children of mixed-race background. Sadly her mother died young and did not live to see her daughter become the Rose of Tralee.

Luzveminda, known as Mindy, was just 21 when she won. She was studying for a biochemistry degree in Trinity College Dublin. She deferred her final year to fulfil her duties as the Rose of Tralee.

“At the end of the year, I was wondering how I got to so many places. I was going to three functions a day, but I was young and free and able. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Her escort in Tralee was her then boyfriend now husband Paddy. At the time escorts could be boyfriends.

She and her husband moved back to Castlebar from Dublin in 2005. They have two boys, aged 10 and 12. She works as a chemist in a pharmaceutical company.

Even now, almost 20 years later, she is still known for having been the Rose of Tralee.

“There is not a day in my life that it would not crop up. I could be in a shopping centre and people would come up to me and say, ‘You look very familiar’.

“Recently we were coming back from our holidays in Spain. My husband heard two ladies say ‘that’s the Rose of Tralee’ and he said, ‘she was the Rose of Tralee’.”

She remains a fan of the festival. “I try and go as often as I can. It’s great for catch-up time. I made a lot of friends out of it and I still have them 19 years on. I love the fun and the camaraderie of it.”

Clare Kambamettu (London Rose 2010, Rose of Tralee 2010)
Clare Kambamettu (London Rose 2010, Rose of Tralee 2010)

Clare Kambamettu (London Rose 2010, Rose of Tralee 2010)

Dr Clare Kambamettu was a 26-year-old assistant psychologist from Athy, Co Kildare, but based in London when she won the Rose of Tralee in 2010.

Her unusual surname, which comes from her Indian-born father, gave rise to the moniker “can of tomatoes” for those who struggled with the pronunciation.

When she won she decided to return to Ireland at a time when many of her generation were going in the opposite direction following the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

“I remember my parents being delighted that I was back in Ireland, but also hoping that I would be able to find work or get on a PhD course. There were a lot of unknowns.”

She now works in Galway city as a psychologist with the HSE and in private practice working with children.

“It (being the Rose of Tralee) is something that comes up all the time. It surprises me how interested people are,” she said.

“Alice O’Sullivan was the Rose in 1959 and all these years later, it is still part of her life.

“People expect you to behave a certain way when you are a Rose, but they do so too when they hear I’m a psychologist. When I was younger I probably tried to fit into what people thought I would be like, but now it doesn’t really matter.

“The festival helped me be more comfortable in social situations. During the year I did so many weird and wonderful things that I can handle any situation I’m walking into now. That’s really valuable in life.”