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Student goes to pageant in Ireland

Kaitlynn Riely | Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Notre Dame’s Molly Kealy grew up listening to her grandfather sing the lyrics to “Rose of Tralee,” an Irish love song. This August, she was given the chance to step into the song when she traveled to Ireland to take part in the Rose of Tralee Festival.

The Festival – an annual town event based on the song – celebrates people of Irish descent worldwide and their heritage.

Kealy, a junior from Dallas, Texas, is a Film, Television and Theater major and an Irish Studies minor. In June, she became the Texas Rose of Tralee.

Kealy said she had watched friends participate in the popular Texas Rose of Tralee Ball during previous years and decided to compete to become the rose of whom her grandfather sang. The second time Kealy participated in the Texas Ball, she won, earning the honor of representing Texas in Tralee, Ireland this summer.

Kealy joined 29 other women of varying degrees of Irish heritage Aug. 19-23 to compete to win the title of the 47th Rose of Tralee.

Kealy said she and the other girls in the festival were treated like celebrities – she toured Ireland as television cameras followed her around, and judges watched her around the clock to see how she interacted with her fellow Rose candidates, as well as with the Irish people.

Kealy said the festival is “about personality and poise – it’s not a beauty pageant.” The Festival was sponsored by New Bridge Silverwear, which Kealy said “poured jewelry on [the Roses].”

In Ireland – particularly Tralee – the Festival is a very popular event. The town of Tralee depends on the festival for much of its income. Coverage of the event dominated RTE, an Irish television and radio broadcasting station. Kealy was interviewed on the station, which approximately 920,000 viewers watched. She compared the television segments of the festival to the Miss America Pageant.

Kealy and the other contestants spent much of the festival making public appearances and touring the country. During the last four days, each girl was given an escort to ward off the frenzied crowds of followers.

“It was fun being a celebrity for a week,” Kealy said. “It was like ‘The Bachelorette.’ All the escorts had been okayed, and they doted on their ‘Rose’ the entire week.”

As a representative of Dallas, Kealy showed her Texan pride by wearing a cowboy hat through much of the festivities. At one point during the festival, she placed her hat on Dublin pop singer Samantha Mumba’s head. The photo of Kealy and Mumba was in nearly every newspaper in Ireland the next day. Kealy says the photographer contacted her with thanks for the career boost.

While Kealy was not the ultimate winner of the Festival – that title was taken by the Mayo Rose – she said she treasures the experience for the friends she made and the privilege to be a representative of one of Ireland’s most cherished love songs – and a chance to become the fabled “Rose of Tralee.”