Irish American Maggie McEldowney was officially named the 2016 Rose of Tralee last night, the first Chicago Rose to clinch the title since 1987.
The 27-year old, who works as Director of Development at Marist High School, has roots in Co. Derry. McEldowney's grandmother, Bridget O’Neill, was born in Maghera.
Speaking to the press shortly after her win, McEldowney, whose middle name is coincidentally “Rose”, said she could not wait to spend more time in Ireland during her year as Rose of Tralee. She also said she was honored to represent the Windy City.
“The festival has been incredible. The experience that we’ve [the Roses] shared together... we’ve seen so much of the country. It’s been surreal,” Maggie said.
“To be sitting in front of you is such an honor and a privilege and I hope I represent our class to the best of my ability.”
McEldowney had applied to be a competitor twice before, encouraged by her 100-year old grandmother who thought she was the perfect fit for the competition. The third time was the charm for McEldowney, who is especially delighted to win the title on behalf of the large Irish community in her native Chicago.
McEldowney comes from from the Beverly area of the city. She is the daughter of Jim and Joanne McEldowney, and she graduated from the Marist High School, where she now works, and in 2011 from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Media Studies.
As well as working as Director of Development for the Catholic high school, the newly crowned Rose is on the Board of the Young Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago, a committee responsible for coordinating fundraisers that celebrate Irish culture.
“One of my favorite parts about being Chicago Rose is getting to wear the Chicago sash,” she said
“I’m beaming with pride for the people back home. There is such a strong Irish community in Chicago, I cannot wait to share the news with them. The crown’s coming to Chicago!”
Appearing first in the line up of Roses on the second and final of the televised competition, McEldowney spoke of her pride in her Irish heritage and her love of golf and marathons. She was a popular choice with viewers in Ireland with her rendition of "Make the Shamrocks Grow." While on stage she received a surprise video message from her Chicago firefighter boyfriend Jim Fitzgibbon, who couldn't make it to Tralee.
Sixty-five Roses from around the world traveled to Ireland last week to meet with the judges and 32 were selected to take part in the final, televised competition in the Dome in Tralee held over Monday and Tuesday nights.
McEldowney was not the only American Rose to make it to the final. She was joined by New Orleans Rose Shannon Burke, Kentucky Rose Morgan Loy, South Carolina Rose Erin Morgan, Texas Rose Katherine O'Sullivan, Philadelphia Rose Brigid Gallagher, Ohio Rose Kathleen O'Donnell, and North Carolina Rose Maigan Kennedy also making the grade.
This year’s competition saw more controversy than usual as the Cavan Rose Lisa O'Reilly was interrupted by the founder of Fathers4Justice Matt O’Connor during her onstage interview with host Daithí Ó Sé.
O’Connor, who was dressed as a priest, was quickly bundled away as he ran on the stage attempting to spread his message about the unfair treatment of fathers in Ireland. As he was in possession of a ticket and his actions were not criminal he was escorted away by gardaí (Irish police) but not arrested.
A second shock on stage came from the Sydney Rose on Monday night when she vocalized her support for the removal of the ban on abortion on Ireland, a contentious issue at the best of times in the country, but especially when made during the final rounds of a competition that would once not allow unmarried mothers to compete.
“I would love to see a referendum on the eighth coming up soon. That would be my dream,” Brianna Parkins, a 25-year-old journalist, told Ó Sé, referencing the eighth amendment in the Irish constitution that awards equal rights to the foetus as to woman carrying it.
After the show she tweeted a picture of herself wearing a Repeal the 8th jumper.
Viewers were especially moved by Wicklow Rose Jane Harrison who spoke about her struggles to find happiness despite losing 13 stone in weight.
Others who made a lasting impression included hula-hooping Ohio Rose Kathleen O'Donnell, bouquet-throwing Texas Rose Katherine O'Sullivan and North Carolina Rose, Maigan Kennedy, who performed an an epic bluegrass rendition of "She Moved Through the Fair."