Finding the reception that welcomed the 2023 Boston & New England Rose of Tralee candidates was not difficult.

Just following the steady flow of traditional music - by David Healy and Adam Hendy - or the faint smell of hairspray would lead you to the function room at the Irish Cultural Center, that hosted the 14 hopeful candidates, their escorts, and families.

A champagne reception awaited the girls after a long day of preparations on May 13. The day began at 8:30 am, with solo interviews and group interviews with the three esteemed judges, Maureen Forry Sorrell, Patricia D. Martinis, and Mary Morse.

Boston & New England Rose of Tralee committee member Aoife Griffin said the selection of judges was meticulous.

“We tried to pick a very unbiased selection of judges,” she said. “Patricia was the 1999 Boston & New England Rose, so it felt fitting to include her on the panel.”

The ceremony kicked off with an introduction from another former Rose, Grainne Conely who acted as MC for the night. Grainne, who held the title of the Boston & New England Rose in 2003, brought a gentle approach to the interview process putting each rose at ease- something she brought forward from her past experience.

The Rose of Tralee Festival dates all the way back to the 1950s when Tralee’s Race Week Carnival once crowned a “carnival queen.” Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to take part. In the early 1960s, it was extended to include any women from Kerry, and in 1967 it was further extended to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry.

Though it had conventional beginnings, the festival has adapted over time to progress with the ever-changing meaning of what is to be an “Irish woman.” The 2018 winner, Kristen Mate Maher, said in her victory speech, “There is no typical Irish woman. We are all different and we all come in all shapes, sizes, and skin colors. We are a diverse community, and we need to embrace that.”

Each Rose that presented herself on Saturday evening brought something different to the competition. One played on an all-male sports team, another was a trumpet player in the Boston College marching band, and another used her platform to celebrate plus-sized women in fashion and beauty spaces.

“I never thought I would be on stage wearing heels,” said Maeve Kelly, whose family hails from County Kerry. “I never thought girls who were six foot one could wear heels. When I was eight, I would have loved to hear someone say, ‘You belong on this stage’. It’s a great opportunity to be able to vocalize that in case there’s someone here who needs to hear that.”

The victorious Rose is supposed to be the embodiment of Irish women, and the 14 Roses certainly represented the ‘modern Irish woman’ - diverse, complex, and powerful.

With such a glowing line-up, one could imagine the stiff competition would result in high tensions. Instead, the opposite felt true. The Roses interacted with ease, after spending the morning bonding, and their support for each other was clear throughout the ceremony.

Also in attendance was Tanya Stanley, the 2019 Boston New England Rose, who has held the title since then, after COVID stunted the festivities for two years. 2023 will be the first year since then that the Boston & New England committee will send a candidate to Tralee.

“I would encourage others to apply to be a rose because it is a great opportunity to get involved in your Irish community and meet new people,” Tanya said. “I enjoyed going to events and connecting with those who also share a love for the Irish culture.”

The comradery that she talks about was evident in this year's candidates too. It was, for many Roses, the selling point of the whole process; finding like-minded young women whose desire to honor their heritage motivated them to apply.

Many of the girls mentioned their grandparents in their on-stage interview, honoring the people and places they came from. Fiona Weir, 23, from Dorchester, said her granny, Rosie Weir, is a Leitrim native who had always encouraged her to apply.

When Fiona was announced as the winner, her grandmother was the first audience member to spring to her feet.

“She is enjoying this just as much as I am,” Fiona said.

Fiona who is a registered nurse, currently working at Boston Medical Centre, said she is excited to get more involved in Irish community events as she starts planning and preparing for her trip to Tralee this August as the 2023 Boston & New England Rose.

And the 2023 Boston & New England Rose of Tralee is……Fiona Weir!!! Congratulations Fiona, and get ready for the experience of a lifetime 🌹 #bostonrose #bostonerose #roseoftralee #traleeherewecome #🌹

Posted by Boston New England Rose of Tralee on Saturday, May 13, 2023

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