This past Sunday was my second time competing for a local Rose title, and what a day it was. The events of the day brought myself and 14 other accomplished and ambitious women together for a day that solidified blossoming friendships.

At the end of the day, Annemarie Lynch was crowned the New York Rose for this upcoming year, a decision from the judges that was described as “quite hard”.

The Rose of Tralee festival has been held annually in August in Tralee, Co Kerry since 1959. The festival brings together women of Irish descent from around the world to compete for the title of Rose of Tralee, the winner of which will embark on a worldwide tour promoting Irish culture and charity.

The weeklong festival hosts parades, musical acts, and gala balls as a tourism catalyst in Tralee. The New York Rose has a strong tradition of winning, with four Roses claiming the title since 1959.

This year, fifteen young women including myself signed up for the New York Rose selection which was held on April 22nd at Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York.

Bright and early, several of us met at Empire City in Yonkers to begin our selection day. We were carted off along with some of our well-abled escorts down to Central Park for a quick horse and carriage ride and walk to Times Square to be used as a photo opportunity. Despite the looming ‘Irish weather’ of light rain and chilly air, we were full of laughter and welcomed the chance to get to know each other in this rather unique situation.

Back in Yonkers at Empire City, we got down to business. After a lunch where we further got to know each other, we were each interviewed one at a time by the four judges for the day. Serving on the panel were Ashling Colton, 2009 New York Rose who now works at 1010 Wins;
Patrick Tully, founder of Pat Tully Inc., board member of three not for profit foundations and volunteer for the American Ireland Fund; Joseph Tully, attorney at Alston & Bird; and Noreen Cullhane, 1970 New York Rose, Graduate of Harvard Business School and Former Executive Vice President of NYSE.

Though nerves were shaking prior to the interviews, we were all relieved to find out that once in with the judges, the ‘interview’ was more of a chat with a bit of banter where we contestants got to talk about ourselves, our accomplishments and our plans for the future and how they could be conducive to becoming the next New York Rose.

During the  interviews we were treated like stars, with our makeup and hair being done professionally for the evening’s events. We also got to chat with our master of ceremonies for the evening, Sean Ruane, a jolly man well familiar with the Irish American community in New York.

With down time between all of our interviews, we girls chatted and giggled together. Makeup and hair stylers were shared, compliments were flowing freely about how beautiful each other looked. Simply put, not a drop of cattiness was evident amongst the bunch of us, something that we all happily noted. Plans were already underway for ‘Rose Reunions’ in the future, prior to when the winner was named.

Following the individual interviews, we all gathered for a group interview with the judges. We, as a group, were asked about our opinions regarding reality television and social media in today’s world. The group interview provided an opportunity for each girl to have her voice heard, as well as to respond to others opinions and views.

Interviews finally wrapped up, we girls were all dolled up and it was time for the show to begin. Lining up backstage we peeked through the curtains to see the fashion show which featured girls modeling some Irish designers’ finest pieces, as well as a parade of rosebuds and Junior Roses strutting their stuff. We were all giddy with excitement as we took our escorts’ arms for our own jaunt down the runway. We waved to the audience who all cheered and applauded for each girl as enthusiastically as they had the one before.

Each girl wowed not only the audience and judges, but her fellow roses contestants, with her hefty accomplishments, fun anecdotes and astounding talents. We all cheered, hugged and high-fived each other before, after and during each of our onstage interviews with Sean Ruane.

It wasn’t that we wanted to lose out to another girl in the competition, but we wanted to see our new friends succeed under the pressure of the bright lights and a live internet feed.

Each girl had her turn and opportunity to showcase not only her accomplishments, but her own personal talent, which ranged from Irish dance, to singing, to musical theatre.

Sean then followed up with interviews with the escorts, who were also in the running for a free trip to Ireland come August. Sean was able to draw big laughs by teasing the lads, and as we girls giggled and clapped along, we couldn’t help but wonder who would be named the New York Rose after our long but immensely enjoyable day.

Guest of honor, the wonderful Martin O’Grady who founded the Woodlawn House of Music and Arts, was presented with his award. O’Grady noted that if he were to win the lottery, he would dedicate the earnings to opening more locations. He says he is still a “dreamer,” and he is certainly a huge inspiration to the entire Irish community in New York and will have a lasting influence for many generations to come.

It was finally time to announce winner of the title of the 2012 New York Rose. All the girls lined up on stage and, unprompted, held hands as we waited anxiously for the winner to be revealed. Sean Ruane teased it out for a few moments, but he finally revealed it was Anne- Marie Lynch, cueing hugs and congratulations from us girls.

Anne-Marie, born in New York, was raised in County Cavan in Ireland. She wowed the audience with her beautiful rendition of ‘Caledonia’ to which she sang and played the guitar.

While there could only be one winner for the New York Rose, the common motto goes that ‘Once a rose, always a rose.’ The fourteen other girls and I who competed undoubtedly formed a bond and were already chattering about when and where our next reunion will be.

Of course, there are many thank yous to be had for the whole experience. Michelle Carroll fearlessly stepped up and is now affectionately known as ‘Mama Rose’ for organizing several events in the months prior to selection day that not only raised publicity about the New York Rose competition, but helped foster new friendships. Unateresa Gormley organized the New York Rose center and its selection with help from Ursula McIntyre at Empire Casino in Yonkers. 2012 roses Erin Loughran (New York), Orlaith Carroll (Limerick) and Caitlin McNeill (Big Apple) all also dedicated their time and efforts to creating a great event and making us contestants feel welcome. Surely, countless others were a part of the big day, all of whom deserve many thanks as well.

Undoubtedly, some naysayers have said that the Rose of Tralee competition as a whole is outdated and even antiquated. While I’m personally not much of a fan of pageants myself, the Rose of Tralee competition is in a league of its own. As a competition, if you can even call it that, it looks for the brightest young women who are aiming to make an impact within their communities. With that and its ever welcome tourism boost in Ireland, I hope to see the Rose of Tralee contest around for many more years to come.

Anne-Marie Lynch the New York Rose of Tralee for 2012, pictured last SundayRose of Tralee NY