Kelly Schlittenhardt was crowned Miss Irish America at the competition held on June 29 at the Irish American Society headquarters in Mineola, Long Island. She graduated from college in May and is currently acting in local shows, directing, and teaching music lessons.
Tell us about your Irish heritage.
“I am Irish on my mother's side. Schlittenhardt isn’t exactly a common name from the Emerald Isle. My grandfather is James Rafferty from Ferbane, Co. Offaly, and my grandmother is Maureen Rafferty from Limerick City. They each came here in the late fifties and met in Gaelic Park.”
Where did you first hear about the Miss Irish America pageant and what prompted you to get involved?
“I first heard about the pageant from my grandparents. They are the reason I decided to enter the competition.”
What does being crowned Miss Irish America mean to you?
“It has brought happiness and pride to my entire family, especially my grandparents. Knowing they are proud means more to me than I am able to put into words.”
Tell us a little about the history of the competition.
“The competition requires contestants to be between the ages of 18 and 25, and have an Irish lineage with one parent or grandparent. There is an interview with the five judges from outside of the Irish American Society, followed by evening dress and talent portions. This is the pageant’s fifth year.”
Tell us about your music.
“I sing and play the piano, as well as the violin. My dream job would be to make it on Broadway. I also aspire to one day be a music teacher.”
What is your favorite thing to do when you visit Ireland?
“I have only made one trip to Ireland, and it gave me the opportunity to meet the many aunts, uncles and cousins I have over there. I also had a great time in Dublin and am eager to make my next trip.”
Why do you think so many Irish Americans take pride in their heritage?
“Irish Americans have a strong sense of perseverance, community and nostalgia. They know what it means to have loved, to have lost, and to keep their chins up. It is best understood when listening to the song ‘When New York Was Irish’ by Terence Winch, a first generation Irish American. ‘They were ever so happy, they were ever so sad, to grow old in a new world through good times and bad. All the parties and weddings, the ceilis and wakes, when New York was Irish, full of joy and heartbreak.’"