To hear the contestants being interviewed, Click here

Just before this year's New York Rose of Tralee contest got underway, I caught up with some of this year's Roses to see why they decided to enter the contest and what they thought about competing in it.

Katie Dunleavy is sponsored by Burgen County St Patrick’s Day. For her ‘piece’ she talked about her visit to Ireland weeks ago and her family heritage. Both Katie’s parents are from Dublin and this is the first personality selection which she’s done. She says that it would be the “experience of a lifetime” to be elected the New York rose and says that she’d love to see Tralee. Both her parents came from Dublin. She’s currently pursuing a dual PhD/MD degree with the aspiration of qualifying as a research doctor. She’d love to travel to South Africa, Egypt and the Vatican – and of course to Ireland!

Sarah Ann Hughes from Newry, Co. Down is being sponsored by Invest Northern Ireland. She’s fresh off completing a Masters in Business Studies in Dublin’s prestigious Michael Smurfit School of Business and is now working with Invest Northern Ireland in the city. It’s the first time that she’s done a personality contest but says that that doesn’t faze her. She decided to take part in this year’s event because she moved over to New York about five months ago with her job. At home she was going for the Down Rose so when she moved to New York she contacted the organizers and found out that the competition was still open. She’s done elocution and speech and drama since she was nine. Her mum was “over the moon” that Sarah was going for the competition and has a whole “posse” of people from Northern Ireland waiting to go down to Tralee. She says that she’s proud to be representing Northern Ireland in her capacity at the company and that the company’s efforts were “going really really well” despite the recession.

Maureen Mullane is from Orange County New York, about forty five minutes from the city. She had to win the preliminary Orange County round to take part in today’s event. She’s the youngest contestant by far, only 18 - a whole four years younger than the next youngest contestant - and says that if she was to win she’d bring a “youthful outlook” to the contest. She’s beginning college at Scranton University this fall and was a cheerleader in high school.

The garrulous and multi-facetedNiall O’Leary is hosting this year’s event. “It’s brilliant, I’ve never even attended the New York final of it,” he says. “I’ve wathced the main event of it on and off on television in Ireland, and the girl who won the outright Rose of Tralee last year was the friend of friend of mine so I watched it last year with particular interest, but the standard of quality in terms of skills and enjoyment and everything is brilliant. They’re all brilliant people, any of them could win really. They’re all very outgoing people, very positive, great positive energy. They’re all doing good things and they’re all really excited about what they’re doing. It’s brilliant really!” he says.

O’Leary’s connection to the contest, though, has deeper roots, as he explains: “My father, Dan O’Leary, was actually on the committee of the Dublin rose when Terry Wogan presented the Rose of Tralee,” he explains, “And so that’s why I got involved, because my father was involved in the Dublin Committee, so I thought ‘why don’t I get involved over here!?”. Then they asked me well ‘what would you like to do?’ and I said ‘well I don’t want to be a judge’ and they said ‘well why how about you host it?’ so I said ‘sure why not!’. I’m also an architect, I run Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance and am the President of the Irish Business Organization,” he says.

Kathleen Hannon is being sponsored by the Kerrymen Pub and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. If she got chosen she was hoping to read a poem or a song. She says that she ‘can’t sing’ but would be interested in reciting a poem. Her grandparents were from Ireland. This is her first personality contest. She says that five years ago she would never have considered doing something like this but that her boss was really encouraging’.

Jillian Heinze, sponsored by The Quay’s, decided to go into the contest because it’s “such a good ol time”. She did it in Boston about three years ago and decided to do it again as she’d two years left. She went to Ireland when she was 13. Her mother’s family is from Leitirim. If she was asked to perform she says that she’d probably sing as she used to sing in High School. Her mum joked about taking a loan out to get to Ireland if she wont the contest! Her father was unable to be at the pub and has been calling Gilian “about every twenty minutes” to find out the news.

Aisling Coleton is last year’s New York rose. She won the New York Rose and went to Tralee where she competed against 50 girls. “All the girls were so nice, I made so many friends all over the world and had the time of my life. Tonight is definitely bittersweet because I’m so sad to give up the crown but also elated for the girl that gets the title and goes on to Tralee,” she says.

Marie Oliver is representing the Full Shilling. She’s from Galway but has been back and forth between Galway. Cork, and New York for the last five years. This time around she’s been here for two years. Boyfriend Ryan says that there’s a “lot of pressure” - last night involved some frantic picking out of the. If she got in to the contest she was hoping to have a great time and get everyone from New York to have a good time and a laugh.

Genevieve O’Reilly is from County Cavan. She was in the Jersey rose last year. There’s no New Jersey rose this year as the two districts were merged into one rose. She says that last year’s rose, Charmane, was a “great representative” for all the roses. Her father’s from County Cavan and she also has family in Monagahan.

Genevieve says that it was amazing in Tralee last year: “I met fifty amazing girls and we had a great time. We were treated like celebrities in Ireland. Next to Bono – close enough. We got to go to charity events and fantastic dinners. Life has been pretty much downhill since!” she jokes, “nobody wants my authograph when I get on the street. It’s alright though”. She says that all this year’s girls are outgoing and talented and that she wouldn’t want to be one of the judges.

To hear the contestants being interviewed, Click here