Kildare Rose Katie O’Neill will be heading to Portlaoise this weekend to represent the county in the Rose of Tralee regional final, but with any luck, the midlands stage will not be her final destination.
Katie has her heart set on winning a place at the international Rose of Tralee finals, to be held in the famed Dome in Kerry at the end of the summer.
No Lilywhite has represented her native county on the Tralee stage since Denise Healy made the trip to the Kingdom in 2008 - although Athy girls Clare Kambamettu and Charmaine Kenny did their native Athy proud when they took the overall title in recent years, both representing London.
“I hope to get to Tralee, that would be amazing, but if it doesn’t happen I’ll still go down for the festival. My friends are already booking rooms,” said the 26-year-old, who took over the Kildare Rose crown from Newbridge’s Hannah Ryan at the start of April.
Since beginning her Rose reign, Katie has attended Punchestown Races as a VIP, and met actress and author Amy Huberman, while a guest at the Newbridge Silverware 80 anniversary brunch last week.
Katie and several of the other girls who took part in this year’s Kildare Rose competition also took part in the recent Jack and Jill Foundation fundraising fashion show at Killashee House Hotel.
“Nine of the girls from the Kildare Rose Centre were modelling and a very good crowd turned out. They had to bring in extra seating. It was very nerve-wracking walking down the catwalk!” she said.
Katie will have to get over any nerves about appearing in public, as she will compete with some 60 other Roses, both from Ireland, and around the world, in Portlaoise. Just 23 Roses will be selected by the judging panel to go forward from there to Tralee.
Aria Boutique in Naas, which is run by Katie’s cousin Karolynn McHale, is sponsoring her for several outfits for the busy Portlaoise festival.
Aristohats and Shades and Shapes have also helped her out with accessories and hairstyles for her official functions.
Katie will have her on-stage interview in Portlaoise next Sunday night, which is also the selection night. “All my family have tickets bought,” she said.
Her boyfriend Adam Ferris, who she has been seeing for five-and-a-half years, is on banner-making duty and is expected to come up with some fantastic creations on the night.
Katie’s Regional Rose adventure will start next Thursday night when the Roses check in for an action-packed long weekend.
“I’m looking forward to meeting (host) Daithi O’Se and it will be great to meet all the other Irish Roses on the Thursday afternoon,” she said.
The busy schedule for the weekend includes selection nights at the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel, an Irish music evening at the Maldron Hotel Portlaoise as well as a vintage Car Parade, funfair, street disco and a visit to the magnificent Castle Durrow.
Roses representing 29 counties in Ireland, 13 regions in the United States of America, Scotland and eight major cities in England, Melbourne, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, Canada, Luxembourg and Germany will all take part in the Regional Festival.
Each Rose has also been twinned with a bar in the town which she can make her ‘home base’ and decorate for her supporters.
The Lilywhite camp will be setting up home in DeBruns bar.
Katie’s family will be heading down en masse to support her in the regional finals.
Katie is the daughter of well-known Maynooth publican Dermot and Helene, who was named Miss Kildare in 1973.
The family run O’Neill’s Bar and Steakhouse on Maynooth’s Main Street, and have been in business in the town since they opened their first butcher’s shop there in 1912.
She has a brother Jamie, sisters Joy, Rebecca and Sarah and a new baby niece Abbie.
The young Maynooth woman is qualified in childcare but wants to pursue her dream of becoming a primary school teacher, and is hoping to be accepted on a teaching course in Maynooth this year.
She also works in the family business in Maynooth, and her proud dad has been making sure all customers who come into the pub know his daughter is the reigning Kildare Rose.
“He has my picture up in the front of the pub and a good few people have seen that.
“Customers come in and ask what is the connection between the pub and the Rose of Tralee, and he points them in my direction and says ‘she’s over there’,” she laughed.
Katie says she is looking forward to representing Kildare in the Rose Regional Finals.
“The nerves will set in on Wednesday evening when I’m packing my bags and getting ready to go.
“I can’t wait to get down there and meet a few of the other girls. I’ve been to some of the other Rose selections since April and I’ve got to meet a good few of the girls, so it will be nice to catch up with them, and then there will be some new faces there too, which will be exciting.”
You can keep up with how Katie gets on this weekend on the Kildare Rose Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/kildare.rose.