TEARS of joy flowed in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel on Sunday, March 18 as Niamh was chosen out of 20 girls to be the next Laois Rose.
It’s been a whirlwhind few months for the Port native, who is now looking forward to welcoming 56 other Roses to Portlaoise over this weekend for the Regional Finals.
“I’ve always thought about entering the Laois Rose, but I met Steve Cronly (the Rose of Tralee national co-ordinator) in Emo Court a few years ago. He was out in Emo Court for a photo shoot with the Roses and I had been hired for the day to help out. He told me I should go for it. It stuck with me and then this year my manager in Portarlington Pharmacy, Ashling O’Connor, gave me the nudge I needed.”
This year saw one of the largest group of girls competing for the coveted title, with 20 wannabe Roses taking to the stage with compere Brendan Hennessy.
“We all got to know one another on the Laois Rose Tour, it was super. We all added one another as friends on Facebook and we were sharing pictures from the Tour, so by the time it came to the Laois Rose, we were all friends.
“We recently met up again for dinner and it was great to see everyone.
“I’ve been so busy since then, it’s been great. I’ve attended family days and charity concerts and a lot of the other selection nights.”
The weekend of the Regional Finals will be a busy one for Niamh, after she checks into the Heritage Hotel tomorrow (Thursday).
Niamh is hoping that the weather will hold out for the weekend which will see her welcome the Roses to Portlaoise at the official opening on Friday, which will be held at the Civic Plaza.
Friday night is also the first selection night in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel. On Saturday, the Roses will take part in the Vintage Car Parade, which will be lead by Niamh in the special Rose Float. The other Roses will be chaffeured along the route by drivers from the Gordon Bennett Rally, which is also taking place this weekend.
Saturday night will see Niamh take to the stage in the hope of becoming on of just nine Irish Roses chosen to represent their counties in Tralee. If Niamh is successful, it will be a hat trick for Laois, who have been represented in The Dome by Sinead Fennell and Bernadette Ryan in the last two years.
“Sunday is the big day, as the Roses who will go to Tralee will be announced that night. But no matter what happens this weekend is going to change everything for me forever.”
Niamh has been enjoying all the extra attention she has been getting in her home town, where she works as a floor manager in Port Pharmacy, her sponsor at the Laois Rose.
“The banter with customers has been great. The day after the Laois Rose, I came into work and my boss had flowers and champagne waiting for me.
“Everyone knows me in the town from my dad’s shop, Bracken’s Menswear, I’ve been in the shop since I was three years of age. I’ve had cards from all over too, people have just been great,” Niamh says.
The proudest member of the Bracken family after the Laois Rose selection night, was Niamh’s little sister. Ellie couldn’t control the tears on the night.
“My sister has been praying and lighting candles. She still cries even thinking about that night.”
But Niamh has made one of the family pets a celebrity too, having told the tale of how Jack the donkey came to join the Bracken household at the Laois selection night.
“I couldn’t believe it when I came down off stage and realised what I’d been talking about. The other girls were telling me it was funny, but I didn’t know whether the audience was laughing at me or the story. I had planned to talk about my holiday to Venice just before the selection.”
Niamh has full of praise for the Laois Rose co-ordinator, Sharon Preston and her sponsors. Sharon and Niamh recently took some time for a shopping trip to get all the clothes required for the weekend.
“Sharon is like a second mammy to me. She is just the best support. I’m blessed to have her. She makes you so relaxed, and takes care of everything. Before I even think of something, she has it sorted.
“All the sponsors have been fantastic too - Bankz Hair and Beauty, The Clothing Gallery in Kilenard, El Chic Fascinators by Eleanor Ryan, the Bridal Hall in Ballyrittas, Boutique on Main Street and my own sponsor, Port Pharmacy. It really wouldn’t be possible without them.”
“I was at the selection nights in Westmeath, Galway, Offaly and Kildare and I’ve met a few of last year’s Roses too. Last year’s Dublin Rose, Siobheal Nic Eochaidh, was at the Laois selection night and I’ve also met last year’s Roses from Kilkenny and Donegal.”
Niamh and the current Rose of Tralee, Tara Talbot who had some sound advice for her.
“She just told me to be myself and enjoy the experience as it will be over before we know it. Regardless of what happens at the Regionals, I’m going to Tralee to support the other girls.”