Anne Marie Bowe, Steve Cronly, Bernadette Ryan, Brendan Hennessy and Sarah Conlon at the Laois Rose selection night in 2015. Picture: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie
This Sunday will see the crowning of the 14th Laois Rose since Anne Marie Bowe first represented the county in 2004.
Laois has been brilliantly represented by women from all over the county on the Rose of Tralee stage since 2004, when the festival expanded to allow all counties to take part.
In 2005, Kathryn O’Connell from Timahoe was Laois Rose, 2006 saw Alison O’Grady represent Laois followed by Ballyroan woman Claire Sutton in 2007.
In 2010, Bernadette Ryan from Rathdowney was crowned Laois Rose and she was the first Rose to make it to the Dome in Tralee since Anne Marie Bowe in 2004.
In more recent years, Sarah Conlon was the 2013 Laois Rose, Barrowhouse woman Teresa Marie Brennan in 2014, Ailbhe Culleton from Portlaoise in 2015 followed by Clough's Kate Hyland and current Laois Rose Maeve Dunne.
Former Laois Rose, Bernadette Ryan, shared her memories with the Leinster Express ahead of the 2018 selection night on May 6.
Looking back at why she entered the Laois Rose, Bernadette told the Leinster Express she wanted to connect with her Tralee roots while rebuilding a new life in Laois after returning from studying in the UK.
“My parents moved to Tralee as a young couple. When they moved to Laois they were very proud Laois people. My dad was from Tipperary and my mam is from Monaghan and they chose Laois as their home, as have I.
“When I trained as a teacher 10 years ago, I moved home to Laois and it seemed like a really wonderful opportunity to meet new friends and get to know people again back in my home county while creating a link back to the festival and my dad. I got to meet all these people and everyone knew dad and it was a lovely talking point for me,” she said.
Bernadette, who recently returned from a volunteering trip to Lourdes with special needs children, said that the festival made her think about what she wanted to do.
“I took a career break, I met new people, I started to think about the things I wanted to do and I started to take action. I took a year out from work and went travelling. I visited my Rose roomie in New Zealand, that was incredible. I went to the Sydney Rose selection with a couple of other Rose sisters.
“I returned and did a masters in Speech and Language Therapy in UL. Having spent time with organisations and people which highlighted an interest in me to do something that matched well with my teaching career and helping other people.
"In my first job after the masters in UL, (I went to the Limerick Rose selection night), I worked at a children’s hospital in Leeds. I met Prince Harry and got to work with incredible children as a therapist. I don’t know if you would have the confidence to do these things without having done the Rose of Tralee,” she said.
Bernadette said one of her favourite moments of the festival was the regional final in Portlaoise and the focus of her year as Laois Rose was always local.
"It was hugely significant, I was like the Kerry Rose in Tralee. For me, to get to show people local areas, to talk about my hometown in Rathdowney and to introduce Roses from all over the world to Laois was a huge privilege and a lot of them would say they had the most special time in Portlaoise rather than Tralee!
"It was a lovely experience, that weekend I was surrounded by people like my parents, family, organisations and the kids in school where I worked were so excited, some of them were rose buds.
"I remember, I sat into a car at a rally and the guy driving the car had been taught by my dad in school. It was so emotional and I am an emotional person at the best of times. Regionals were very special it was the icing on the cake that I got to Tralee.
"The year as Laois Rose was very local for me, the travel aspect of it came after. I was involved with Laois Down Syndrome, visited the home for the elderly in Mountmellick and got involved with my town of Rathdowney. For me, it was very local and I loved that," she said.
Despite being a co-ordinator for the Laois Rose Centre and helping Roses like Teresa Marie Brennan and Ailbhe Culleton, Bernadette said that she still doesn't know what defines a Rose.
"The best thing to come out of it all was being crowned Laois Rose, it is such a privilege. It is not something you can quintessentially put your finger on. What is it that makes those judges choose you as as Rose?
"Ten Laois Roses met up recently and none of us are alike, we are all very different with different jobs, backgrounds and we are from different parts of the county. No two of us are alike so what it is that makes a Rose I still don’t know," she said.
The festival still follows Bernadette and comes up in conversation with people regularly, almost 10 years after she represented the county.
"I am just back from a week volunteering in Lourdes with Irish Pilgrimage Trust with children with life limiting special needs. When I was out there I met people involved in the Rose of Tralee, there was an escort from Sarah Conlon’s year. It follows you all around the world and it is not just confined to your year, the more events you attend the wider the circle gets," she said.
Lastly, the proud Rathdowney woman shared some words of wisdom with the ladies who are putting themselves forward as Laois Rose hopefuls this weekend.
"Be yourself as a person, you are made up of the experiences you have and the people you are surrounded by and ultimately that is why you are standing on stage so you represent yourself.
"Whether you represent your town, county or an organisation, you represent who you are and because of that I think there is a place for everybody. It is about being a person who is true to themselves and that is what brings you to the point where you enter. What you put into it, you get out of it tenfold," she said.
The Laois Rose Selection night takes place on Sunday, May 6 at the Midlands Park Hotel, tickets available at reception.
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