For this week’s Spotlight On feature we’re chatting to Orla McDaid, the Craughwell native who represented Galway at this year’s Rose of Tralee Festival.
While Orla may not have take home the title of International Rose of Tralee, she encapsulated the attributes and character that make the festival such a national and global phenomenon.
23-year-old Orla is currently studying for her Masters in Education, after already qualifying as a veterinary nurse.
What made you apply for the Rose of Tralee?
I have watched the Rose of Tralee since I was a little girl and I would say more than half the women in the country would say they too have watched it from time to time, and it was always lovely to see the women on stage, but this year I decided that because my group of friends from home…I realised that three quarters of us had emigrated, my friends are in Australia, the Arab Emirates, America, and I’m back doing my masters, and I realised that I didn’t really have any friends around.
I purely sent my application into the Galway Rose Centre, not every thinking that I would be the Galway Rose but thinking that it would be a good way of meeting other women. That was the beginning of it and sure enough I met some fabulous women in Galway that I would have never met otherwise.
What was the response like from your friends and family when you were chosen?
For the actual selection night I didn’t really ask anyone to go to it, I wasn’t taking it as ‘oh I was going to win it,’ and when my name was called out I was so shocked, my mother and father were absolutely shocked, nobody thought I was going to be selected. Even when I had applied, my parents had booked a holiday away, and then they had to change the holiday when I got through to the Rose of Tralee.
What were your thoughts right before you went on stage on the night of the final show?
I even got butterflies in my stomach just thinking about that! I was petrified. We found out only on Sunday night whether we would be on Monday or Tuesday, and in my head I wanted to be on Monday night because at least then I can get it out of the way and enjoy Tuesday but then sitting front row on Monday watching all the girls, and these are girls that are absolutely amazing, they have been chosen for a reason and you’re looking at them and you’re thinking ‘they’re so excellent, how can I do that?’ but then I realised that if they can do it, I can do it too.
I was on just after a break and when I was getting mic’d up my heart was going through my chest, but when I actually walked out on stage and Daithi reached out and took my hand and guided me, I got this sense of comfort just knowing that all my friends and family were in the room. It’s the kind of festival that we don’t even use the word ‘competition,’ so you felt like every single person in that room was behind you. They weren’t looking for you to trip up, they were willing you on.
Did anything unexpected happen on the night?
I didn’t know what to expect after the Rose of Tralee would be announced, because you’re thinking ‘oh, is everything going to change? Are people going to start acting differently? Are there going to be different emotions involved?’ Because we all went on to that stage as a group and you were concerned that maybe it wouldn’t be the same.
But we went back into the greenroom after and all of the Roses and all of the escorts all stood in a circle and the escorts led us in a little song that we had all made up together, and it was like we were a family. That was unexpected for me because I didn’t know how it was going to feel afterwards, but it actually felt like a beginning.
The competition has garnered some criticism this year, what are your thoughts on it?
I think that for someone to say its outdated, I don’t think that person has been to the festival. If anyone were to say that, I would invite them to come to the festival next year and ask them do they think that then.
What you have is 32 women who you couldn’t think were outdated when you see how they have represented themselves. They are all empowered women who represent themselves so well.
What do you want to do with your platform now as the Galway Rose going forward?
It’s funny how you see so many, mainly young, women who come up to you during the festival and they are asking you to take photos with them, they are asking you for your autograph, and that for me was the most surreal thing on the planet. You realise how much the Rose of Tralee actually means, that little girls actually do look up to the Roses.
I’m planning on continuing my studies and as the Rose for the next year, I just want to represent my county as best I can. I just want to show other girls, and men as future escorts if they want to be, that they can do absolutely anything if you put your mind to it. I never thought that I would be picked as the Galway Rose and I never thought I would be able to stand up on live television and do myself and my family proud, but I managed it and that means anybody else can too.