Nicola’s “Incredible” Tour of the North of Ireland

Hello all! I am currently back to work in Luxembourg but wow what a fantastic time I had over mid-term! It was a busy week but I had an incredible experience up in the North of Ireland. I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all the Rose Centres in Tyrone, Armagh, Derry, Down, Antrim, Fermanagh, Donegal and Sligo that were so fantastic showing me around their beautiful counties. It is remarkable to see how the Rose of Tralee is getting stronger each year with the passionate involvement of previous Roses and Escorts.

I had never been up the North before, I guess being from Cork it always seemed too long a journey. However, since last week I have been to every county in Northern Ireland! I started my journey with Steve Cronly, the Rose of Tralee Commercial Manager, on the Monday morning as we left Dublin for Co. Down. I met with the Down Rose Una Matthews and Rose Escort Aidan Clarke and some previous Down Roses for some pictures and we headed off go-karting, it was great fun! We then headed to Slieve Donard which I can say has some of the nicest scenery I have ever come across!

 

Afterwards we made the journey to Belfast to the Titanic Centre. This was really special for me as since the age of 13 I have loved the movie so was really eager to visit the exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed, it was so impressive! I had an opportunity to walk on the grand staircase and see some of the props from the movie which was incredible! From there we made our way up to a windy Stormont where I was honoured to meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. I never imagined that when I entered the Rose of Tralee I would end up in the company of such people! We had some memorable photographs taken as I spoke to the Ministers about the Rose of Tralee.

That evening the Antrim and Down Rose centre held an information evening in the 5-star Hilton Hotel in Belfast for potential Rose applicants. It was great to get a chance to chat to the girls about the amazing experience they would have at local level alone! It was great to reassure the girls that there was no need to be nervous as they were going to have the time of their lives and make great friends along the way.

The next day we were Derry bound. It was fantastic to visit two girls secondary schools in Derry as being a secondary school teacher I love being in front of students. I was requested to sing my party piece from Tralee ‘La Vie en Rose’, so I gave it a shot and all the memories of Tralee came flooding back! We then called to Foyle Hospice and it was lovely to see the great work that is being done there on a daily basis. I had a tour of the Hospice and met with some of the residents and it was a really lovely experience. That evening it was time to meet up with the Derry Rose Julianna Ayton and have some pictures taken. We had good fun trying on some hairpieces in the Richmond Shopping Centre! It was also great to meet with the 2011 Derry Rose Catherine Feeny.

Day three and we were off to Tyrone. I was especially excited to see Tyrone Rose Catherine Sherry as I got to know her really well in Tralee and we always have great fun together! I met her in the Holy Trinity Primary School in Cookstown where students asked us such funny questions like, “Do you like being the centre of attention?” We really enjoyed our time with the students. Then we travelled to the Battery Bar where we were destined to take off onto a choppy Lough Neagh on a speedboat!!! It was a rough journey but we had some great laughs along the way! Rose Escort Mark Mooney had a particularly funny journey when he bumped his head as the boat crossed a wave! Afterwards it was back to the Battery Bar to warm ourselves by the roaring fire with some soup and sandwiches.

Next stop was to Catherine’s old primary school in Dungannon where the students serenaded us with a lovely version of ‘The Rose of Tralee’. It was great for Catherine to see her old teachers. The next stop in Tyrone was to Lavender Spa and this was such a lovely experience. We had a great opportunity to relax with some back massages, it was a lovely treat! That evening it was back to the Greenvale Hotel for another information evening with some budding Roses to answer any queries they may have. I really look forward to heading back to Tyrone for the selection night there on April 3rd to see who becomes the 2013 Tyrone Rose!

Day four and love was in the air for Valentine’s as we were Fermanagh and Armagh bound! I met with Rose Escort Eoin McGuire and he showed us around lovely Fermanagh. We visited a few locations for photographs but my highlight was visiting St. Aidan’s Secondary School. They had Luxembourg flags and balloons at the entrance which was so heartwarming and I answered student questions about the festival. They presented me with a beautiful piece of artwork and a Valentine’s Day card! After lunch I looked forward to meeting up with Armagh Rose Lauren Campbell. We met at a secondary school in Armagh and spoke to some students about what the Rose of Tralee is all about and moved on to Linwoods factory to see how they process bread and milk. It was really interesting and I had a goody bag of bread and other treats on departure!

That evening we had a reception with the Mayor of Armagh Sharon Haughey who was so welcoming and we met with some Rose entrants. It was fantastic to see how popular the festival is. I stayed in the charming Basil Shiels Bar and Lounge after a great night of craic and delicious pub grub.

The last day saw us travel to Donegal for some photographs and an interview with Highland Radio which I really enjoyed. It was great to be there alongside the lovely Donegal Rose Fionnuala Nic Giolla Bhain, and we had good fun travelling around the county to Harvey’s Point and other locations. For lunch we travelled to Sligo and I met with Sligo Rose Aisling Schmidt and we had great fun in the Clarion Hotel where we were introduced to Alaska a bald eagle! I didn’t realise before that that I had a fear of large birds so it was definitely a challenge to get into a photograph with him!! It was all in the name of good fun!

That evening we travelled back to Dublin for some well needed rest but it was a week I will never forget, my first trip to the North of Ireland was incredible and huge thanks to Steve for being such a great chauffeur all week!

After reflecting on my trip I really appreciate how special it is to meet up with the Roses of 2012, there are friendships that have been made that will continue for a long time. The festival connects people all over the world and I look forward to watching the Roses of 2013 take part in their Rose of Tralee adventure and I wish them all the best with their selection nights!