CLARE’S Rose of Tralee Vickie O’Connell is calmness personified. Even with a whirlwind week of public engagements ahead of her, for the moment, the Kilrush woman is ensconced in her own little bubble, living in the now.
But that’s certain to change this week as the 28-year-old joins up with the other Roses for the glam and glitter of the international festival that transforms the town of Tralee and catapults the contestants into the public limelight.
Vickie, an administrator for membership and real estate at Trump International in Doonbeg, is relishing all the excitement it will bring and cannot wait to hit the dome stage on Tuesday night.
“Since my selection as Clare Rose, I’ve started on a journey, an amazing journey to be honest. I’m going to embrace and enjoy every single minute of it.”
The journey commenced last March when Vickie was selected from 28 contestants, a record entry for Clare. This week she has been taking part in all the parades, the Rose Ball and public engagements, before she takes to the stage for the live selection TV broadcast with Dáithí Ó Sé.
“I always wanted to do it, enter the Rose of Clare. I was going to enter two years ago but the timing just wasn’t right for me. I took on a new job and that was time-consuming. This year the organisers extended the age bracket and I didn’t think twice about it. I filled in the application and now I am on my way to Tralee; it’s all so very exciting,” she admits.
A daughter of Adrian and Ruby O’Connell from Cooraclare, Vickie believes the Rose journey will create memories that will last a lifetime. She also appreciates the responsibility that comes with being the Clare Rose.
“The schedule has been hectic, a lot of engagements. But I love attending events and meeting people, especially the kids. They look at me like I’m a princess. That’s huge for me to actually process. I am their role-model. Every child I meet I say to them ‘you could be the Clare Rose some day’ and ‘do what I am doing’. I encourage them to go for it, to live the dream,” she explains.
Vickie says US President Donald Trump is aware of her participation and did actually wish her the best of luck during his recent visit.
“I met Donald Trump when he was here in June. I was one of the lucky staff members to meet him. He was so friendly, so engaging. He asked me all about the Rose of Tralee Festival and I told him all about it, that it was the 60th anniversary, that it was a very special occasion and that I was very fortunate to be on the live show in The Dome. He wished me the very best of luck and all the Roses the very best of luck.”
Asked if it was reassuring then to have the world’s most powerful man in her corner, Vickie quips, “he’s in everyone’s corner”.
Given her job profile of dealing and engaging with people, Vickie believes she won’t be at all fazed at being interviewed by Dáithí Ó Sé.
“At the moment I’m not nervous about it because I’m not thinking about that very moment in time. For now it’s somewhere in the back of my mind. I’m just focussed on getting my luggage ready, getting my dresses sorted, getting to the hotel, meeting the other Roses, having fun and making memories.
“Maybe when I’m waiting back stage in The Dome, the nerves might kick in a bit. I have only two fears – afraid of falling and a fear of loud noises. I certainly won’t be afraid of the stage or the TV cameras and all that goes with it. I’ll be beaming to get out there. I have the gift of the gab. If anything, Dáithí will probably find it hard to shut me up,” she laughed.
A segment of the interview process involves the contestants doing a party piece be it dancing a few steps, playing a tune, reciting a few lines or singing a song. At this stage, Vickie’s lips are sealed as to what her cameo performance will be. “I not going to say, you’ll obviously have to watch and wait and see. Isn’t that a good answer,” she responds.
Given the hectic schedule and the range of engagements, a full wardrobe is essential and Vickie says she has been overwhelmed with the generosity of boutiques across the county in kitting her out for the festival.
“Milliner Ailish McElroy from Bodyke is providing all the hats for me. She has an amazing collection and I’m blessed to have her support as the Clare Rose.
“So many boutiques all over the county have supported me too. It’s mind-blowing the level of support your get in terms of dresses, shoes, handbags and all the accessories. There is a huge amount of goodwill. I am also conscious of the fact that some of these boutiques might be finding the going tough with online shopping but they were so generous. They’ve certainly supported their own and I will do my best to return that favour by supporting them,” she says.
Vickie says she knows nothing of the identity of her escort at this stage and neither was she tempted to nominate her boyfriend, Michael Kelly from Killimer, to step up to the role.
“It is a surprise that I don’t know anything about my escort at this stage. All I can say is that I’ve got him a great present and I hope he likes it.”
Of boyfriend Michael she adds, “Michael is happy out just sitting in the crowd and watching me doing my thing. He’d prefer to sit in his tuxedo and watch what’s going on. He’s a busy man now with the cattle. Farmers are always busy,” she adds.
Vickie is well grounded and not getting ahead of her self by building up expectations.
“While it would be nice to win, what I really want from the Rose of Tralee are memories that will live with me for a lifetime. My aim is just to relax, enjoy it and take it all in, every single second of it. I just wants to have fun and make the county proud. To be a great ambassador for Clare, that’s my aim,” she says.
The Rose of Tralee International Festival’s 60th year celebrations commenced last Friday with a packed programme of free entertainment for all ages until Tuesday, when the 2019 Rose of Tralee will be crowned in the Festival Dome live on RTÉ One.
By Gerry McInerney