THE Cork Rose has ended her incredible year in the prestigious role by raising €16,480 for cancer research.
Aishling O’Connor was inspired to undertake such an ambitious task after her older brother Kieran was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer just six weeks after her appearance on stage at the Dome in Tralee last August.
The 27-year-old, from Aghada, has three older brothers, and although she is the youngest by eight years, she enjoys an extremely close relationship with all of them along with mum and dad, Pat and Mary.
Kieran, an All-Ireland football medal winner for Cork in 2010, even got a mention from her in her on-stage interview in Tralee.
A crowd of nearly 200 people attended her recent fundraising ball, with many well known names from the Cork GAA scene such as Graham Canty among them, with all proceeds going to the Cork-based Breakthrough Cancer Research.
“When someone gets sick, it really puts a lot of things into perspective,” says Aishling. “I knew that one of the things I could do with my year as Cork Rose was to create awareness and support such a great charity — with statistics showing that one in two people will get cancer by 2020 I think people should feel like it’s OK to talk about it.
“And with so many incredible charities out there, I chose one that focuses on research which can hopefully help with new therapies to give people hope and live longer.”
Breakthrough Cancer Research launched in 2011 to inspire and enable financial support for research into cancer in Ireland, leading to more effective treatments for patients in Ireland and internationally. €4 million to fund the efficient and effective development of new treatments has been raised to date.
Kieran’s diagnosis was made after he followed up a persistent pain in his leg. As it’s a rare form of the disease, the 38-year-old dad of three (two daughters aged six and four; and a six month old son) is being treated in Dublin while receiving chemotherapy in Cork.
Aishling said: “He is responding extremely well to treatment and has a very positive outlook. He’s a very determined person and is up for the battle.
“His wife Sinead is a super-hero, she’s incredible, and I know together they’ll get through anything.”
Organising the ball over a four month period was a bit like organising a wedding, Aishling joked, but she had great help from long term boyfriend Ronan Walsh and Rose escort and friend Gavin Farmer from Mallow.
But there’s no time to rest yet as she’s just moved out of home and into a new house with Waterford man Ronan.
“In the madness of it all we bought a house in Whitegate — it’s a work in progress,” she said.
And throughout the year the career-focused UCC graduate continued working in the Operations Department of Apple Hollyhill, who she said were incredibly supportive.
The keen sportswoman also managed to keep up team commitments. In fact, she couldn’t make a trip with the rest of the Roses to open the Frankfurt Christmas Markets last December as her team, Aghada, were playing an All Ireland final the same day.
“It was a tough decision but the team won out — although I was injured and watching from the sideline it was all worth it as they won and are now All Ireland champions”.
Despite what she described as an ‘incredible’ year shortly coming to a close, she’s far from downbeat at the thought of handing over her sash to the new Cork Rose on June 9.
“People have asked me if I’m sad and the simple answer is that I’m not — I’m excited to follow whoever will be next on this journey. Besides, the sash doesn’t make me who I am —I’m the same person that I always was and will be.”
In any case the modest young woman feels she wasn’t any better than any of the other girls who took part last year, but regards herself more as a ‘representative’ of the group.
Her message to the next Cork Rose is to ‘embrace it’. Aishling, who had also entered the competition in 2013, advised: “Whatever you put in, you’ll get back — it’s entirely up to you what you make of it.
“Enjoy it, as the times goes so fast. The novelty of it never wore off for me and I constantly had to pinch myself to believe that it was happening. It was just so great to be associated with such a great group of people — each one was more accomplished than the next.”
As clichéd as it sounds, Aishling said that making lifelong friends through the competition was one of the experience’s stand out advantages.
“I made such fantastic friends who were always there for me during what was a tough year at times. I roomed with the Queenstown Rose — we’re great friends and she recently invited me to her wedding, although what with moving house and everything I won’t make it.”
One event she will make is this summer’s Rose Festival: “It’s such an incredible experience and so hard to explain- I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
The Cork Rose selection takes place this Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9 at The Clayton, Silver Springs.
The Rose of Tralee festival takes place from Friday, August 17 to Tuesday, August 21.
For more see www.roseoftralee.ie