YES, we are lovely ladies — but lovely ladies who happen to have qualifications, degrees, masters, PhDs in teaching, nursing, engineering, law, audiology, media, marketing and more — we are all well-educated and highly accomplished.
That’s the swift riposte of 2016 Cork Rose Denise Collins to those who dismiss her title, and that of the Rose of Tralee, as old hat or demeaning to women.
The middle child of five from Knocnkagree on the Cork/Kerry border is getting ready to hand back her sash after what she describes as an incredible year.
“No matter what you do in life or where you go, there are negative people who will try to bring you down. I am extremely proud to have taken part in the Rose of Tralee and I think it is a fantastic festival. It celebrates strong, proud, educated and passionate Irish women across the world — what’s not to like?
“Each and every Rose is well educated and highly accomplished and the fact they are also confident enough to go on stage on live TV and talk about their lives makes them even better.”
Like most Irish girls, Denise grew up watching the competition on television, and always felt she’d love to be a Cork Rose — not believing that it would ever happen.
“The 2015 Cork Rose, Aoife Murphy, is a past pupil of my school and in early 2016 herself and the 2015 International Rose of Tralee Elysha Brennan visited Davis College in Mallow where I teach and addressed the staff and students. It was then that I decided I would enter. There were 45 girls in my selection last year so I was shocked when I heard my name called!
“I was selected in the early hours of July 3 and was departing for Kenya, Africa, the next day to teach at an education centre and I really did not expect to be picked.
“The support I got from family, friends and strangers was incredible and so overwhelming! I cannot thank my sponsors and supporters enough.
“To explain how it feels to represent your county is difficult — I felt immensely honoured, gracious and exultant but I was also aware of the huge responsibility I had to do my county proud.”
Denise insists the Rose Festival is the incredible experience that all the contestants say it is.
“For 12 days we were treated like royalty. We got to know each other pretty well in a relatively short space of time as we spent the most part of 20 hours a day together (very little sleep was had during the festival — which adds to the fun of it all). It’s very hard to put the experience into words but it was the most incredible two weeks!”
Stand-out memories from the year include her dome appearance but there are many more.
“I went to Frankfurt, Germany, with a group of roses and escorts in November to turn on the Christmas lights which was amazing… the Christmas markets and decorations made it such a magical trip.
“I travelled to Vesnova Children’s mental asylum in Belarus in February which was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. It was a difficult but extremely rewarding experience.
“I also took part in the St Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations in both Chicago and New York, which were absolutely phenomenal. It was snowing — 18 inches, JFK actually shut down for a day. Each were unique but they were all fantastic experiences in their own ways.”
Denise is still in contact with most of the Roses.
“We have a whatsapp group with all 65 roses and a separate one with all 130 roses and escorts. Both groups are constantly active as we have members all across the world in different time zones! Sometimes when I finish work and look at my phone I have 1,000+ whatsapps — it’s crazy but fabulous to keep up to date with every ones lives.
“My room-mate was the fabulous San Francisco rose — Margaret Harkin. She has since moved to Dublin and is working in DCU so we get to keep in regular contact.
“Each rose actually had two escorts in Tralee (we had a switch over after three days) and I keep in contact with them via the whatsapp group and any events we attend together! My escorts were great and they were two gentlemen — Shane and Struan.”
The entire experience has helped build her confidence — and contacts.
“You meet so many diverse, important and powerful people through the Rose of Tralee. I think one thing it has really taught me is to accept compliments — us Irish people are very slow to accept praise for something we do but I have learned to say thank you now instead of shaking it off.”
Denise has hardly had time to think about handing over her sash to this year’s Cork Rose at the end of the month as she’s had a busy time co-ordinating the state exams at her school.
“I’ve been fortunate to be teaching in Davis College in Mallow for the past five years.
This past year I had four exam groups — Leaving Cert maths and ag. science and Junior Cert maths and science so it has been a busy year between school and rose events. I loved science and maths in school myself and I had a fantastic biology teacher who advised me to do her science teaching course in UL, so that’s what I did and I am so happy I did.
“I am the examination aide in my school which means that I organise and coordinate the state examinations. This is my second year holding this post — it requires a lot of organisation and quick thinking but I enjoy it.”
She has lots to look forward to when school wraps up, a holiday in Prague with boyfriend (and neighbour) Andrew; and a girly week in Malta before heading to Tralee for the festival in August to support her “new Cork Rose sister”. She admits she feels “oddly protective” of the Cork Sash but says it’s time to let the new Cork Rose meet her 2017 Rose family.
And while it does sound clichéd, she would recommend entering the competition calling it an “an experience unparalleled”. “I am glad to say I am ending my reign as the 2016 Cork Rose with 130- plus new friends!”
This year’s Cork Rose selection takes place on Saturday, June 24.