IT’S been quite a week for Aisling O’Connor.
Last Saturday, the woman from Rostellan, Aghada, was announced as the 2017 Cork Rose, then, yesterday, she celebrated her 27th birthday.
It was announced that she would represent the Rebel County in Tralee in August at the Cork Rose Selection at The Clayton Hotel, Silver Springs.
Aishling — one of 51 girls competing for the honour — said it was a case of ‘now or never’ for her to enter as turning 27 puts her at the upper age limit according to competition rules.
“Winning was the best birthday present I could have ever asked for — I’m on cloud nine,” she said.
Aishling is a UCC graduate — she did a BA in Irish and Economics there, followed by an MA in Business Economics — and has worked in Apple, Hollyhill, for nearly four years in the Operations Department, describing it as a “fantastic place to work”.
She is the youngest of her family by eight years, and her mum and dad, Pat and Mary, and two of her three older brothers, Patrick, Kieran and John, were there on Saturday night to cheer on her win.
Aishling’s boyfriend of seven years, Ronan, was also in the audience for her on-stage audition, where she played the guitar and sang Feels Like Home To Me by Edwina Hayes. Ronan is from Waterford, but described by Aishling as practically a Cork man!
She said of her success: “It was always in my head to take part (in the Rose selection) and as I don’t want any regrets in life, it was a case of now or never because, due to the rules, this was my last year to enter.
“Any of the Roses would have been an inspiration to me and I’d heard fantastic things about the Cork Rose Centre so I entered at the end of May.”
Aishling was the 13th girl to go on stage on Saturday night — a position which clearly wasn’t unlucky for her!
“I really had no idea I was going to win,” she recalled, “when I heard my name there were definitely a few tears shed, it was a bit of a blur.
“I was just one of 51 amazing girls and I’m so happy now to represent them in Tralee.
“This isn’t the end for us but the start of some great times ahead. Everyone got on so well, we had an absolute ball and made some great friends.”
Sponsored by Core Health and Beauty, Midleton, Aishling is a keen musician. As well as playing guitar, she teaches the instrument, and also plays the tin whistle and keyboard.
Sport is another big hobby for the young woman and she plays football with Aghada Ladies Football club while enjoying yoga, spinning and running.
The Cork Rose judges were Deborah Barrett — 2005 Cork Rose, Sile Ni Dheargain — 2011 Kerry Rose, and Eugene Sheehy — Rose of Tralee International Festival Escort 2014. They assessed each entrant through individual and group interviews, as well as their on-stage interviews, over two Selection Nights. The judges also attended Mallow races with the Roses and other events before selecting their winner.
Aishling’s first official duty was to attend Charleville Show on Sunday — after a night celebrating with family and friends. After that she said it was a case of letting “it all sink in”.
That includes, among lots of other things, organising her wardrobe. Aishling says she enjoys fashion and hired a pale blue gown from Covet, The Borrower’s Boudoir in Dublin, for the selection night.
She described last year’s Cork Rose Denise Collins as an inspiration: “She was fabulous and had an amazing year. I’m delighted to follow in her footsteps. I feel so privileged and so excited.”
When asked if she had encountered any negativity from her peer group when she announced she was taking part, she was emphatic that she had only received whole-hearted support.
“I honestly have not met any negativity. My friends have all backed me 100% and so has my workplace.
“The numbers entering the Cork Rose competition are increasing, and it’s getting more popular all the time,” Aishling added.
Denis Griffin, who runs the Cork Rose centre, agreed, saying 2017 was one of their biggest competitions in recent years and he described the level of interest as remarkable.
The selection process is open to anyone — provided they are aged 18-27 — and get sponsorship of €200.
“There is no sign of its popularity waning,” added Denis, “if anything it’s increasing, all you have to do is take a look at the numbers.”
To those critics who knock the competition, he tells them to look at the accomplished, intelligent women who are taking part, which he says speaks for itself.
A national school teacher from Tralee, Denis was an escort in 2005 and says the festival lives up to its slogan which is “Connecting the Global Irish Community’.
Denis described Denise Collins as an amazing rose last year.
“She represented Cork so well — even though she was from very close to the Kerry boarder!
“She left a remarkable mark and was a great role model.”
He said entries for the 2018 Cork Rose competition start flooding in almost immediately after the Rose festival in August.
As for Aishling, it’s a case of enjoying her birthday and savouring the moment ahead of the build up to Tralee in the coming weeks.