Sydney Rose hails from Cork: "It’s surreal to be a Rose"

This year’s Sydney Rose hails from Cork. MARTHA BRENNAN catches up with the 27-year old palliative care nurse to talk to her about her roots, life in Oz, and the upcoming festival
Sydney Rose hails from Cork: "It’s surreal to be a Rose"

Sydney Rose Mairead Brennan, with Sydney Opera House and bridge behind her. Picture: Will Mannering

IT seems like every second person is packing their bags these days, so it’s like a breath of fresh air to chat with someone who is returning to, rather than leaving, Cork. However, Maud Brennan’s trip back to her home of Glantane, just outside Mallow is only a fleeting one - but it carries quite a big purpose. The 27-year-old has been selected to represent Sydney, Australia, in this year’s Rose of Tralee festival and she is busy getting ready for the upcoming Rose Tour when she picks up the phone.

“I have not stopped since coming home. It’s amazing and brilliant, but it’s very busy,” Maud says with a laugh.

“It’s surreal to be a Rose and to be an international one on top of it. I’m having so much fun though. I’m just taking it all in and trying to make the most of it.”

Maud has lived in Sydney since January, 2021, where she works as a palliative care nurse. After processing the news that she had been selected to represent her new city in this year’s festival, she returned to her native Cork in mid-July to prepare.

Her family was more excited by the news than anyone, as it created the perfect excuse for her first trip home in over a year and a half.

“I was ready to come home. I feel like I never left. I’m so delighted to be here,” Maud says.

“I was walking around Cork yesterday thinking ‘maybe I could move home’ because you really just can’t beat it. But I have a year and a half left on my visa and I’m sure when I get back to the beach I’ll be happy.”

Sydney Rose Mairead (Maud) Brennan. Picture: Will Mannering
Sydney Rose Mairead (Maud) Brennan. Picture: Will Mannering

FULL CIRCLE

The Rose of Tralee feels like coming full circle, as Maud completed her undergraduate studies in Tralee, the famed County Kerry town. Before moving to Australia, she worked in the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, as well as Mercy University Hospital.

“I first went to Melbourne in January, 2020, and actually ended up coming home for a few months that year because my gran was sick and I came home to look after her. By the time I got back to Melbourne a lot of my friends had left because of lockdown so I moved to Syndey with them and have been there since,” she explains.

Leaving home wasn’t the easiest decision at the start, so Maud tested the waters by working as an agency nurse before making the move down under.

“After my year in the Bons after college, I wanted to move further afield but felt like I wasn’t ready to leave home because my dad had died a year previously. So I worked as an agency nurse in the Mercy and went away for a month at a time. I went to Europe and then Abu Dhabi and so on. I was really testing the waters,” she says.

“As a nurse, you always hear about the great opportunities and lifestyle in Australia and I had friends living there, so I finally said I’d give it a go and I’m so happy.

“I don’t know if I’ll stay forever because it is a bit far from home. It took me 27 hours to get back this time and you’re paying €3,000 for flights now. You’d really want to make the most of the trip home when you do take it.”

And making the most of it she is, with the Rose Tour kicking off this Thursday in Co Wexford. Over the next week, Maud and her fellow Roses, including Cork Rose Jenny Byrne, will travel to counties Kildare, Tipperary, Leitrim, and Limerick before arriving in Tralee for the five-day festival. There will also be a stop in the Rebel County, which both Maud and Jenny are already excited about.

“We’ll be proud as punch, the two of us in our red outfits,” Maud says with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve been on the road nonstop as it is, between calling into shops, collecting dresses, and then trying to meet up with people while I’m home.

“Then we have the gala balls, parades, and Tralee to prepare for. It’s just mad.”4

Mairead Brennan is from Glantane, just outside Mallow in County Cork. Pictures: Will Mannering
Mairead Brennan is from Glantane, just outside Mallow in County Cork. Pictures: Will Mannering

A DIFFICULT FEW YEARS

The break, as much as it can be called that, is well deserved. The last few years have been an interesting time to work in healthcare. Maud, however, feels like one of the lucky ones.

“I was on the luckier side being in Australia and I didn’t work in a hospital during Covid. I worked in hotels that were doing quarantine, which was definitely an experience. It had its good and bad sides but when I heard about all of the work that the nurses were doing in CUH and the Mercy, I had a much easier time of it,” she says.

“It’s a completely different lifestyle over there as well. You’re not living to work. In Ireland, I think you work to get by, as a nurse anyway, but over there, life comes first. You do your work, you go to the beach, it’s an amazing lifestyle.”

It will still be tough to leave Cork again after the festival, Maud says, but she’ll have two weeks following the televised final to relax before she heads back to Australia. Unless she is crowned as the next Rose of Tralee.

THE ROAD TO TRALEE

“I’m actually not nervous, I’m just so excited. I can’t wait to meet all the other Roses, especially the other international ones. I do keep thinking about Dáíthí Ó Sé calling my name and the camera just showing me waving though and I’m like ‘Oh my god’, but it’ll be brilliant,” she says.

We’ll also get to see the talented singer in action when she shows off some of the skills she honed at Mallow’s Centre Stage School during the final.

“I spent every day of my life there from the age of eight to 18. I did drama, singing, and musical theatre. I went back to see my old teacher when I came home and it was so lovely. I have her to thank that I can get up on a stage and talk,” Maud says.

Mairead (Maude) is a palliative care nurse.
Mairead (Maude) is a palliative care nurse.

“I’m hoping to sing with the piano in Tralee, it would be so amazing to do that in the Dome. My mam and brothers and sisters will be there as well as my aunts and cousins. My friends from college and school and even Sydney are coming throughout the festival as well. The support is just unbelievable.”

So far, the festival has felt more like an experience than a competition for Maud.

“When I’ve spoken to any past Roses, all they’ve told me about is how many friends they made and I’m just so happy to be here,” she says.

“We all grew up watching the Rose of Tralee and picking our favourites. It’s so mental that people are now betting on me.

“Someone told me they had €50 on me and I was like ‘Oh, you’re going to lose it’. I just want to go up and have a chat. I haven’t even thought about winning. Imagine?

“All I can think about right now is making the most of it - and getting my packing done.”

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