Becoming a Rose 'has helped heal Berkeley pain'
San Francisco Rose Amanda Donohoe said her late sister and cousin were "in the Dome" with her as she took to the stage in Tralee last night.
Amanda (19) lost her sister Ashley and cousin Olivia Burke on June 16, 2015, when an apartment balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California. Students Eimear Walsh, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan were also killed in the tragedy.
Last night, the physics student said it had been "one of the darkest moments of her life" but said taking part in the Rose of Tralee festival had been "monumental to the healing process".
"It's definitely brought a huge light to our lives. We are in a better place as a family, extended and immediate, after this festival," she told the Irish Independent.
Amanda was one of 18 Roses to take to the stage as part of the 58th Rose of Tralee competition. Speaking about her sister and cousin, she said: "They are 110pc looking over me, my sister and my cousin were my biggest fans, we supported each other. I have no doubt they will be here with me."
The Rose said that she and her family had drawn on the support of the Irish diaspora to help them through the "darkest moment" in their lives. Last week, Amanda spoke about how much of a pivotal role her sister Ashley played in her life and how she protected her from school bullies.
"I was actually bullied fairly heavily, car keyed and the business," she said.
Since arriving in Kerry, she has received a letter from a mother whose daughter is being bullied, asking if she would mentor her daughter.
"I was in my room and I had a solid cry when I got it," she said. "It's something I will definitely follow up on."
Amanda also presented host Dáithí Ó Sé with a sketch of his late father Michael to mark the anniversary of his death.
Rehearsals began early in the day as the Roses perfected their party pieces.
There was the occasional slip-up; including when one of the Roses, Amy Callaghan from Donegal, accidentally kicked an RTÉ cameraman in the face during aerial acrobatics.
Although host Ó Sé's clambered inside Amy's gymnastic hoop during rehearsals, he decided against it during the live show. But he was a good sport throughout and threw himself into the show by biting into raw onions and turnips, wearing an umbrella hat, cracking a whip and squaring up to a puppet mini-Daithí.
Yorkshire Rose and yogi Aisling McArdle even directed him through some yoga poses.
Kentucky Rose Martha Mortell gave Ó Sé a lesson in kick-boxing. "We've a McGregor here," he said.
While the Toronto Rose, Colombe Nadeau O'Shea, challenged him to a 'limbo off'. "He won't beat me," she said confidently. "There's no way that's happening."
It wasn't all lightness and cheer, however, and the Roses touched on more serious subject matters such as global terrorism, domestic violence, overcoming physical illness, mental health issues and baby Charlie Gard.
Donegal Rose Amy Callaghan spoke eloquently about dealing with exam pressure. "I think everyone goes through their own blip in their life," she said.
The 2,000-strong crowd were more than receptive, waving posters and flags throughout. Michael Healy Rae was there to cheer on his son Jackie, an escort, and former Rose winner Maria Walsh was also in the crowd. Thomas Lynch, a business consultant from Castleisland, topped the poll among Roses and Rose Escorts to become 2017 Rose Escort of the Year.
Once the final curtain fell, audience members made a beeline across the road to the Rose Hotel bar. With the first night done and dusted, the crowning Rose will be named tonight. Then the real party can begin.