Tuesday 21 November 2017

How I tried to become a Rose of Tralee for the love of my dad

It's no bed of roses if you're one of the women looking to triumph in the Cavan contest, writes Elle Gordon

NERVES: Elle and her family before the competition
NERVES: Elle and her family before the competition
Elle goes for the Roses

Elle Gordon

I filled out my Cavan Rose application form in a hurry. I wasn't sure why. It wasn't planned and yet there I was methodically filling it out. The phrase ''give it a go'' was trickling through my mind. ''Sure you might as well'' joined in. I might as well.

I am a former rose sceptic. A thorn if you will. And then this year something changed. Maybe it was some of the inspiring women who have gone before me to achieve great things through The Rose of Tralee. Maybe it was inspired by my friends and I discussing reaching our mid-20s. Or perhaps it was the fact that when I mentioned my thoughts to my father, there was a smile from ear to ear that surpassed anything my masters or achievements so far have managed.

''My daughter, a Cavan Rose.'' Beam beam. Oh God, heart melting. Anything I can do to make my dad's smiles a more frequent occurrence, I'll do it.

And so I filled it out. Months passed and with that the memories of an application I scribbled one evening drifted from my mind. Until one day my phone rang. "Hi Elle, we're wondering if you have a sponsor sorted yet?"

Elle goes for the Roses
Elle goes for the Roses

''A sponsor?'' My confused brain tried to catch up.

"For The Rose of Cavan." This friendly voice sounds confused. "You're one of our final 12.''

"I'm what?"

I hung up the phone and rang dad to hear his chorus of glee. "No bether woman," he trills.

Oh dear. Some stomach-churning weeks later, and finally it was the day of the Cavan Rose selection. I awoke feeling the job interview fear that looms clammy and cold. I chastised myself for the deluge of emotion. This is supposed to be fun. I got up, got dressed and jittered around until it was time to leave.

Soon I was at the Hotel Kilmore walking into a room with nothing but a rail of evening gowns hanging on it. Oh, the pressure. The day would consist of a one-on- one interview with three judges, followed by a group interview and finally the big one: the stage.

Let me give a little context to my fearful state. The day of my undergrad degree conferral I was so nervous about walking on a stage that I promptly didn't. The kindly person actually stepped off the stage to a hum of chuckles to hand me my degree. That's who I was and now here I am just a few years on, willingly putting myself in a scenario which involves walking across a stage, speaking on a stage and navigating steps in an evening gown. All to see my dad thrilled. That's daughterly love.

The Rose of Tralee Festival has been considered by many as just a bit naff. But the women I met that day were anything but. One was working in finance; another works as a pathologist, another runs her own dance school. One had been entered by a family member and although terrified with nerves, she powered her way through that day with steely determination. One woman is heavily involved in organising the Rose of Cavan selection each year, and is greatly admired for the amount of work she has done in raising awareness and funds for Cystic Fibrosis Cavan.

Her beautiful daughter lives with it, and said beautiful daughter took to the stage later that evening and stole the show and the hearts with a solo rendition of Hit The Diff'. They were the people I met. Ok, I'll lay off the love now, I can't help it. #cavanpride.

My walk on stage was terrifying - a chorus of ''don't fall over'' ringing in my ears but once that was over the rest was plain sailing, even maybe, just a little, enjoyable.

The MC questioned and I chirruped responses in that jovial manner that always seems to occur when listing one's achievements, half bowing when paid a compliment in the manner that we Irish have perfected.

My ''ah sure I don't know about thats'' and ''oh well you knows'' ringing across the room. Rose lesson number one really needs to learn to say ''why thank you''. Full stop.

The thing about that day was I surprised myself and I was surprised. These were accomplished, ambitious and supportive women. Many were doing it for different reasons. Some spoke with true pride in representing Cavan, others of travel opportunities and seeing the world. Then there were one or two like me who weren't quite sure, had a slightly wild-eyed deer-in-headlights look for most of it, enjoyed waving to their supporters, and clapped a little too loudly when they didn't get it.

I realised that day that maybe I'm not a Rose. Maybe more of a bog rose, just a little too scraggly to fit the bill. I enjoyed the excuse to put on a long dress although wished I'd been more prepared.

Maybe I need to do more, see more and achieve more. The woman who won, Paula McPartland, is a worthy winner and exceedingly talented as a world champion Irish dancer.

For now it is back to my original Rose experience, safely on a couch with a tea, not a sash in sight. The main thing for me was seeing my family's reaction and two friends who raced from Dublin to support me.

And my Dad's yells of delight.. "You're a winner in my eyes", all hugs and laughs and fatherly pride. Well, that I wouldn't change.

Sunday Independent

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