'We're just having the time of our lives' - Introducing this year's hopeful Roses as festival kicks off
'I'm really looking forward to getting to Tralee now. Stepping off the bus will be an exciting moment'
The cheers and celebrations began early this morning at Malahide Castle as Dáithí Ó Sé introduced 64 hopeful Roses to begin the 2017 Rose of Tralee International Festival.
The Roses, representing villages and towns from all around the world, took to the castle in north Dublin with coordinated red dresses and wide smiles.
Dáithí, who had been seen taking photos on the ground moments before, made a grand re-entrance for photographers in a red helicopter.
The helicopter was piloted by one of 2003's escorts who had stayed with the Roses in the Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth the night before.
"The pilot, Ted, he said 'would you like to land in by helicopter in the morning' and I wouldn't be one to refuse something like that," Dáithí joked.
The showman is running the contest for the seventh time and is once again looking forward to meeting all the contestants.
"One of the things I really enjoy every year is meeting them all and then seeing how they get on on-stage. My main job is to make sure that all the Roses feel safe and secure there and that I'm a friendly face when they walk out," he added.
He said there are plenty of things to look forward to over the next few days of the festival.
"When you're down in Tralee there's a ball on Friday night which is good fun but the parade on Saturday night is good with between 10-15,000 people there and there's a good buzz," he said.
"At 11.30 on Tuesday night we can leave the hair down and we might have a few pints as well, so we'll look forward to them," Dáithí added.
The Roses have been singing songs all morning, and many of them have been dedicated to Dáithí.
"It's crazy how we have 64 here today and 64 last year - and they keep coming. They're all here and they're all full of enthusiasm, life and joy," he said.
He said the Roses form lasting friendships and that is what the festival is all about.
"They get the spirit of the festival because it's about celebration of Irish-ness and Irish women and they really embrace that," he added.
Asked if there were any surprises in store for the festival, the host remained tight-lipped.
"We have a great music act on the Tuesday night which I can't tell you about - it's a big high profile name. We're delighted to have this person on the show," he added.
"We're still working on party pieces. There's a few acrobatic ones and a presenter being kicked around and things like that but that's all part of the fun.
"Last year my hands were set on fire. That brings a bit of surprise to the show and the madder the stuff the better for me," he said.
Dublin Rose Maria Coughlan is from Malahide and was very excited when the photocall was arranged in the castle.
"It's really exciting, I didn't expect it at all. When we got the final draft schedule I was delighted to see it," she said.
"All of my friends, my family and boyfriend have been really supportive. The people in Malahide are just giving me fantastic support so I'm delighted to be representing Dublin," she said.
Maria's 7-month-old nephew Tom was also taking in today's scenes as her brother John and his wife Aoife came out from Balbriggan to support her.
"There's been so many highlights. The Dublin selection night was amazing. I got the chance to visit the Irish Air Corps a couple weeks ago which was really good.
"Just in the last 48 hours, last night was absolutely brilliant. We spent it in the Glenroyal Hotel and we had dinner and there were special guests including 2016 Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney," Maria added.
She said they had great fun with a brilliant sing-off, but a winner wasn't decided.
"I'm really looking forward to getting to Tralee now. Stepping off the bus will be an exciting moment. There's supposed to be a good atmosphere when we get down there. I cannot wait to meet my Rosebud. Her name is Chloe and she is also an Irish dancer," she said.
And stepping off the bus will be a bit easier than Dáithí's helicopter entrance this morning.
"There'll be a little less wind in our hair so it'll be a bit more manageable," Maria added.
Sydney Rose Aisling Walsh grew up in Ballylongford in North Kerry before heading to Sydney on a one-way flight four years ago to work as a general nurse.
"It's absolutely good to be back. I cant wait to get down to Tralee tonight - all my family are going to be there it'll be great to see them all finally. I haven't been home since last year," Aisling said.
"Having all these 63 other girls has been fantastic. We're just having the time of our lives really," she added.
Getting to know the other Roses has been one of her highlights along with shopping for the dresses.
"Sure who doesn't love getting dressed up and putting on make-up every day. It's lovely being treated and wined and dined."
Standing out from the sea of red dresses was the black stetson hat donned upon the head of Texas Rose Lydian Lawler Lopez.
Lydian is from Houston, Texas but the mother's side of her family, the Lawler in Lawler Lopez, are from Abbeyleix, Co Laois while her father's family are from Mexico City.
"I've been here a couple times before doing Irish dance competitions but coming here for the Rose of Tralee has been absolutely amazing. I still can't believe I'm here. It's a dream come true," she said.
The Roses are still deliberating with the organisers and Dáithí over what their party piece will be and Lydian is deciding between a song in Spanish or some Irish dance.
"Meeting all the girls has been absolutely incredible. We've been in touch this whole time leading up to the festival. I'm so happy to finally meet them," Lydian added.