THE countdown to the 55th Rose of Tralee festival has begun, but it was a nervous wait for one finalist to see if she could compete after illness struck days before she was due to travel to Ireland.
Kentucky Rose Claire Curran recalled her determination to take part despite being rushed to hospital ten days ago with appendicitis.
"The Sunday before I left I found out that my appendix was inflamed but I told the doctors: 'Listen on Saturday I am leaving for Ireland!'," she explained.
"So they did emergency surgery two hours later and I stayed in hospital that night before taking a week off to recover."
Despite admitting that she is still in some pain, the 23-year-old - whose great-grandmother emigrated to the States from Mayo - said she was feeling like "a million dollars" after finally arriving in Ireland.
"I'm the first Kentucky Rose to make it to Tralee so my state is very excited. It's been reported in the newspapers and I've done a television interview," said Claire, whose party piece will be to come up with a funny poem on-stage.
This year's Dublin representative is Roisin Lyons (24), from Clonsilla, a professional Irish dancer who is currently performing in Heartbeat of Home, a new production by the producers of Riverdance.
She spoke of how she previously performed with Michael Flatley.
"It was a dream come true. He's such an enthusiastic person and a huge influence," she said.
Roisin, who said she was looking forward to having a little banter on stage with host and Kerry-native Daithi O'Se about the Dublin footballer's chances of winning the Sam Maguire, is delighted her extended family is travelling to Tralee for the event.
"I think that's what the Rose of Tralee organisation is really about, bringing families together and of course bringing so much money into the economy. It's absolutely fantastic," she added.