LISTOWEL’S Éadaein O’Connell says she’s relishing her time as the Kerry Rose and can’t wait to get to Tralee for the start of the Festival this Friday. The 27-year-old freelance journalist – who hails from Glenderry, near Listowel – is one of the bookies’ favourites to win the title when the Rose of Tralee returns after its two-year COVID-enforced absence. Born and bred in the north Kerry area, Édaein went to school at Dromclough National School and Presentation Convent Secondary School in Listowel town before studying Civil Law at NUI Galway.
After that, she went on to complete a higher diploma in Business Studies at the same institution and a masters in digital marketing at DIT in Dublin.
She planned on seeking out a career in social-media management but eventually happened upon a career in journalism.
Covering everything from fashion to travel to pop culture, she has written for numerous titles including the Irish Independent. In her spare time, she is also a keen singer and previously won two All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil titles.
In fact, Édaein points to her experience taking part in scores of Fleadh Cheoil competitions as a child as one of the reasons she’s managed to remain so relaxed ahead of next week’s televised selection nights.
“One of the best things my mother and father ever did for me was entering me in all those Fleadhs,” she said.
“The most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done is walking into a classroom in Offaly on my own as a child and singing ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’ in front of two adjudicators. Compared to that, this is nothing”.
Of course, Édaein’s career as a journalist has also helped to keep her relaxed ahead of the Festival as, in her work, she’s been behind the scenes at many similar events and has a good idea of what to expect.
“I’m actually feeling fairly chilled out about it. Before we set off on the tour, someone said to me that the most important thing is to stay relaxed. To just get on the ride, hold on and enjoy it,” said Édaein.
The tour she refers to is the Rose Tour, which sees the 33 contenders for the title head on a week-long trip around various counties to meet the public and get to know each other ahead of the official start of the Festival in Tralee at the weekend.
Speaking to The Kerryman while en route to an RTE photo call in Dublin on Tuesday morning, Édaein said the tour to date had been a brilliant experience.
“The tour has been brilliant, and I’ve been to some lovely places that I haven’t travelled to a lot before,” she said.
“It’s been really cool and doing it all with 32 other brilliant girls has been great,” she added.
For Kerry’s Rose, it’s been the reception the Roses have received that has been the most remarkable aspect of their road trip.
“I didn’t expect the reaction we’ve gotten. I didn’t know how people would react to the Rose and how it would all feel, but you can see people really missed it. After two years you can see people are glad it’s back,” said Édaein.
“We were in Wexford and we were paraded through the town and there was a huge crowd out to greet us. Their reaction to us arriving was amazing”.
The strong ‘community’ aspect of the festival has also taken Édaein aback, and she says she’s been enormously impressed by how much the public have embraced their local Roses.
“What I’ve really noticed is the community side of the Rose of Tralee which, I think, probably doesn’t get as much attention it deserves,” Édaein said.
“The sense of pride in the Roses’ communities that we’ve visited is amazing.”
She was also deeply touched by the support she has received from her home town and county.
“I was given a send off by my GAA club and there were posters and signs up all along the road, wishing me luck. It was like heading off to play in an All-Ireland final,” she said.
“I think when I get to Tralee I’ll know how the boys felt on that open-top bus a few weeks ago!”
According to Édaein, her family – and particularly her mother, who encouraged her to enter the contest – are “buzzing” with excitement, and bus loads of her friends and family will be in Tralee to cheer her on.