Maria, our Malahide Rose

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Shortly before heading down to the International Rose of Tralee Festival to represent Dublin, I met with Maria Coughlan to talk about why she applied for the festival this year, how she was feeling ahead of the experience and to get to know a bit more about the Malahide native.

By Rachael O’Brien

We met on Maria’s doorstep in the stunning Malahide Castle. Maria showed up in a beautiful yellow dress, wearing her sparking Tipperary Crystal jewellery that she was gifted on the night of her selection.

We began our morning with a few pictures outside the castle, including some incredible shots of her dancing. It was then that we ventured into the Avoca cafe for a chat about everything from selections, becoming the Dublin Rose, and life as a primary school teacher living in Malahide.

Home and work life in Malahide

25 year old Maria is close to her family and is the youngest of three. Her two older brothers, John and Niall are 28 and 31. Maria’s dad Brendan is from Offaly and her mum Mary is from Westmeath.

Maria is currently a primary school teacher, teaching in the St Vincent de Paul Infant school in Griffith Avenue. When I asked Maria what living in Malahide like, she simply responded:

(“Malahide is..) absolutely beautiful. You kind of have everything you need here – that’s not to say I’d never leave but you actually wouldn’t need to leave with everything that’s here.”

Another huge part of Maria’s life is Irish dancing. I knew we couldn’t even dream about doing an interview without talking about dancing.

Hearing Maria talk about dancing shows how passionate she is about it and how it really is part of who she is. Maria is a champion Irish Dancer, having retired last year as a two time World Champion, five time All Ireland Champion and three time Dublin Regional Champion. She has recently set up her own school, the Coughlan School of Irish Dancing.

“My experience of Irish dancing would have been so positive that it was just a natural progression for me to go and do my teaching exams and to go and set up a school.”

Maria Coughlan is founder of the Coughlan School of Irish Dancing.

Maria says there can be a big difference in progression speeds for children when you compare a Dance and Classroom environment.

“You see huge progression in a short space of time because teaching Irish dancing is such a practical thing and you can literally correct things on the spot. Whereas when you are teaching in a school environment it could take months or the full year to finally grasp something.”

Interests

Other than Irish dancing, music and traveling seem to Maria’s two biggest loves. Having learned to play the fiddle at age 7 and also teaching herself how to play the guitar, Maria is definitely a musical type of person, so no doubt we’ll hear a song or two from her down at the festival.

When Maria was in college she found her other love as she went to California for a J1 and was bitten by the travel bug. Since then, herself and boyfriend of two and a half years, Emmett have ticked Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and London off the list. Looking towards future trips they have Australia and Bali in their sights. Phew, I was tired even thinking of all that traveling!

She also admitted that although she tries to get out and do some exercise she finds it

“very difficult to find something that interests me as much as Irish dancing did. I didn’t see Irish dancing as exercise it just happened to be exercise and training for a competition was your motivation to go.”

Earliest Memory of The Rose of Tralee

While some of us involved in the festival have vague memories of when we first began to watch the Rose of Tralee, Maria is different. Maria remembers exactly, as if it was only yesterday.

“It was the year 2000 and this is the earliest show I remember seeing. The girl that won was the New York Rose, I think her name was Róisín Egenton, and the reason I remembered her a lot I felt like she was like a grown up version of myself… physically and her personality. She had auburn reddish hair and I had strawberry blonde reddish hair when I was younger. She played the fiddle and she also wore a green dress and I remember everyone used to tell me ‘Maria, green looks so nice on you with your hair.’ I just remember thinking that if I were to grow up I’d like to be like her.”

Asking Maria why she decided that this year, 17 years after that first memory, was the year she decided to apply to be the Dublin Rose she replied with a logical but understandable answer – she had the time!

“I was just in a position this year where I found myself without competing in Irish dancing it was kind of a fresh start of a year for me. It was a new job, starting a dance school, new things were happening and I felt like if there was any time to do it, it just felt like the right year,”

The Dublin Rose Experience

I was keen to know how Maria was feeling before that first information meeting for Dublin Rose 2017. Having been to them myself as both a contestant and an organiser I was curious to know her feelings. She admitted that while she felt she had already signed up for the experience having sent in her application form already, she was thinking “what have I signed up to?” But she admitted that she “obviously took something positive from it because I stayed signed up to it.

This year, things changed in the Dublin centre, and rather than having two selection nights over one weekend and having three judges select one girl from 50, it was completed in stages. Twenty girls competed in the North Dublin selections and out of that group, ten were selected to go through to the grand final. From the South Dublin selections 28 girls competed and 14 were put through to the final. Maria was chosen from the North selections and she said it was both difficult and nice:

 

Dublin Rose 2017 Lookback Video


“Now naturally, it wasn’t exactly easy in the semi-final to be moving on without everyone all in the one boat together. But I do see why it needed to be done because there is such a huge interest in the Dublin Centre. It created a nice build up to the Dublin Grand Final and it made that selection not as nerve wrecking because you felt like you’ve done this before. It made it feel like you could enjoy the last selection night then.”

Overall Maria described her experience in the Dublin Rose selections as “brilliant.” She also said she would recommend to anyone to “get involved early on in the process so you can get to know people and enjoy all the social nights out” as they are “things that make it more special because you really do get to know the girls that you’re in the selection with. It creates its own little sisterhood for just the Dublin selection”
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On being selected as the Dublin Rose 2017

I showed Maria a collage of photos and a video of her being selected as the Dublin Rose and asked her of her thoughts back to those moments.

Overall she said she “was genuinely so surprised to the point where I clapped when my own name was called out. I had it in my head that it was going to be someone else.

Last year’s Dublin Rose was also a primary school teacher from Malahide, Lorna Whyte, someone who Maria met through work a few years ago.

She explained that “the fact that Lorna was from Malahide last year, I genuinely had it in my head that it wasn’t going to happen. Geographically it’s just not going to happen where someone also from Malahide is also going to get it this year.

But she went on to say that she knows now that

“that’s the beauty of the Rose of Tralee, it doesn’t matter where you come from that you could be from the back of nowhere or you could come from the same place as someone else and it’s not going to be held against you.”

 

Announcement of Maria Coughlan as 2017 Dublin Rose

Feelings about Tralee

With so many things on the agenda in Tralee, I thought it might be hard for Maria to pick something she’s most looking forward to. However, she easily answered that

“it’s going to be the Rosebud party. I’m really looking forward to meeting my Rosebud, her name is Chloe and she’s also an Irish Dancer. So I’m really looking forward to meeting her, have a little dance with her and then that evening it ends with seeing a little bit of the Nathan Carter concert so I think that day is going to be a very musical kind of day”

Biggest Supporter

Maria has an amazing support system behind her and explained that her biggest supporters are a combination of her family and boyfriend Emmett. She explained that her mum in particular would have been “helping me to come and get the dresses, and to get shoes, and where am I getting my hair done, and where will I get my make up done. So she was like my little advisor there, so she would have been very supportive of all those kind of things.”

She also explained that Emmett has been “very supportive in terms of I suppose from a self esteem point of view. Just being like just get up there and be yourself and you’ve nothing to worry about.

Maria’s Chosen Charity

Maria’s chosen charity this year is the Society of Vincent de Paul. Maria explained that the “charity would be there in order to fight poverty but it’s not just poverty itself, it’s all the effects of poverty as well what they’re dealing with.” Maria volunteers regularly in the retail shop in Malahide for Society of Vincent de Paul and described it as a “no-brainer” to choose the charity.

She finished our interview saying that now that she’s

‘finished dancing I can focus on other things that are potentially doing a little bit more good for the world than winning a trophy. I’m looking forward to being involved in it, as much as I can.’

I would like to thank Maria for making herself available for the interview and for photos and all of us at the Dublin Rose Centre would like to wish her the very best for the year ahead as Dublin Rose.

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