Shortly before heading off to Tralee to represent Dublin at this year’s International Rose of Tralee Festival, I sat down with Lorna Whyte to see how she was feeling as the festival approached and to learn some more about why this primary school teacher from Malahide decided to put her name forward for the Rose of Tralee this year.
We met in the beautiful surrounds of Malahide Castle with a coffee in the Avoca Cafe. I was greeted by a radiant Lorna who looked fantastic in a pink cocktail dress, sparkling Tipperary Crystal jewellery and a bright warm smile to match. There was only a matter of days left until the start of the annual Rose tour and while Lorna was busy preparing many last minute items for the upcoming events, she was generous with her time and provided great company for the hour that we met.
One of the main reasons I wanted to do a proper sit down interview with Lorna was that I wanted to find out more about what it was that convinced the Dublin Judges this year to select her as Dublin Rose. It’s easy for us (The organising team) to get caught up with all the work of organising our annual events and when you have over fifty entrants, it makes it that bit more difficult to find the time to get to know each entrant individually. So I noted down some questions, organised the coffee, turned on the recorder and kicked off the chat 🙂
Home life in Malahide, School & College
Lorna says she is very close to her Mum, Sister and Aunt and was also very close to her grandparents growing up. Friends made in Primary school are still her close friends today, and she cites the “bubble” or close-knit nature of daily life in Malahide as the reason she has stayed in touch so closely with her local friends and family as she has got older.
Growing up about 20mins from Malahide village, Lorna feels that her home town is the “best of both worlds” in that it’s close to the city but still has many rural features. Describing Malahide as a “beautiful place on a sunny day” she loves to go running in the local park or down by the sea.
Navigating Infant School (St Sylvester’s), Primary School (Pope John Paul’s) and Secondary School (Malahide Community School) all in Malahide, it may come as no surprise that the now primary school teacher loved attending school:
“School had a profound positive influence on my life. I loved school from Day One. I did not want to leave secondary school and go to college!”
However, the path to achieving her dream of becoming a teacher did not start out that way Lorna wanted, narrowly missing out (by 5 points) on entry to St Pat’s Teacher Training College. Undeterred however, Lorna said the experience made her more determined than ever to get what she wanted, and so took up an Arts degree at the same college specialising in Irish and Human Development. At the time it was possible to work as a substitute teacher without a full Teaching degree and Lorna took up this opportunity at her old infant school St Sylvester’s at home in Malahide.
A formative experience in New York on a J1 Visa followed before she returned to Ireland to take up a post as a Special Needs Assistant at St Sylvester’s school. While there, she continued building momentum towards gaining her much coveted teacher training degree by studying for a Post-Graduate Degree part-time with Hibernia College. Four years of hard graft later things move full full-circle. Lorna achieved her goal and is now teaching sixth class students full-time at Pope John Paul’s Primary School where she previously attended. Looking back on the experience overall of achieving her goal of becoming a teacher, Lorna said:
“Without the difficult experiences I had early on, I would not be the teacher I am today. Overall I am glad things worked out the way they did. Knowing you can make a difference in a child’s life is a privilege.”
Looking towards Tralee
Lorna is currently single and smiles when I ask her how she feels about meeting up with the Rose Escorts that will accompany her and all the other Roses during the festival. She isn’t complaining about getting the chance to meet a group of young gentlemen for the duration of the festival yet does see a good reason for having them around as the combination of media attention and attention from members of the public at public events can become intense at times and having someone there who is tasked specifically with looking after her is welcome.
Personal training and running are big passions for Lorna and she attends the gym 3-4 times per week. In particular she likes to lift weights but admits to having to scale back her gym visits significantly in the past month as she prepares for Tralee. Mindfulness is also a passion of her’s and it is something she has tried to incorporate into her teaching.
Earliest Memory of The Rose of Tralee
The majority of people in Ireland can remember watching the Rose of Tralee from an early age at home, and Lorna is no different:
“Watching the Rose of Tralee with my Mum and Sister always symbolised the end of summer and going back to School. I loved going back to school so I only remember it as a good thing. I have always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to be a Rose.”
I ask her why she decided that this year was the year she would throw her hat in the ring and enter the Rose of Tralee in Dublin. She explained that having completed her studies and with being based in Dublin she felt that the timing was right and when she saw an ad on Facebook she decided to go for it.
“The past two years it has being in my mind to apply. A friend of mine was a Rose Escort last year who told me it would be a great experience. In January I saw the ads on Facebook and I just decided to apply”.
The Dublin Rose Experience
I was keen to know what Lorna was thinking when she first attended a Dublin Rose meeting. She said that a friend accompanied her to the first meeting where she met other new entrants and the 2015 Dublin Rose, Aisling Finnegan.
“It seemed like a great way to meet new people. Whether you get selected or not, it seemed like it would be a very enjoyable experience. I absolutely loved the Dublin Rose Ball and many of my friends attended on the night.”
Asked about the judging process, she said that while she had nerves going into the interviews, the judges were lovely and they had an enjoyable time during their brief meetings. She described it as a “very normal, unpressurised environment“. Going up on stage with Marty Morrissey was an experience she will never forget.
“When I went up on stage I told myself to imagine I was in a room full of kids to make me feel more comfortable. Marty made all of the girls feel at ease. He focused on everything we were comfortable talking about.
Being selected as 2016 Dublin Rose
I showed Lorna a set of photos and video clips taken when she was selected that showed her and her family’s immediate reaction to the announcement naming her as 2015 Dublin Rose.
“I was standing there wondering which of the girls would be selected. I never imagined it would be me. I had booked a trip to The Netherlands for the summer, so I was sure that it could not be me!”
Feelings about what comes next
Looking forward to the experience in Tralee, I asked Lorna how she felt about what was coming in August.
“It’s one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me. Last night I woke up at 3am and all I could think about was Tralee. A friend told me to think of the best day of your life, for ten days in a row. That’s the Rose of Tralee experience. “
All of the activities and emotions of organising the annual Dublin Rose events peak at one moment that is short in duration but which lives long in the memory of all who are there to experience it. It is the moment that the envelope containing the name of the new Dublin Rose is handed to the MC and everybody in the room prepares for the announcement. It is one time where literally 100% of the energy and attention in the room focuses in on one exact event that is about to happen in the next 30 seconds or so. All the hopes and dreams regarding the Rose of Tralee of all the entrants, their families and supporters and all the efforts of the organising committee are brought together. EVERYBODY is waiting for the name of the new Dublin Ambassador to be announced. You can cut the tension with a knife and for me this moment is probably the thing that keeps me involved in the Rose of Tralee year on year.
And so Marty receives the envelope, takes a breath and makes the announcement. Lorna, by complete chance, happens to be standing in the centre of the group of fifty girls. Her name is called out and for the first 3-4 seconds many people, including myself, are looking to see where Lorna is in the group. It’s a moment we were lucky enough to capture in Video and Photographs below.
Lorna cites her Mum, Denise, as her biggest supporter and also get’s great support from Clara (Sister), Edie (Grandmother), Joe (Grandad) and Edith (Aunt & Godmother).
“The morning after my selection my family went to mass and didn’t return home for two hours”
Lorna’s chosen Charity
Lorna’s chosen charity this year is the very worthy Saving Dylan charity, set up to support the efforts to find a cure for Multiple Sulfatase Deficiency (MSD) in children and specifically to support the life-saving efforts of the family of Dylan Finglas in Dublin. It’s a charity that is very close to her heart and she encourages everyone to support it if they can.
At this point, we moved outside to get some photos before Lorna headed away. I would like to thank Lorna 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.
- Interview: John Walsh
- Location: Malahide Castle & Gardens
- Dress: LK Bennet, Kildare Village
- Shoes: Carvela Kurt Geiger
- Jewellery: Tipperary Crystal
- Hair: Joanne O’Dowd, Hermans.
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