Rose of Tralee winner Rachel Duffy has said she hopes that opening up about the loss of her mother when she was a child will help other young people whose parents have died.
The 23-year-old from Westmeath succeeded the 2019 Limerick Rose Dr Sinead Flanagan as the Rose of Tralee on Tuesday night. Dr Flanagan was the longest-tenured Rose after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the festival for the past two years.
Speaking in Tralee town park on Wednesday morning after her win on Tuesday night, Ms Duffy said she hopes she has made her mother Cathy, who died when she was nine, proud.
“It’s a real Irish thing not to talk about our feelings,” she said. “I didn’t talk about her as much as I should have, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to talk about it. But the more I do talk about my mam, the closer to her I feel.
“The more you talk about these things, the easier the grief is. When I was younger, I would have loved to have seen another young woman and role model who lost a parent. Those thoughts and feelings have to go somewhere. It’s important for people to know through hard times, you just have to keep going.”
Ms Duffy said she wished her mother could have been there, but that she had the “best seat” in the house to see her success and was with her always. She said she hopes to be a role model for young people, and girls in particular, who are experiencing the loss of a parent.
“If anything, I’d love to show young girls that it’s not about what you have or what you don’t have, it’s about how you act as a person and how you treat other people. Your life experiences — good or bad — they make you a better person,” she said.
Ms Duffy said one of the biggest highlights of the whole experience occurred during the rose tour when they got to visit counties around Ireland.
“There were a lot of tears every time we arrived in a different person’s community or parish. It’s because we all know how proud our own families and our own parishes are of us,” she said.
Ms Duffy’s father Eamon said he was “so proud” of his youngest daughter, who he described as “so strong”.
“I feel absolutely overawed to be honest. It’s beyond belief. Rachel is a brilliant girl, full of surprises. She really pulled it out of the bag this time,” he said. “We lost a lot but we’ve gained a bond, us four. We’re a unit, through thick and thin.”
From the small village of Rosemount in Co Westmeath, Ms Duffy graduated from NUI Galway with an undergraduate in drama, theatre and performance studies and Spanish. She is due to return to university next week to begin a master’s degree with a view to becoming a Spanish and English teacher.
However, she said she will now have to sit down with her family to decide what to do, due to the obligations she has as Rose of Tralee for the next year. “I’m so excited. People just keep reminding me about all the things that are to come and I just can’t believe this is my life now.”