By Kevin Kelley
Kathleen Rose O’Donnell, a 21-year-old Cincinnati resident, was chosen as the 2016 Ohio Rose of Tralee Saturday night at the West Side Irish American Club in Olmsted Township.
O’Donnell was one of nine women vying for the title, based on a 19th-century Irish ballad about unrequited love.
The University of Cincinnati senior will travel to Ireland for 12 days in August to take part in the International Rose of Tralee festival along with 67 other young women of Irish descent from around the world.
“I’ve never been to Ireland, so this is a pretty awesome way to go,” she told West Life.
O’Donnell won over the selection show audience, and apparently the judges, with a dance routine that include a glowing hula hoop. She took up hoop dancing after an injury thwarted her pursuit of ballet.
Her answer to new host Sean Lackey’s question on how she’d describe Ohio to the people she’d meet in Tralee also seemed to be well-liked. O’Donnell said Ohio is the state shaped like a heart and the people here have sweet hearts.
O’Donnell, who plans on teaching math and science to middle school students, learned about the Rose program through the Irish Heritage Center in Cincinnati, which sponsored her entry. She said although she had read blogs written by previous Rose entrants, she didn’t know quite what to expect.
O’Donnell is the sixth Ohio Rose chosen since Westlake World Partners took over the Ohio Rose Centre. Led by Westlake City Council President Mike Killeen, Westlake World Partners was created to promote the suburb’s cultural exchanges with its sister cities, including Tralee and Kingsville, Canada.
One current Tralee resident, Rebekah Wall, served as one of three Ohio Rose judges this year. Wall recalled attending the Rose festival with her grandmother starting at the age of 5. Like other young girls, she clipped newspaper articles on the participating Roses to form a scrapbook, which she had the visiting women sign.
“It was considered a prized possession,” the artist and art teacher said of the scrapbooks.
In 1998, at the age of 21, Wall was selected as the Rose from County Kerry, Ireland.
“I got to meet girls from all over the world,” she told West Life.
Wall described the Rose of Tralee program as “a celebration of Irish heritage incorporating the essence of Irish women.” It’s a chance for the Irish people to come together, reclaim their heritage and claim a new one.
Saturday’s selection program marked the first time Wall served as a Rose judge. Judging is based on communication skills, poise, personality and talent, and Wall said many of this year’s participants were very impressive.
“These girls are going to the other side of the world,” she said. “They have to be very confident.”
Wall will sponsor O’Donnell at the August festival and make many of the dresses she will wear. Wall’s uncle, Johnny Wall, visited Westlake in 2013 when he served as Tralee’s mayor.
Among the nine would-be Ohio Roses were four Westshore residents. Westlake resident Catherine Byrne, studying at Xavier University to be a pediatric nurse, played the fiddle during her time on stage and told of volunteering with Youth Challenge, which offers recreational activities for children with disabilities. A contributor to Ohio Irish American News newspaper, Rocky River’s Maureen Ginley showed emcee Lackey some of the yoga poses she’s learned. The granddaughter of the late Rocky River Mayor Don Umerley, Ginley also read a poem she wrote about the love story of her other grandparents, Tom and Mary Ginley.
Erin Mackin, a Westlake resident who grew up in Rocky River, told of volunteering at the West Side Catholic Center and amusing diners waiting for tables at the busy restaurant where she works as hostess. Yet another River resident, Colleen Verhiley, is studying American Sign language at Cuyahoga Community College. She showed the audience how to sign “Ohio Rose.”