By Kevin Kelley
“She won! She won! She’s going to Ireland!” exclaimed Liane Higgins, just moments after her daughter, Kelsey, was named the 2013 Ohio Rose of Tralee. In addition to calling family members, Higgins was sharing the news with her daughter’s friend, the owner of a boating sales and service center in Cork, Ireland, which had sponsored Kelsey as a contestant in this year’s selection process.
Kelsey Higgins was one of five young women of Irish descent who competed for the Ohio Rose title Friday night at LaCentre Conference and Banquest Facility in Westlake. As the Ohio Rose, Higgins will travel to Portlaoise, Ireland, in about a month to compete in a preliminary contest. Finalists will go on to Westlake’s sister city of Tralee, Ireland, to compete in the finals, which are broadcast nationally on Irish television.
Named after a 19th-century ballad about unrequited love, the International Rose of Tralee contest is part of a weeklong festival in the Irish town. Open to unmarried women, ages 18-27, of Irish descent, Rose contestants are judged on communication skills, poise, personality and talent.
Friday night’s selection was sponsored by Westlake World Partners, a nonprofit group formed by civic leaders to operate Westlake’s endeavors with its sister cities. Westlake World Partners is officially the Northern Ohio Rose affiliate of the international competition. However, no southern or mid-Ohio affiliate exists, and an Ohio Rose affiliate went defunct a number of years ago. So, for now, the titles of Northern Ohio Rose and Ohio Rose are being used interchangeably.
Higgins, 22, is a language arts education major at Ohio University. A resident of Springboro, Ohio, outside Dayton, Higgins started Irish dancing at age 6. Several times she has donated hair to the Locks of Love program, which makes wigs for persons who have lost their hair due to illness.
The four other contestants were Mary Clare Cooper, 21, of Euclid; Kathleen Drescher, 27, of Rocky River; Colleen Gallagher, 21, of Fairview Park; and Alannah McCarthy, 27, of Akron.
Sports journalist Dan Coughlin hosted Friday night’s selection ceremony with Bridget Linton, the 2011 Northern Ohio Rose.
Coughlin delighted the attendees with his humor. When Gallagher came on stage, Coughlin recalled he had a grandmother whose name was Gallagher. “I wonder if we’re related,” he said. Then he answered his own question: “Of course we are. Everybody (Irish) on the West Side is related! We’re one generation away from turning out kids with one eye in the middle of their forehead!”
Coughlin asked each contestant three questions – What message would you send your generation? What famous person would you like to have dinner with? and What qualities do you possess to make a good Rose?
Coughlin received a playful slap on the hand from Higgins when the sportswriter joked about how much her ideal dining guest, Oprah Winfrey, would eat at said dinner.
The current mayor of Tralee, Johnnie Wall, and his wife, Tina, attended the selection ceremony as part of their three-day visit to Westlake.