Mullingar student Regina O"Hara has been selected as Sunderland"s first ever Rose of Tralee.
The 22-year-old third year pharmacy student was asked to participate by the manager of Paddy Whacks Irish Bar in Sunderland, Seamus Whelan.
Regina jumped at the chance although she didn"t expect to win. 'I"ve never gone for it before but as little girls we all looked at the TV hoping to be on the Rose of Tralee,' she says.
She received support from home when the family business, Eddie O"Hara & Sons Crash Repair sponsored her for the competition which took place on Tuesday, April 28.
Describing the experience as 'absolutely amazing', Regina was interviewed by a judging panel before taking to the stage and entertaining the crowd.
While the Rose of Tralee is a competitive event the nature of the competition in Paddy Whacks was very cordial. 'It was a brilliant day because all of the girls got ready together,' commented Regina.
She said all of the girls are friends and the competitors helped each other with their preparation for the contest. One of the girls even assisted Regina with some emergency nail treatment on the night, she said.
Regina was 'absolutely gobsmacked' when she was announced as Sunderland"s official Rose. 'Everything happened so fast, I was interviewed straight away. It was absolutely amazing,' she commented.
The other girls taking part in the competition were thrilled for Regina. 'They were all delighted for me because we are all friends,' Regina said.
She extended thanks to her family and friends for their support and had a special word of thanks for her mother. 'I want to thank my sponsor, my brother"s company Eddie O"Hara & Sons and obviously my brother,' she added.
Regina will be given a civic tour of Ireland along with 50 other Roses from around the globe when she returns in August. Following interviews and judging, 32 finalists will be selected to take part in the 2009 Rose of Tralee which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Paddy Whacks Manager Seamus Whelan, who sponsored Newcastle Rose, Aoife Dowdall in the 2008 Rose of Tralee competition said the competition was a fantastic experience for the entrants.
Being Sunderland based, the Kildare man said he was delighted to be able to organise the first Sunderland Rose competition. Sunderland couldn"t put forward an entry for 2008 as there was no organising committee in place.
Having attended the 2008 competition in Tralee, Seamus said the competition was 'probably one of the best experiences I have ever had'.