If there's one person who really cares about Longford and its people, it's Marie Brady. The 20-year-old Killoe girl may have felt she was the least suitable person to wear the Longford Rose sash but, with each passing week, it's becoming more and more apparent that she's the perfect woman for the job.
“It’s something I never thought I’d be suited for,” she mused when speaking with the Longford Leader last week.
“You know, you watch it every year and you see girls who are doctors or who have really high professions and are real ladies and that didn’t really seem like me.
“But a woman, from Killoe, who is part of the GAA club mentioned it to me and I decided after a little bit of persuasion to do it and she and her family company, Kiernan Structural Steel, sponsored me.”
If she's looked back since, it was only to marvel at how far she's come in such a short space of time. Marie is heading off on the Rose Tour next week, where she'll spend three nights in the Glenroyal Hotel, Co Kildare before heading to Kerry to be a part of the 60th annual Rose of Tralee Festival.
“It’s funny, I ended up filling out the application form in the pub on St Patrick’s Day with some of my best friends,” she said with a laugh.
“I was expecting the other girls to be so prim and proper but, when I met them, I was really surprised. We’re all so laid back and enjoy going out and socialising. There’s no hierarchy or notions at all.”
Marie was one of ten girls to stand before a judging panel headed up by 2014 Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, in early April and she was astounded by the support she received on the night.
“Killoe is a great parish. Everybody gets behind you,” she said proudly.
“When they called my name to come out, there was just this roar and I saw all these signs and I was trying not to cry because all these people came out to support me. I train the schoolgirl team so all the little girls were there in their jerseys and they had a great time.”
Marie loves to give back to the community. She's about to turn 21 and yet she seems mature beyond her years and has a heart of gold when it comes to caring for others.
A past pupil of St Teresa's NS, Killoe, and Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford, Marie didn't go to college. Instead, she took a gap year so she could stay home and be a carer to her sick granny who, sadly, passed away last year.
She also worked ten hours a week as a bus escort, helping children with autism to get to and from St Teresa's NS - an experience that served her well in the part time SNA course she was doing.
By approximately this time last year, Marie had received a CAO offer for a nursing course and a job offer for a full time SNA role at her old primary school.
“I was never one for studying. I always did fine at school but I loved the hands on aspect of things more so than books. So I took the job and I’ll be in my third year now,” Marie explained.
“I went to that school myself and I ended up going back for work and there were teachers there that I would’ve had and my principal who is now my boss. It was really strange. But I love my job and the people I work with are really great.”
And Marie has been a great asset to the school since she started working there. In fact, she's very involved with the GAA helps to train the schoolgirls team at St Teresa's.
“It’s great fun and it’s lovely to get to know the girls. You see them in the hallway and you pass them but when you see them on the pitch, they really look up to you and they come to you about stuff and ask you about problems. So it’s lovely to be there for them,” she said.
Marie used to play for the schoolgirls team herself when she was a pupil at the school. But she was also doing Irish dancing since the age of four and learning how to play traditional Irish music - in fact, she used to play with the Edgeworthstown comhaltas group before Leaving Cert exams and a busy life caught up to her. Something had to give. So she stuck with the music.
“I teach music to kids - Irish traditional music - guitar mainly and a bit of banjo and tin whistle. I love going to the Fleadh every year. I woke up the day after the Rose selection and I went straight to the fleadh because I’d missed two days of it,” she laughed.
“And I do Scór every year. I’m the Irish cultural officer for Killoe GAA, so scór is a big part of that every year.”
Marie loves to be busy and has a habit of saying yes to everything because she loves to help people wherever she can. In fact, on top of everything else she's doing, the Killoe lady volunteers with St Christopher's, taking part in the buddy programme.
“My escort on the selection night was actually a service user in the buddy system at St Christopher's. Paul Farrell is his name. He’s my buddy. I take him out once a month and do something social,” she said.
“Paul was delighted. I went over to meet him the week after when all the buzz died down. All the escorts had the Rose pin and he told me he went to the pub the day after and everyone was asking him about it. He wanted to come to Tralee in the limo.”
There's a busy agenda for Tralee this year with parades and balls, not to mention live TV interviews. And this year is a milestone year because, not only is the festival celebrating 60 years of Roses, but it's shaking things up a bit and guaranteeing the Roses their TV appearance.
To avoid the disappointment of having a Rose go to Tralee but not make it to the TV interviews, the festival has decided to cut the number of Roses in Tralee so all the girls can have their time on air.
This year's Longford Rose is guaranteed her place on the telly but it means that it'll be two years before Longford has a Rose in Tralee again. A Rose every second year is a small price to pay for the opportunity to have our girl go all the way to the TV interviews though.
“It’s so funny, that’s the main thing people ask me - about the telly. But for me that’s so far away. That’s just the end of it all. I haven’t really thought about it. I know I’ll be nervous but I’m really looking forward to it. The big thing is being able to perform and I can’t wait to do that,” said Marie who will be singing and playing her guitar in Tralee and, all going well, will have her performance on television.
The most important thing to Marie, though, is representing Longford and the people of the county.
“I think Longford has been sort of downtrodden the last few months. Recently it’s picked up with Center Parcs and Maura Higgins,” she said.
“That’s all I get asked about is Maura. Even at the Galway Races I had people coming up to me because I was the Longford Rose and they were asking me ‘do you know Maura?’ I said ‘no; I’d love to meet her but I don’t know her’,” she laughed.
“But so many people leave Longford and don't want to come back. I love Longford and I love the people. It’s the people that make a place, really. And I love being able to represent those people who do so much for the community.
“It’s nice to be young and carrying on that tradition. Because there are so many people emigrating now. There has to be a few of us young people left to carry on the community spirit and all the bits and pieces that go with it.”
And, as the Longford Rose, Marie Brady is certainly in a position to do good for the county. Already she's attended numerous events and lent her support to various charity fundraisers.
Now she's heading down the country to join the other roses in one of the standout international festivals of the year where she'll no doubt have a life-changing experience.
“I’m looking forward to bringing everybody down. It’s definitely given the place a bit of a buzz. It’ll be the first time that my whole family have ever been away altogether. So it’s given them a chance to get away and they’re going to be on the telly. So it’s just lovely. Nice things are said about me as a rose, but lovely things are said about my mam and dad, which is really lovely for them as well,” Marie concluded.