Rose of Tralee inspired by father

Keely O'Grady, of Canterbury, is awarded the national Rose of Tralee title at the Ascot Park...
Keely O'Grady, of Canterbury, is awarded the national Rose of Tralee title at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill on Saturday. PHOTO: NINA TAPU
A father's love for his Irish homeland motivated the national winner of the Rose of Tralee to enter the event.

Keely O’Grady, 21, was awarded the 2024 title in Invercargill on Saturday night after years of encouragement from her father "to stay connected to her Irish culture".

Surprised by her win, the Canterbury representative credited her father’s persistence for exploring her Irish identity.

"As soon as I turned 18, I was messaged by my dad every year to enter but the timing’s never been quite right because of my university studies.

"I finally entered and was inspired by my dad and just wanted to make him proud of me," Ms O’Grady said.

She was chosen from 10 other hopefuls to represent the country at the International Rose of Tralee festival held in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland in August.

The international festival was formed in 1959 and is held annually in Ireland. It celebrates women and appoints a female ambassador for Irish culture and heritage.

"Over there you will have every country's Rose represented and it’s a massive celebration of Irish culture and Irish heritage.

"This is an amazing opportunity," she said.

Her father’s family hailed from County Wicklow and she attributed a childhood "growing up around Irish sport, Irish music, and especially Irish dance" to them.

Irish dance had been a huge part of her life since she was 6.

"One day my dad showed me a video of Riverdance and from then on my heart was hooked and I still continue Irish dancing at 21."

Being chosen to represent New Zealand was an honour, and gaining "10 new friends that were some of the smartest and most talented, kind girls that I've met in my life" made the competition a "meaningful experience", she said.

Ms O’Grady was thankful for being selected and vowed to use the opportunity to promote "self-development and confidence" to young girls.

"Kelsey Wallace, our 2023 Rose, talked about how much this competition experience had helped her grow as a person and has developed skills in her everyday life.

"We have a programme called the Rose Buds who are our little helpers aged 6 to 10 who help us on stage.

"I'd like to think that we are really positive role models for them and that we can be women that they look up to and aspire to be like."

Ms O’Grady will complete her bachelor of speech and language pathology degree from the University of Canterbury while undertaking her duties as New Zealand’s 2024 Rose of Tralee.

By Nina Tapu