New York Rose Lisa Murtagh became the 48th Rose of Tralee on August 22 at the Festival Dome in Tralee, County Kerry. The Yonkers native, who beat out 30 contestants from all over the globe, is the first American Rose to take the famous tiara since Roisin Egenton, also representing New York, won in 2000.
There was no rest for the lovely Murtagh, 27, who, after just one hour of sleep on the night of her victory, went straight to work as the 2007 Rose with numerous photo shoots and media interviews the next day. Throw in a visit to an exhibition at the Kerry County Library and an appearance at the Tralee Races, and it was more of a hurricane than a whirlwind 24 hours for the redhead.
One of Murtagh’s first interviews in Ireland was with an RTE radio show called Morning Ireland. The interviewer, while acknowledging that the festival is unique and unlike any other competition, said that in some ways it could be considered old-fashioned. Murtagh was quick to put him straight.
“It is a celebration of modern Irish women. It’s obvious that after watching the show that you have 30 other amazing impressive women who are proud to be called Irish or say they are of Irish heritage, so I don’t think there is anything old-fashioned about that,” was Murtagh’s reply.
Murtagh arrived in Tralee with a goal, winning was only a bonus. “Regardless of whether I won or not, I wanted to rejuvenate interest in the Festival in New York. The city has such a strong history and a strong Irish connection, and I think that the festival is very important to young women of Irish descent,” Murtagh said, speaking to Irish America over the phone from Ireland, two days after her win.
Included in the prizes Murtagh received were a $25,000 travel voucher to use for Rose activities, jewelry and cutlery from Newbridge Silverware, and the use of a car while in Ireland.
How often the new Rose, an attorney in Manhattan with the global law firm Clifford Chance, will use the car has yet to be worked out, for she has a tough decision to make. Should she take a career break and travel the world representing the festival, or remain in New York? Either way she plans to put her own stamp on the position.
“The American [Rose of Tralee] centers are suffering a lot, and that is my primary focus. So maybe staying in New York is what I can do best for the Rose of Tralee,” she offers.
“They [the committee] are very flexible, and realize the demands on modern women. They know I have a serious job back in New York. They basically said it is up to me. I can stay in New York and do what I can to raise the profile of the festival there, or I can move to Ireland. It is really a matter of sitting down and making the decision once I get back to New York.”
Whether she decides to move to Ireland or stay in the U.S., Murtagh, who said she planned to be in New York at least until Christmas, is wise enough to recognize that the future of the festival depends upon the participation of the younger generation and she plans to promote the festival to young Irish-Americans.
“We need an infusion of young blood. There is interest here but it is waning. Obviously, the young Irish aren’t coming to the United States in the same droves that they used to, and that has an effect. But once I explain what the festival is to Irish-Americans, many who have parents, grandparents and sometimes great-grandparents who are Irish, they have been extremely interested, and this is the audience I want to target.”
Before the contest, Ted Keane, spokesman for the festival, described the qualities they were looking for in the Rose of Tralee. “We’re looking for a girl who is personable, has self-confidence, and has the ability to go anywhere in the world and represent Irish women,” he said.
Ted Keane can rest easy for another year, as the judges did their job well. Murtagh’s win, and her promise to raise the profile of the festival and bolster pride in being Irish, will bode well for both the festival and Irish America. ♦