Maggie McEldowney was the winner of the 2016 Rose of Tralee in the annual Irish International Festival held in County Kerry, Ireland in August.
Maggie McEldowney admitted being stunned when she heard her name called.
“Never in a million years did I think I was going to win and hear my name called,” said McEldowney, a Marist High School staff member who was named the 2016 Rose of Tralee in the annual Irish International Festival held in County Kerry, Ireland in August.
Representing Chicago, McEldowney, 26, a former resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was selected from 65 participants from across the globe. She is the first Chicago entry to win in 29 years and is only the third Chicago entry to win in the 57-year history of the International Irish Festival.
McEldowney is a 2007 graduate of Marist High School where she now serves as director of development. She is also a graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned a degree in media studies/communications.
“We are extremely proud of Maggie and of the honor she has brought to our school with this accomplishment,” said Larry Tucker, principal at Marist. “We are 100 percent in support of her activities with the International Irish Festival in the coming year. She is an exceptionally bright, energetic person and is passionate about her role in the Irish community.”
Tucker said he first met her when she was in eighth grade.
“She sang the national anthem at a game between Marist and Brother Rice. Even at that age, she was obviously very talented and confident. I knew she was someone special and I was really happy to have her as a student at Marist. She will be an excellent ambassador for the Festival,” he said.
McEldowney said she first learned about the Irish International Festival during a 2012 visit to her family in Ireland. She was visiting her great-grandmother, Rose O’Neill, who is 100 years old and lives in County Kerry.
“I learned about the International Irish Rose Foundation, the annual Festival and all the wonderful things it does through various charities, such as Chernobyl Children’s Fund, March for Meg, Andrew Weishar Foundation and the Young Irish Foundation. I got involved and the more involved I became, the more I loved it. I have been involved now with the Rose Foundation for three years,” she said. “I am not a ‘pageant person’ and this is not about just winning the position. It is about being part of something bigger. It is a celebration of young Irish women and the Irish community. It is more about being an ambassador. There is a great camaraderie among the Roses; it is not a competitive thing like the Miss America Beauty Pageant. We all work together for the cause, which is to represent the best of the Irish community in our respective countries.”
As part of her duties in the coming year, she will be traveling to Ireland at least once a month to participate in fundraisers and meet political officials. Her first duties are to establish the calendar for the year and to select the foundations, which will be supported through funds raised at various events throughout the year, such as Forever Green, scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day.
“The Irish are fun people and these events are all so much fun. Celebrating the Irish is going to be an exciting year,” she said.
When asked how it felt to return to work after winning the title and spending an event-filled two weeks in Ireland, she said it was like an out- of- body experience. “It was a beautiful dream-like experience…it was very humbling after all the fanfare,” she said.
“Being the 2016 Rose of Tralee is a huge adjustment. I am really just a nobody thrown into the limelight. I have to adjust to being interviewed, and learn to speak carefully. I hope that what I do will emulate the phrase that ‘actions speak louder than words.’ “
McEldowney also serves on the Board of the Young Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago and is passionate about sharing the culture of the Irish community and encouraging the advancement of upcoming bright, promising young Irish women.
As for her plans after she finishes her year as the Rose of Tralee, she will continue her involvement with the Chicago Rose Foundation and the International Festival.
“I am looking forward to a life-long commitment,” she said.