Rose of Tralee Festival will be a family occasion for Sarah-Mai
As a member of the Garda Band, Patrick Fitzpatrick has been playing for the Roses as they step onto the stage at the Rose of Tralee competition each year, but this year, the occasion will be all the more special as he could be playing the music to introduce his own daughter.
Sarah-Mai Fitzpatrick, (25), is this year's Wexford Rose, and her selection as the Model County's representative is the fulfilment of a childhood dream.
She will be on stage this Thursday in one of two qualifier rounds being held in advance of next week's televised finals.
As a youngster, she often attended the festival with her father, and experienced the activity backstage. She remembers returning home with him in the car and asking him 'do you ever think I'll be the Wexford Rose?'
'He said "You are the Wexford Rose,"' she recalled. 'As cheesy as it sounds, it is a childhood dream realised.'
Sarah-Mai grew up between her home in Shankill, Dublin, and her parents' native Gorey, attending Scoil Chualann in Bray and Scoil Íosagáin in Stillorgan. She teaches Irish dancing with her mother Josephine Mahon in Kilanerin and in Ballybrack, Dublin, when she's in the country.
For the past five years, she has travelled the world with various shows such as 'Rhythm of the Dance' and 'Celtic Rhythm.'
She spent a month in Tennessee dancing in Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park. 'We spent three days with her,' she said. 'For someone so acclaimed, she was so down to earth. She really looked after us.'
Sarah-Mai is well known in Wexford Irish dancing circles. 'I used to take part in Irish dancing championships in White's Hotel,' she said. 'It was quite different going up on stage for the Wexford Rose and talking rather than just dancing.'
Sarah-Mai will get her first taste of being interviewed on the Tralee stage this Thursday in one of the qualifier rounds. Sixteen Irish and sixteen international Roses will be selected to go through to the televised finals. 'It's going to be full on,' she predicted. 'It's going to be busy, but I'm used to that and being on the go. It will be a different adventure.'
Sarah-Mai was given a warm send off in Kilanerin last week. Family, friends, and supporters gathered in Noel Murphy's pub in Kilanerin.
Speaking on the night, Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin described her as having a strong pride in her Wexford heritage. 'Sarah-Mai is a model Rose for the Model County,' he said. 'I couldn't think of a better ambassador for County Wexford - a Rose with beauty, culture and finesse.
'All of County Wexford will be rooting for you, and we wish you the very best. Go n-éirí go geal leat, Rós Loch Garman. We're sure you will do us proud.'
Her father Pat will get to be in the audience with her mother Josephine, brother Patrick, and friends and supporters for the preliminary round, but fingers will be crossed that she gets through to the final so he can play for her big entrance. She said she will dance on stage, but promised a modern twist.