When Niamh Canning from Magilligan was growing up, she heard lots of stories about the famous Rose of Tralee festival from her family.
The 21-year-old is hoping these stories will become even more special for her family this weekend when she competes in the Newcastle and Gateshead selection for the Rose.
Niamh, one of eight finalists, says her aunts always joked with her that they were too old to enter, warning her not to let the opportunity pass by.
Magilligan born and raised, Niamh is a past pupil of Saint Anthony’s Primary School and St Mary’s, Limavady.
Now in her final year at Newcastle University studying drama and applied theatre, Niamh says she was shocked and honoured to be approached by the organising committee of the contest.
Her interest in the competition was triggered after meeting a Rose of Tralee winner while working in the Irish Centre in Newcastle in 2014.
“We got chatting, as you do, and that’s where it all began,” explains Niamh, who went on to meet with the local organisers.
“I was told I was a budding rose, but I wasn’t ready for picking just yet,” jokes Niamh.
“I didn’t enter that year, but I decided to go for it this year. It’s always something I wanted to do, and I was too scared to do it before so, I thought, I’ll give it a go now.”
Niamh says the experience so far has been fantastic.
“There has been so much planning, and so many different events. It’s been fantastic getting together with all the Irish people and it really feels like a community. All the girls are fantastic. There are three of us in the final from Derry.
“I think all the girls have worked really hard and I suppose whoever wins is down to the luck of the draw on the night. Even our mentor said she wouldn’t want to be judging. I think we are all just as good in different ways, and I’ll certainly give it my best shot.”
Niamh hopes her rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ will impress the judges. It’s a song that is very special to her and reminds her of home.
“It would mean a lot to be chosen, so fingers crossed,” Niamh added.
Back home, mum Deborah Deehan and Niamh’s aunts are all over the moon Niamh has reached the final.
“We are just so proud of Niamh, everyone is,” says Deborah.
“We have always watched the Rose of Tralee and, even if Saturday night is as far as Niamh gets, we will be so proud of her. What an experience for her.”
Supporting Niamh in Newcastle on Saturday night will be support from familiar faces back home in Magilligan including Granny Bridget Canning, mum Deborah and dad Martin Doherty.
Local childcare business, Cocoon Daycare, did’t hesitate when given the opportunity to support Niamh on her Rose of Tralee journey.
“As she treats audiences in Newcastle to a rendition of our very own Roe Valley air ‘Danny Boy’ on April 23, the staff at the nursery wish her every success,” said staff from Cocoon Nursery.
The first Festival in 1959 had Roses representing Tralee, London, Dublin, Birmingham and New York, and cost just IR£750. Since 1959 the Festival has grown, incorporating centres from all over the world. Organisers say the RTÉ’s live coverage of the Rose selection has helped install the Festival in the national psyche, and it has remained their top rating show for many years.