The Catholic University of America

Allison Wetterauw

Senior Competes in Renowned Irish Festival

In August, senior Allison Wetterauw was sitting on a float, waiting for the parade in Tralee, Ireland, to start. She figured it would be just like any small-town parade and she’d wave to those who had gathered in the streets. However, when the parade began and proceeded down the road, she was shocked to find it was packed with approximately 30,000 people.

“It was absolutely wild,” Wetterauw recalls.

The senior media studies major was participating in the 2014 Rose of Tralee International Festival, which brings together women from all over the world for five days to celebrate what it means to be a modern Irish woman.

The festival features two parades, a ball, concerts, street carnival, fashion show, and a competition among 32 young women to be crowned the Rose of Tralee. The International Rose of Tralee selection is televised by Irish TV station RTE and is watched by approximately 2 million people nationwide.

To get to Tralee, Wetterauw first had to prove her Irish ancestry.

“The competition is for women between the ages of 18 and 28,” she explains. “You have to have been born in Ireland, have citizenship there, or have Irish ancestors. I had to go through all my ancestry. I found out my great-great-grandfather came from Cork on one side of his family and Kilkenny on the other. I got to know exactly where my ancestors came from, when they came over, and what they did when they came here. I always knew about it but looking at the actual paperwork and seeing where they were from was really special.”

She then had to win the title of Washington, D.C., Rose last April. Wetterauw had been persuaded by a former D.C. Rose and CUA alumna to enter the regional competition, held by the local “centre” associated with the Rose of Tralee International Festival.

After winning that competition, she was off to Portlaoise, Ireland, in May to compete in a regional competition against roses selected in contests hosted by other regional centres across the globe. Out of the nearly 60 women who competed, 23 were selected to advance to the international festival in August. Wetterauw was one of those 23.

When she arrived in Ireland in August, Wetterauw toured the country with her fellow roses — those who advanced in the regional competition, like her, and those who received automatic bids to the international festival. The women became instant celebrities in Ireland. They were interviewed by the local media and Wetterauw even appeared in a photo on the front page of The Kerryman newspaper.

“I had no idea what I was in for,” she says. “No one in the United States really knows what the Rose of Tralee is, but when you go over there, people get really excited when they find out who you are.”

Although the Tralee festival lasts several days, the competition for the roses takes place over two days in a dome that seats 2,000 people. During that time, the women get a chance to talk about their backgrounds and perform a talent.

In front of the audience and TV cameras, Wetterauw talked about her work as president of the CUA Gaels, the University’s Irish culture club, and captain of the Celtic Cardinals, the University’s Irish dancing team. She also displayed a somewhat surprising talent.

Although she’s been Irish dancing since she was in elementary school, Wetterauw wanted to show the Irish audience something they were less familiar with. So she played a ukulele and sang.

“The director of the D.C. rose centre found out I was president of the Ukulele Club of my high school so she encouraged me to play the ukulele, not knowing that I never sang in front of another human being before,” she says. “I did it and it went pretty well. People enjoyed it. I was kind of impressed with myself. My parents didn’t even know I could sing. I didn’t either really.”

The women are scored on their involvement in their local communities and their interactions with people during their tour of Ireland.

“They would take us into a nursing home and expect us just to talk to people,” she says. “You couldn’t just stand there awkwardly. You had to go talk to the people and start a conversation. You’d go to a hospital and talk to the kids. How you interacted in those situations mattered.”

Wetterauw says her experience as a resident assistant at CUA helped her in those situations.

“To be honest, I don't think I would have been a rose without having the resident assistant experience,” she says. “It’s taught me how to chat with people. It opens you up and brings you out of your shell. Residence Life gave me this amazing training in how to be a leader and I got to use that during this competition.”

Although she didn’t win the International Rose of Tralee title, Wetterauw says it’s an experience she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.

“It’s really the friendships I take away from it. I got to meet so many other girls who have the same passion as me and we shared this experience. I send them messages all the time. I have these connections all over the world. If I want to go to Australia, I’ll have people I know there that I could stay with.”

On Halloween, she will join 18 other Celtic Cardinal dancers at Villanova University for an Irish dancing competition against teams from other colleges and universities. She helps the CUA Gaels plan biweekly events and continues to serve as a resident assistant. She’ll also continue serving as the D.C. Rose by attending events in the Irish-American community, such as the recent 90th anniversary celebration of the Embassy of Ireland in D.C. In March, she’ll be a division marshal of the District’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

After graduation, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in media, marketing, or business in either the New York area or in Ireland. Then she hopes to land a job as a producer for television.

“I don’t want to leave CUA,” she says with a laugh. “We have such an amazing community here that embraces the Celtic Cardinals and comes to CUA Gaels events. It’s a really great place to be.”


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Allison Wetterauw

Hometown: Darien, Conn.

Major: Media Studies

Favorite places in Ireland: Dublin and Leitrim

Favorite spot on campus: The third floor of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, where she can do homework and watch what’s going on outside through the large windows.

Favorite class at CUA: The Popes, the Saints, and the Sinners

Favorite annual CUA event: Relay for Life, where the Celtic Cardinals often perform in the early morning hours