Rose of Tralee Jennifer Byrne has had a whirlwind six months. The former NUI Galway medicine student told SIN her next adventure will take her to Chernobyl with the Adi Roche Foundation – something she said would prove to be a difficult but rewarding journey.
“I have watched a few documentaries about Chernobyl, and I have also spoke to previous Roses to prepare myself.
“They all said it was incredible but challenging, and that I will think about it a lot afterwards, and the experience stays with you… it makes you appreciate what you have in your own life,” she said.
“It will be hard for me to see children who may have deformities caused by the radiation and the lack of resources the hospitals have to deal with, especially because I’m a doctor. But we have supplies we are bringing over, and I am glad I will be able to give the children some care, love and time, and even just playing games with them will make a difference.”
Hailing from Clonaderig, Ballinahown, Co. Offaly, Jennifer was crowned winner of the competition in the Dome in Kerry last August. She has since travelled to India with the HOPE Foundation, accepted the Spirit of the Emirates award from the UAE on behalf of the Rose of Tralee Festival, all the while training to become a GP.
She said that she always loved the Rose of Tralee growing up, and when her mum saw an ad in the Offaly Independent looking for the county’s next Rose, she thought she would give it a go. However, winning outright was a “surprise moment” for the 24-year-old, as the first Offaly Rose to be crowned winner of the competition.
“I have to say it was a surprise moment,” she laughed.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all, you know I was just enjoying the festival down in Tralee and getting to know the other Roses.”
“It was just such an exciting experience,” she explained.
Since the end of the competition in August, Jennifer has been extraordinarily busy.
“I have lots of highlights, my homecoming in Ballinahown was pretty special,” she said.
“It was great to celebrate with all my neighbours, family and friends, and Offaly County Council were great too.”
“I also got to attend the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore this year, and receiving the Spirit of the Emirates award was a real honour,” said Jennifer.
“The Dubai selection is happening in two weeks and I will be over there… I also got to open the Frankfurt Christmas markets last November, there were also other Roses there, about 120 of us at all together.”
“Visiting India was also another amazing experience,” she added.
“I was volunteering with the HOPE Foundation and it was just incredible. I was visiting the slums and that was a tough experience, but then I also went to the HOPE hospital and schools, and I saw all the amazing work they do, so that was uplifting.”
“It was great to see exactly where the money is going.”
When she won the competition, she had two months left in her rotation in the Accident and Emergency Department of UHG.
“I like to be kept busy,” Jennifer laughed when asked how she manages her time.
“After I finished my rotation in A&E, I moved to Psychiatry,” she explained.
“It is difficult to say which I preferred because they are so different. In A&E you are always running around, the day really flew by. In Psychiatry, you really get to know the patients, you get to sit down and have a chat with them, but it has its own challenges as well.”
The 2017 Rose studied medicine at NUI Galway for five years before doing an intern year then partaking in the GP training scheme.
“I look back on my time in NUI Galway very fondly. I really loved it, I moved away from home to start college and I had a few of my friends with me, but I also made new friends,” she said.
“I had a great class, and I ended up living with some people I was in the course with, you become like a family after five years together.”
Jennifer is also very passionate about encouraging young women to get involved in sports.
“I think we need to encourage women to start taking part in team sports. You don’t necessarily have to focus on the competition part. It is a great way to meet new people, to get a bit of exercise and to have a laugh,” she said.
“Colleges have a Clubs day where you can sign up, I remember NUI Galway had one,” she continued
“Usually the college has one serious team and then a second team which is more relaxed, so people shouldn’t be afraid to join.”
By Aine Kenny
Photo credit: Tralee Today