It's an exciting summer for 21-year-old Aisling Baker from Tubberclair. Just this week she got news of impressive results from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, meaning that she's now a fully-qualified primary school teacher.
However Aisling has no time for job applications just yet, as she's in the middle of preparations for The Rose of Tralee in Kerry this August. Aisling will represent Westmeath at the famous festival after getting past the final selection hurdle in Portlaoise over the June Bank Holiday weekend.
Though Aisling says she's wanted to be a Rose since she was a little girl, when she was first approached to enter the Westmeath Rose contest she said her reaction was "Absolutely no way!". It was her cousin Eddie Brady - the owner of Coppers bar and nightclub in Athlone - who asked her to enter with sponsorship from Coppers. However it was Aisling's mother Michelle who convinced her to do it.
It's a decision Aisling doesn't regret. She was chosen from a group of 20 girls to go forward to Portlaoise as the Westmeath Rose at an event on March 29 last in the Athlone Springs Hotel. There Aisling entertained all with her singing, and she repeated the same recipe for success at the Portlaoise selections. Describing the weekend in Portlaoise as being like a mini-Tralee, Aisling said she had a fantastic time and got to know the other Roses really well. Friendships that were formed there have endured, and some of Aisling's new Rose friends from Armagh, Carlow, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Longford are set to join her this weekend to take part in triAthlone.
It's not just Aisling smiling at the prospect of taking part in the Rose of Tralee festival. Local organiser Paula Gannon is also delighted. Speaking after her selection Ms Gannon said everyone was enthralled with Aisling's on-stage charm, wit and singing voice. "We are very proud of Aisling and are so happy for her and her family," she said. "Aisling is undoubtedly the epitome of a Rose; she is charismatic, genuine, beautifully humble and totally engaging. Westmeath are very lucky to have such a wonderful representative of our county going to the international stage with Daithí " Sé."
Though not originally from Westmeath (Aisling was born in Limerick and spent the first five years of her life there), she has genuine Westmeath roots.
Her mother Michelle (nee Ganly) is from Glasson, while her father Noel is from Clare. Noel and Michelle met in Limerick, but moved close to Michelle's home when their oldest daughter was five. Tubberclair has been the family's home since then, and children Aisling (21), Aoife (20), Sean (15) and Eimear (13) are very happy there. Aisling returned to her birthplace to study, and has just completed her degree in Limerick's Mary Immaculate college. Schooled locally, Aisling attended secondary school at Our Lady's Bower in Athlone.
Reacting to her Rose success so far, Aisling said she was certainly not expecting to be chosen for Tralee. "I was the last one announced," she explained of the Portlaoise selection. "I really did think that all the Irish Roses had already been selected. They announced me and I just couldn't believe it. My face was the picture of shock!"
Now that she's gotten used to the idea Aisling said she's really looking forward to August. "I cannot wait," she said. "I don't think there's any point in being nervous. Obviously there will be some nerves, but if you look at it for what it is it's an enjoyable experience." Aisling added that regardless of how she gets on in Tralee she'll treasure the story of when she was Westmeath Rose forever and look forward to telling the story to her grandchildren in later life.
Aisling will have a variety of conversation topics for Daithí for her time onstage. She's very interested in drama and music and has been involved with school musicals during her time in Our Lady's Bower as well as with the musical society during her time in college in Limerick. She also attended Dancezone stage school in Moate in her youth.
She's also a keen runner, and has volunteered to do that part of triAthlone. "Letting me into the water might be disastrous," she laughs. Though not currently active in the scene, she has also in the past played football with Garrycastle Ladies. Travelling is also something she loves, and is something she would enjoy if chosen as the 2012 Rose of Tralee. No doubt however her employers at Grogan's in Glasson and Let's Go summer camps would be sorry to see her go.
Just recently Aisling has been involved with a HSE mental health initiative, and has been visiting primary schools with Mental Health Ireland's Finola Colgan. An area she's always been interested in, Aisling says she thinks the children she visited responded well to the initiative.
Now full focus is needed for Aisling's Rose preparations, and after triAthlone that's exactly what Aisling will be giving it. "I need around 20 dresses," she explained. The biggest hurdle has already been overcome however, as Aisling says she's almost certain what dress she's going to wear on stage. "I'm getting a dress from Olivia Danielle," she said, thanking her and designer Sharlene McCaffrey for their support in her Rose venture. "I just saw the dress and I fell in love with it," she added, describing a "kind of pale blue" full length ballgown.
Aisling also has to finalise what song she'll sing in The Dome as her party piece. "I've to go and learn lyrics to broaden my singing repertoire," she says. She has a musical background to fall back on however, with her musical family regular performers at the Willie Clancy Festival in Clare.
Aisling's also looking forward to seeing a photoshoot she took part in last week featured in an upcoming issue of VIP magazine. "No more than any of the girls I wouldn't be used to that kind of thing."
She says her family, friends and neighbours have been very supportive in her journey towards Tralee for the festival that begins on August 17.
Aisling added she has been very well supported locally. She named Athlone Show, Michael Moore, Carraig Donn, Elliot Opticians, Grogan's and "countless other sponsors" as being a great support.
She also thanked boyfriend Mark for his unstinting support in the run up to the festival.