In the Festival Dome in Tralee, County of Kerry, Ireland, 32 women stood on a stage in late August decked in shimmering gowns and extravagant dresses. In addition to the crowd in the Dome, more than 700,000 people watched from home in anticipation as one of the women would be crowned the 56th International Rose of Tralee.
As one of those 32 finalists, Mairéad Comaskey ’10 would be the first to tell you that the Rose of Tralee ceremony is not a beauty pageant but a multifaceted event honoring talented and well-rounded women of Irish descent.
“We laugh a bit about the way the media portrays it, because they do portray it as a competition,” she said. “[But] they don’t judge you on your looks. They judge you on how you’re going to be an ambassador.”
In March 2015, Comaskey was selected as the Philadelphia Rose of Tralee to represent the city in the international festival. While more than 70 regional Roses—the festival’s term for the contestants—are named in their respective cities and countries, only 32 are judged in the two-day event.
During the weeklong festival, the Roses visit towns and villages throughout Ireland, assisting with charitable organizations, seeing landmark destinations, and taking in historic and environmental tours.
Far from the glamor and bustle
Comaskey’s day job is a far cry from the glamor and bustle of international ceremonies. As a cultural inclusion specialist for The Vanguard Group, the investment management company based out of Malvern, Pa., Comaskey helps to instill inclusive internal business practices aimed at reducing discrimination and creating safe, welcoming workplaces.
Before working in human resources, Comaskey assisted nonprofits and foundations with their portfolios and advised universities on socially responsible investing—bringing her experiences as an International Studies student to the world of stock markets and capital gains.
Comaskey has had extensive experience around the world, having seen 25 countries before she turned 25 years old. After taking part in a high school program in St. Andrews, Scotland, Comaskey studied in South Africa through Arcadia and has been to England, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, among others.
“You find that, by and large, people are very similar,” she said. “People just want to be happy, they want to provide a good life, they want to do something meaningful.”
Real value of the festival
On August 18 in the Festival Dome, Elysha Brennan of Meath, a county in Ireland, was crowned the 2015 International Rose of Tralee.
Though Comaskey was not named the Rose, she maintained that the real value of the festival was the cultural exchange, the ability to interact with people from a wide variety of cultures, and the group’s visits throughout Ireland.
“[You get] to see different women around the world sharing Irish heritage...being interested and curious about the world,” said Comaskey. “You get to learn a lot about what they’re doing in these different cities, and also there’s a huge element of each individual woman’s interests—different jobs, different charities they’re involved with, different backgrounds, and different histories.”