“I WAS so shocked. I’d spent the whole week with this bunch of brilliant girls who were all so accomplished in their own fields. I’d even picked out a winner, so I was overwhelmed when my name was called out,” Róisín Maher told The Nationalist after being crowned the winner of this year’s Mary from Dungloe competition.
The 27-year-old from Tomard, Co Carlow represented her new home of New York in the beauty pageant that took place in the village of Dungloe, Co Donegal. At the end of the week-long festival, Róisín was deemed the winner at a gala ball on Sunday night, 5 August, which was hosted by country music star and TV presenter Daniel O’Donnell. It was also broadcast live by TG4 from the Waterfront Hotel in Dungloe.
“Yes, I was very nervous on the night, but Daniel was so nice. He made us all feel at ease because he’d spent the day with us in rehearsals. It was still nerve-wrecking, though, because it was live television and I was terrified of falling over,” Róisín laughed.
She had nothing to fear because she impressed the judges and audience alike with her on-stage party piece – showing wee Daniel how to build a wall.
“After Daniel had his house renovated by Dermot Bannon last year, I thought that I’d show him what to do, just in case he needed it,” she laughed.
It’s no wonder that Róisín was a bit out of her comfort zone on stage in a gown and stilettos because her party trick gives a good hint at what she does career-wise – she’s a construction project manager in New York.
Róisín moved over to the Big Apple four years ago with some friends from Donegal. Although she had graduated with a degree in event management from DIT in Dublin, she was keen to change careers. It was while she was doing holiday cover for one of her friends on a construction site that she discovered her new love of the building industry. “The boss brought me out on site and I loved it, so I worked on sites in 2017 and 2018,” Róisín continued.
She wanted a relevant qualification, so she completed a year-long degree in construction management and finished top of her class. She now works with a company that focuses on building schools and repairing churches for the archdiocese of New York.
“These churches were built by Irish people, so it’s lovely that we’re working on them again,” Róisín pointed out.
She has immersed herself in her second home while also keeping in touch with her roots. She’s run the New York marathon twice for charity and, in 2017, was awarded the Irish Echo Community Champions Award.
It was while she was in an Irish pub in Astoria that she spotted a poster for the Mary from Dungloe competition and, with encouragement from her Donegal friends, she entered the New York heat. She was flown home to Ireland two weeks ago to represent New York and spent the entire festival touring Donegal, meeting new faces and getting to know the other Mary hopefuls. On the night that she was crowned the winner, her proud parents John and Mary were in the audience, as well as some of her six siblings and her boyfriend Daniel Shirreff.
As part of her prize, Róisín scooped €1,000 in cash, a further €2,500 worth of vouchers and beautiful, bespoke jewellery. She intends to use her position as Mary from Dungloe to promote and raise awareness about sustainability and environmental issues.
Right now, though, she’s looking forward to returning to New York, where there will be a welcoming committee waiting for her at JFK Airport.
“The last time New York won this competition was back in 1984, so it’s a big deal for them,” a delighted Róisín concluded.