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Orlagh's the star of the County Down

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

AS that oft-cited, universally revered and much loved poet/playright/genius William Shakespeare, of Stratford Upon Avon, once remarked in Act II, Scene II of Romeo & Juliet; "A rose by any other name would taste just as sweet..."

Well, that name is none other than Saval medicine graduate Orlagh McNally, who was chosen ahead of a fiercely competitive field to represent Down in this year's Rose of Tralee festival in August.

Her victory is all the more remarkable considering Orlagh only entered the event at the suggestion of friends. She also experienced the devastation of losing her younger brother, Colum, in October after a long period of illness.

And, on top of all that, she also had the added stress of completing her final year medical exams.

Speaking of her victory, a thankful Orlagh said that she felt humbled to have been chosen to represent the County.

“I was very privileged to be chosen because the other nine girls were fantastic and I felt that the competition was pretty fierce," she said.

“It's something I've always wanted to get involved with, because I remember when I was young watching it on TV, but it just wasn't on my radar this year at all.

“Then a couple of my friends and family really encouraged me to apply for it. I'm really glad that I did now."

She said that one of her primary motivations on assuming the mantle of Down Rose was to act as a role model for young people - and particularly young women - in helping them to realise their potential.

“For the next year I get to act as an ambassador for County Down and I get to represent County Down in the Rose of Tralee festival, which I'm looking to doing. It's a big responsibility to make sure that I do Co. Down proud, which I hope I do.

“If I could inspire young women to push forward and do something for themselves, then that's what I'm really aiming to do. I'd love to put out that life is there to be lived and I'd love to act as a positive role-model for young women in the community."

Orlagh sees the August 16-22 event as a celebration and rejoicing of Irish femininity, a cultural showcasing to the world of all that is positive about the island. "The Rose of Tralee, to me, is like a celebration of Irish women throughout the world and a celebration of their achievements and aspirations.

“There will be 65 Roses in Tralee, and all of those will be acting as ambassadors and role models for their particular area," said Orlagh.

A trad-classical musician, Orlagh attributes her musicality to her proud father, Mark.

“I sing and play piano. I sing Irish traditional music and play classical piano, which I've played since I was in P1," she said.

“Dad likes to claim that I inherited my musical talent from him," she quipped.

Throughout the course of our interview, the pride she holds for her local area clearly emanates from within her, something she attested to me.

“There's some beautiful places to visit in County Down, all of the scenery like the Mourne Mountains and Castlewellan Forest Park. There's some beautiful places to visit, so we really are very lucky to live where we live."

Orlagh will assume an ambassadorial role for cancer charity Cancer Fund For Children over the course of her year as the Down Rose. The charity helped her family immeasurably throughout her brother Colum's brave battle against cancer.

She said: "I'm also going to be acting as a champion for Cancer Fund For Children, that's a charity that's very personal to me, because my brother, Colum, had cancer and they supported myself and my family over the past few years.

“My brother actually passed away in October last year, but his attitude was that an obstacle's only an obstacle if you let it to be."

Speaking with an evident mixture of love and pride about her precociously talented brother, Orlagh said: "Colum was such an inspirational person and I could talk about him all day, so I'm very happy to talk about that.

“Because of the chemotherapy, he couldn't go to school for the last year of his life and had private tutors twice a week.

“He got the grades to get into Queen's and went over to England and won UK Young Engineer of the Year award.

“I never heard him complain once throughout the two and a half years he was sick and was a really positive, inspirational person to me."

Thanking her family and friends for the level of support she's received over the past year, she said: "I could've taken a year out, but I chose not to and I couldn't have done it without family support and the support of Queen's.

“With that story, if I could help someone get through their degree it's something that I'd like to do."

Mark beamed as he spoke of his daughter's achievements.

“Proud's an understatement, we're very, very proud, but the support we've received from friends, family and the wider community has been unbelieveable. All of Colum's friends have gotten behind Orlagh."

Good luck in Tralee Orlagh, The Star of County Down!

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