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Niamh O’Sullivan

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It’s been 58 years since Alice O’Sullivan was crowned the first ever Rose of Tralee.

The year was 1959, Éamon de Valera was President of Ireland, and Seán Lemass has begun his term as Taoiseach.

The first 12 female recruits were selected to join An Garda Siochana and Cliff Richard was No. 1 in the charts with Living Doll.

Representing Dublin at the inaugural event in Co Kerry, Alice could hardly have known that in the six decades that were to follow, hundreds of young women would continue to compete for the title.

But what is it about the event – often derided as outdated and sexist – which continues to appeal to young women around the world? We sat down with this year’s New Zealand Rose, Niamh O’Sullivan, in order to find out more.

Hailing from Co Cork, but currently living in New Zealand, Niamh admits that she understands some of the criticism levelled at this year’s live shows, but is at pains to highlight the event’s many merits.

“I understand this year there was some criticism of the live shows focussing too heavily on the woman's partners and had quite a "romantic angle",” she says.

“It is true there was a lot of time given over to the girls' partners, however the show is a family show and it aims to try to showcase the girls' personalities while also providing entertainment to all those watching.”

“Getting the balance between important social awareness topics and lighter, fun topics can be hard, and I'm sure it's something that RTÉ and the Rose of Tralee spend a lot of time discussing each year.”

“It's hard to please everyone and I've been talking to a lot of people who had completely differing opinions on what makes a good Rose of Tralee show so I feel there will always be criticism while there are differing opinions of the audience watching. “

Reflecting on the common narrative which suggests that the annual event is an outdated, anti-feminist spectacle, Niamh insists that one needs only cast a casual eye over its list of participants to see the inaccuracy of such a dialogue.

“[It] celebrates women – fantastic, intelligent and witty women who are proud of their Irish heritage and who get a chance to make their families' history of immigration known, and acknowledge the hardships that must have accompanied leaving Ireland,” Niamh explains.

“The women I met are shaping their communities, both in Ireland and all over the world. The work they do, in their careers and through voluntary work is highly inspiring and commendable and I'm very proud that Ireland has a festival that showcases these type of women for the younger generation to look up to.”

“In a world where there are a lot of questionable role models in the media shaping our young female minds, I feel there is a need for the Rose of Tralee and the type of female role models it portrays. If we continue to celebrate 64 new inspiring young woman each year, then I feel the festival will always hold an important position, and will remain relevant."

As viewers, our perception of the Rose of Tralee is born of the two nights of televised footage beamed out to us from the Kingdom, but in reality, what we are shown as viewers is only a snapshot of the womens' experience of the event.

"I won't lie and say I was prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that it turned out to be!" Niamh said of the week-long festival.

"So many businesses and people want to be part of the festival and host the Roses that we have a hectic schedule that leaves your head spinning! We are told of long days and short sleeps and you can try and prepare your mind for that but you can't ever prepare your body. It took its toll on both body and mind from Day Three for me."

 

Look out for this sign and you're at the entrance to Family Town! Starting today, Friday midday

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And while sore throats and sore feet are a common complaint, Niamh also struggled with practicalities of living with Type 1 Diabetes.

"There were definitely some extra struggles I knew I would face putting myself forward for the Rose of Tralee," she said of her decision.

"I manage my  blood sugars using an insulin pump which is a small device the size of an old block Nokia that I wear 24 hours a day. The block is attached to a wire which is inserted into my skin," the 27-year-old paediatric dietician explains.

In addition to managing her blood sugar levels throughout the day, Niamh relied on the event's chaperones to tend to the equipment she needs on account of the condition.

"This was the hardest part of the process for me – having to hand over control and rely on other people to help manage my Diabetes," Niamh admits.

"I have had Type 1 for six years and have always managed it completely independently. This was the first time I had to hand over equipment or back ups and I felt so worried relinquishing control and had a couple of melt downs feeling like I was burdening everyone."

"I felt I was drawing unwanted attention on myself and never wanted my Diabetes to be seen as a burden and I felt it was. I entered the Rose of Tralee to raise awareness of certainly the struggles but also the triumphs that come alongside having Diabetes."

"I wanted to show it does not limit what you can achieve in life and if anything for me it has shaped the type of person I am and made me want to strive for more in my life. "

And it appears Niamh's mission did not go unnoticed, as she recalls her stand-out moment from the event which took place during the Saturday parade.

"The ultimate highlight for me was halfway through the parade when the other two Roses on my float started wildly hitting me to look over to the opposite side of the crowd," Niamh recalls.

"There was screaming and roaring coming from a mother pointing at her teenage daughter who was waving her insulin pump around. She said her name is Caitlyn, she has Type 1 Diabetes and had been following my journey."

"I'm beyond proud to be able to represent the Type 1 community and be a role model to all the Caitlin's out there," Niamh adds.

2017 saw Jennier Byrne from Co Offaly take this year's title – a triumph felt passionately by Niamh, who shared a room with the junior doctor throughout their time as Roses.

"She was first and foremost my saving grace and best friend in the competition. We were perfectly paired in humour, laid back attitude and even our outfit picks were almost identical on several occasions! " Niamh laughs.

"Jennifer was my rock and no more deserving girl could have won the title," she adds.

And would she do it all over again?

"In a literal heartbeat. It was the toughest but most enjoyable week of my life – a whirlwind of dual exhaustion and exhilaration, laughter and tears but above all memories I'll keep with me over in New Zealand and the best closure on Ireland I could ever ask for. "

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We won't lie, we are slightly jealous of Niamh O'Sullivan's life.

The 24 year-old Kildare-native moved to New York in October 2015 and since then, she has been giving a snapshot into her life in the Big Apple as well as sharing healthy recipes, fitness and motivation tips on her blog Cinnamon Soul.

While her Instagram feed frequently features icecreams and pancakes, Niamh tells SHEmazing all about her favourite foods and how living in New York is both heaven and hell for healthy eaters. 

What is your typical weekday breakfast?

I tend to rotate between a fruit smoothie, protein pancakes, and fried eggs on toast.

It depends on whether or not I've been to the gym that morning, and how much time I have to whip something up. 

What about lunch?

I'm living in New York at the moment and one of the best things about it is all of the food options at your disposal. With that said, the cost of groceries is extremely high, especially in Manhattan.

I find myself picking something up last minute every day like a salad or wrap from Pret a Manger. As long as it's fresh, I'm not too fussy.

 

When you build yourself up for an avocado toast lunch and then they tell you THERE'S NO BREAD LEFT  #dayweekandmonthruined

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

What do you usually have for dinner?

I'm a serious creature of habit so my dinner is usually fresh prawns with soybean spaghetti, fried in garlic, chilli & olive oil. So simple and SO tasty! 

Is it different at the weekend?

The weekends are always my biggest downfall when I'm trying to stay healthy, but I am definitely not complaining!

Not only are there literally thousands of restaurants to choose from in New York, but there's always a new part of the city to explore too so it's always fun to try new places.

Naturally though, my weekends plans revolve solely on where and what I'm eating! 

 

Best brunch in Brooklyn 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

Do you snack during the day? 

My go-to snack at about 3pm every single day is a tub of 0% Fage yoghurt with frozen berries, almond butter and a few drops of MyProtein flavour drops to sweeten it up. 

What would be your ideal food day?

Breakfast would be a massive bowl of granola, boring – I know, but my Mum makes the most delicious kind and I miss it so much since I moved away from home. 

I love tapas and the way that you can be so social when you eat it, so I would probably opt for that for lunch. 

Dinner would have to be a classic roast chicken with every single trimming possible. 

Dessert would be a warm chocolate brownie or fondant with some pistachio or vanilla ice-cream. Or, my Mum's chocolate roulade – my mouth waters when I think about it! 

 

All of the good fats 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

The one food you could have everyday for the rest of your life?

Chips, with mayonnaise and salt. I'm absolutely obsessed! 

What is your favourite dessert? 

Anything Nutella-based. Or a good scoop of ice-cream. Pistachio is my favourite flavour so when I find a good one, I really can't help myself. 

 

Currently 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan (@niamh_osullivan) on

What is your favourite meal of the day?

Probably dinner because I usually don't have to be anywhere after I eat it, so I can eat as much as possible and then vegetate on the couch until I can move again, haha! 

Your favourite restaurant in Dublin/Ireland/the world? 

My favourite restaurant in Dublin is probably the Rustic Stone: you can't beat a good steak! 

In Ireland, I think my favourite restaurant would have to be the K Thai in the K Club in Kildare.

I waitressed in the K Club all through college and for my last few months of working there, I worked full time in the K Thai I've tried every single thing on the menu and can safely say that there's not one thing that isn't delicious! I always go back every time I'm home and still catch up with the chefs who are so sound, couldn't recommend it highly enough. 

At the moment I'm obsessed with a small Italian restaurant in Alphabet City in New York called Supper NYC. Cacio è Pepe is one of my favourite meals ever and this place has a delicious version (it's basically just spaghetti with cheese and pepper but it's divine).

My favourite restaurant always depends on my mood though so it changes regularly! 

The best brunch place in Dublin?

I actually have only tried one place since I've been living abroad for the past 18 months and lived in Galway prior to that. BUT, I went for bottomless brunch in Cleaver East while I was at home in March and it was delicious!

Any “food pet peeves”?

When restaurants don't take the tails off prawns. I hate working for my food – LOL!

I also hate when the restaurant doesn't tell you that what you're ordering definitely needs a side of veg or chips. Nothing worse than when you're finished your meal and have to ask to see the menu again because you're still starving. 

What food would you not eat for the whole world? 

Celery. I despise it more than anything and I can taste/smell/sense it a mile away. It physically makes me gag! 

 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

What can we always find in your fridge?

About 10-12 cans of cold brew coffee from my local supermarket, Fage yoghurt, almond milk, and berries.

The rest is usually bought the day I want to cook/eat. I hate planning meals in advance because I'm so indecisive with food. 

You have friends over for dinner, what do you cook for them?

For starter, the last time I had the girls over I made a delicious bruschetta (if I do say so myself).

For mains we had prawns fried in garlic, chilli and olive oil served over spaghetti – my favourite!

Dessert is usually a trip to the Fro-yo place across the street. 

 

Making me miss the weekend more… 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

Do you find it hard to eat a healthy diet in a daily basis? 

Yes and no. In New York, there are so many healthy food options to choose from. But with that, there is also a massive amount of unhealthy options to test you.

If I'm on a roll with my healthy eating then I usually find it easy enough but the smell of pizza is always lingering! 

What is your guilty pleasure?

Mayonnaise. I add it to the majority of my meals, I can't help myself. 

 

Le weekend 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

What is you go-to drink/cocktail in a bar/pub?

Vodka, soda with fresh lime and/or mint. Or a Pinot Grigio. 

Your favourite place for a drink in Dublin? 

I love P. Mac's, it's such a cool bar. I love the key lime pie cocktail in The Exchequer too. It's a great alternative to dessert after dinner! 

 

Poolside 

A post shared by Niamh O'Sullivan  (@niamh_osullivan) on

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