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Maggie McEldowney Back at Work at Marist After Being Named Rose of Tralee

By Howard Ludwig | September 2, 2016 6:36am
 Maggie McEldowney, a native of Beverly, was named the 2016 Rose of Tralee Aug. 23. She works as a fundraiser at her alma mater - Marist High School in Mount Greenwood.
Maggie McEldowney, a native of Beverly, was named the 2016 Rose of Tralee Aug. 23. She works as a fundraiser at her alma mater - Marist High School in Mount Greenwood.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

MOUNT GREENWOOD — Maggie McEldowney is back at work this week at Marist High School, still basking after being named Ireland's 2016 Rose of Tralee.

It's been 29 years since a "Chicago Rose" has come home with a sash from the pageant revered among Irish descendants worldwide, said McEldowney, who works as a fundraiser for the Catholic school at 4200 W. 115th St. in Mount Greenwood.

"I never imagined in a million years I would have a tiara on my head," McEldowney, 27, said Thursday at a reception with her co-workers.

McEldowney detailed her path at first becoming the 2016 Chicago Rose of Tralee May 15 and then being awarded the international honor Aug. 23 in County Kerry, Ireland. She said it all began with a 2012 visit to her grandmother Brigid O’Neill's birthplace in Maghera, County Derry.

Along with her parents Jim and Joanne McEldowney of Beverly, Maggie McEldowney met Rose O'Neill, her grandmother's sister-in-law. The 100-year-old woman still lived on the family farm and encouraged her American great niece to apply to become a "rose."

"She had mentioned that she though I would be a great advocate for Chicago," McEldowney said.

She expects to do just that after concluding the 12-day festival with the title. The televised pageant is one of the top five most viewed events in Ireland. It also includes a tour of the Irish countryside, where McEldowney and 64 other contestants visited Ireland's renowned Japanese Gardens, watched greyhound racing and more.

McEldowney is also board member of the Young Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago. She plans to continue to raise money on behalf of the local group for March4Meg, which brings awareness to skin cancer, and the Andrew Weishar Foundation, which works to support families of teenagers with cancer.

Monthly visits to Ireland are expected to be part of the protocol too since McEldowney won the pageant. She said expenses for these trips will be paid for by sponsors, and she'll likely be attending awareness events, meeting politicians and promoting Irish-based charities such as Chernobyl Children International.

This charity works with children suffering from physical disabilities, cognitive issues and more resulting from an accident at a nuclear power plant in 1986. Contestants of the Rose of Tralee visit these children annually at the Vesnova Children’s Mental Asylum.

"My goal this year is that actions speak louder than words," said McEldowney, who also graduated from St. Barnabas Elementary School in Beverly and the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

Marist graduate and employee Maggie McEldowney met with co-workers at a reception Thursday. McEldowney said she expects to travel to Ireland monthly after being named the 2016 Rose of Tralee. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]

After being interviewed by the host of the pageant, McEldowney sang a song about Ireland called, "A Little Bit of Heaven." Marist Principal Larry Tucker remembered Thursday his first meeting with McEldowney where she sang the national anthem ahead of a basketball game at nearby Brother Rice High School.

"She is going to represent the Chicagoland area very well," Tucker said. "Ambassador is a word that comes to mind."

Indeed, McEldowney, a resident of the South Loop, said she's felt like an ambassador for Marist since she enrolled at the school. The Redhawk graduate was part of only the second class of girls to walk the hallways after the school went co-ed in 2002.

As for the Rose of Tralee, McEldowney bristled a bit at the comparison to the Miss America Competition. She said the Irish pageant is more built around a festival and the vibe among the contestants is more collaborative than competitive.

That said, she said it feels good to hold the title sought by 32 women from various parts of Ireland along with 19 others from North American and 14 "roses" from elsewhere across the globe.

"It almost seems like a beautiful dream," she said.

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