When Donal Gill attended the Rose of Tralee festival as a child with his family, little did he realise he would return to the world famous event years later as an escort.
A medical social worker at University Hospital Galway, he says he was “totally shocked” to be chosen to represent Roscommon.
The 30-year-old, who is originally from Swinford, Co Mayo, initially acted as an escort for his colleague, occupational therapist Sandra Burke, who was a contestant in the Roscommon Rose competition.
“As the girls were being interviewed the lads were also interviewed by Rose of Tralee delegate, Ollie Lawlor,” he says. “He and the girls chose the escort to go to Tralee to represent Roscommon. When I was chosen I was totally shocked. I had a fantastic night at the selection so it was an added bonus to be chosen. My full compliments go to the Roscommon Rose Committee, they put on a great night.
“I was at the Tralee festival as a child - my parents used to holiday in Cork and Kerry - and there was always a great atmosphere. I can’t wait to go back. It will be fantastic to be in the thick of it. The fun, the camaraderie, the adventure and the sense of Irishness which the festival promotes. This is especially important in the current economic times.”
The 32 escorts - one representing each county - attended bootcamp in Ballinasloe at the end of June. The team building weekend aimed to help them get to know each other.
“It was fantastic to meet the other lads, they were a sound bunch. It was good to be able to put faces to the names. It was an activity-based weekend with canoeing, kayaking, etc. The organisers also outlined the expected attire for the festival. A lot of it you would have yourself ordinarily. I had most of it myself. You are asked to look sharp, clean and casual.”
Donal, who works in both the neurology and medicine for the elderly departments of UHG, has received some good advice from fellow social worker Sheila Lawlor who won the Rose of Tralee in 1980.
“Everyone in the hospital, particularly in the medical social work department, has been superb. People were congratulating me, asking me how things were going and wishing me well. All the escorts fundraised for 1 Life, the 24-hour suicide prevention helpline. We were provided with cards to sell for a raffle and the hospital allowed me to set up a stand there for two days.
“My family have been fantastic, too - my mum and dad, Danny and Joan Gill - and my brother Enda. I would like to thank them from their help with fundraising and for all their support.”
The escorts are officially on duty from today (Thursday ) until the end of the festival. “All the girls started a tour of Ireland on Sunday. We will meet them on Thursday but will not find out until Friday what Rose we will be assigned to. Our duty is to accompany the girls at any given time and to help them relax, feel comfortable and have a good time. Whatever is required of us we will be up to the challenge.”
The 5” 11’ Mayo man, who studied at NUI Galway and UCD, took up running earlier this year and hopes his fitness regime will stand him in good stead during the hectic days ahead.