It's going to be a very special week for the Loughlin family from Shrule.
Twenty-two-year-old Nicole Loughlin who will represent Mayo in the International Rose of Tralee Festival this week is looking to become the second Shrule native to win the competition - half-a-decade after the win Maria Walsh. The event will also mark another very special occasion for the NUIG graduate as her parents, Kieran and Kathleen, will celebrate their silver wedding anniversary in the middle of the festival.
The 2019 Rose of Tralee Festival kicks off on Monday, August 19 and runs all the way through to August 27. Loughlin is the third of nine children in the family ranging in age from five to 25-years-old.
Loughlin told the Mayo Advertiser that what attracted her to entering the competition was 'really the kind of charity work that the Roses can get involved in'.
She added: "I was thinking about it and myself and my sister filled in the application form back in January just before she moved to Sydney and then I didn't think too much about it until I was added to a Whattsapp group for the Mayo Roses a while later."
Loughlin had good reason not to think too much about it - she was in the middle of a tough college year and also was right in the heart of a massive charity fundraising drive that she had initiated in late 2018.
Not many 22-year-olds can say they spearheaded the building of a new school that will cater for over 1,000 students, but she can. Loughlin outlined the story of how this came about, saying: "I have an uncle who has been living in Malawi for over ten years now and I finally went over to visit him last Summer and to volunteer in an orphanage. After my time out there I wanted to do something - more to promote the positives in the country and show people that it is not all bad out there. The kids were amazing, just brilliant.
"It costs €11,000 to build a school out there and I set about the idea of raising that amount of money. I was on work placement in my old secondary school - Presentation College Headford - and ran the idea by them and they were fully on board. Then I went to NUIG and they came in behind me and offered support in getting the word out there and that's where the Lets Make it Happen campaign got fully going.
"In the end we got 22 schools across Mayo and Galway involved in running a number of fundraising events in the build-up to Christmas, mostly things like Christmas jumper days. When I started counting up the money that came in before Christmas I couldn't believe the response. Getting to €11,000 was the big mark and when we had counted out that amount, I put it to the side until after Christmas - but when we finally tallied it all up we had raised €23,500."
There was no hanging around on the project once the money had all come in, said Nicole. "I was lucky to be able to go back out to Malawi in March and on St Patrick's Day we broke ground on the school. The project was all about community involvement - the money raised provided for the sand, stone and blocks for the building and skilled labourers - with the local community needing to provide 30 general labourers, we got such a response that we had to turn away the up to 150 locals who wanted to help out each day."
Last month Loughlin was back in Malawi for the official opening of the school, where the turnout by the locals was again huge. "On July 10 the school was officially opened, around 4,000 people from the locality turned out - it was just brilliant. The opening also tied in with my uncle getting married out there so I had lots of family over and there on the day, it was just a brilliant experience to see it all come together."
There will be a reminder of all the schools that got involved in the project for years to come, as Nicole revealed: "As a gesture to all the schools that took part in the fundraising for this project and for all their work to get it this far, I got the schools names engraved into the desks in the school as a thank you to them."