Tiffany Antikainen returned to Denver from Ireland last month feeling a bit surreal. After being picked to serve as Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen Colleen months ago, she was asked to represent Denver at the Rose of Tralee Regional Finals. A series of fundraisers later, she was off to Ireland to the Regional Finals which took place from May 30th to June 3rd 2012 at the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel, Co Laois. The Judges at the National Finals liked Tiffany so much that they chose her among other regional Roses to return for the Rose of Tralee International Festival in August in Tralee, County Kerry.
The 22 year old student, human resource and payroll officer for the family business, Industrial Battery Service, Inc., and competition piper with the Michael Collins Pipes and Drums, was ecstatic to say the least! “My mom, Chrissy, and my aunt Lisa from Minnesota came to Ireland with me. We arrived about a week early to take a tour of Ireland since it was our first times there. We figured “well, this could be a once in a life time opportunity to be there, we may as well make the most of it! .. Who would have thought we would be returning again SO soon! Now I’m looking at tickets to go BACK to Ireland for the Rose of Tralee International Festival!”
As much as Tiffany is looking forward to returning to Ireland in August, she joyfully looks back at her trip to Ireland for the Regionals . “I could not believe how quickly I fell in love with Ireland. People told me before I left how amazing it would be, how beautiful the country was, how extremely friendly the Irish people were and what to expect of the weather. This did not prepare me at all. Everything I was told about needed to be magnified by 10, that’s how exceptional it was!”
She learned first hand that the ‘world famous Irish hospitality’ is not an exaggeration. “The second people found out you were not a local – not hard to tell from my so-called “American Twang”- they would go out of their way to make small talk, help with my luggage onto a train, give directions and local tips of places to check out in each town. I was amazed at how self sacrificing of their time they were, simply to make my trip a little easier… and all this was BEFORE they found out I was a Rose. The second people found out I was a Rose out came the Red Carpets! We had taxi drivers who asked if we were there on holiday slam on their brakes when they found out they had a Rose in their car!”
Pre-pageant Tiffany and entourage toured the west and the south of Ireland. “I fell in LOVE with the Cliffs of Moher as well as the small town of Killarney. Every town we went to I fell in love with the country even more. In the small towns I was able to experience ‘true Irish Coffee’, the best tasting Guinness, and talented, local, traditional musicians.”
Before Tiffany took off to Ireland she daydreamed about the possibilities of meeting new friends from around the world in her circle of contestants. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool to really connect with one of the girls in a lifelong friend kind of way? I would love to just really hit it off with one or two of the girls.’” Little did Tiffany know that she was in for a pleasant surprise. “I must admit I was shocked when immediately after I arrive at the hotel in Portlaoise I was greeted by 54 new, incredible family members. The Roses talk about the “Rose family” with the saying “Once a Rose, always a Rose”. This proved to be so much more than a saying; it is extremely accurate to describe the bond that all of us girls now share. In fact many of the girls are already traveling together, visiting each other’s homes etc. It is amazing the bond all of us created in such a short amount of time.”
Even the pageant process was fun and relaxed, Tiffany described. “The entire process was extremely laid back, there was never a time when I felt “judged” or uncomfortable. Every person who was there, judges included, were there to have a good time, to become part of a larger global Irish community and to celebrate all the amazing women there.”
The actual time Tiffany and contestants spent on stage was a very miniscule part of the decision process by the judges. The judges spent time observing the contestants interact with each other and the locals throughout the day, and occasionally would give personal and group interviews. No matter how ‘laid back’ the judges were, Tiffany did not envy their job. “I can’t imagine how difficult their decision was because there was not one girl there who did not deserve to be there and who didn’t light up a room by simply walking into it.”
Because of the relaxed atmosphere created by judges, staff, locals, and fellow contestants, Tiffany was not nervous for her interviews, personal, group or on stage…except for one hyperventilated moment. “The only time I truly was nervous was a few days before my ‘on-stage’. I pulled out my pipes to practice a little and make sure they were adjusting to the climate and altitude, and they sounded horrible! That joke, about bagpipes sounding like someone squeezing a cat… that was me! I panicked! In tears I immediately called Jay Leasure (Pipe Major of MCPD) long distance. I told him I refuse to play, that people would be ashamed if I got on stage and sounded like that. Luckily for me, Jay knows me too well- probably because he has taken me under his wing since I was 12 – and he quickly calmed my nerves and helped me fix my bagpipes from thousands of miles away. Crisis adverted!”
On the big night the pipes worked, as did Tiffany’s smile and charm. Beth Wiseman of the Denver parade committee was on hand to giving support commented, “She did an amazing job on stage speaking of her Irish and Finnish heritage, and how it came to be that a little Denver girl became the first Rose ever to play the bagpipes at the Rose of Tralee.”
When Tiffany was selected to continue on to the Rose of Tralee finale, she momentarily functioned in a stunned fashion but eventually was overcome with emotion at her accomplishment. “When I found out that I was selected, all the girls in the chairs around me were cheering and patting me on the back. I got on stage, looked for my family and Beth and her family, gave them a big thumbs up and hugged the other spectacular ladies who were standing next to me. I don’t think that it actually hit any of us that we had made it to the next round until we got off the stage and went to the “Roses Only” room… That’s when everyone’s water works began; we couldn’t believe that we would have another two weeks together in Aug. It was amazing to feel all the excitement everyone had for each other.”
Back home in Denver, it’s back to work, fundraising, and Queen Colleen and MCPD commitments before she heads back to Ireland.
“I am planning on going back around the 9th of Aug. I report for “Rose Duty” on the 12th of August so I would love to have a few days before to adjust and maybe experience a few things before all the fun and crazy shenanigans begin. But before I leave I have so much to do here! I am competing with Michael Collins Pipes and Drums a couple weekends as well as performing in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade. I have loads of fundraising, sponsorship and awareness to work on, because as much as this entire experience is a dream it takes a lot of funds to make it a reality. I am very excited to be holding the “BBQ Benefit for the Denver Rose of Tralee” at local pub Scruffy Murphy’s on July 7th from 3-7pm. There will be food, drinks, raffles and music. It should be a lot of fun and almost like a send off party before I head back to Ireland – I am very excited for it.
Tiffany said that she wanted to thank so many people for all of their support but want to thank to Denver Irish groups in particular. “I want to give a shout out to two Irish organizations that have truly helped all my dreams of Rose of Tralee become a reality so far. First, I want to thank the Michael Collins Pipes and Drums, who not only sponsored me to be Queen Colleen but have helped me in every way imaginable to get to where I am now. They have been more than a group of people who share a hobby with me, but a family and have had a huge hand in molding me to be the young lady I am today. Also, the Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, without their support and help I would never have been involved in such a life changing event. I have never seen a group of people so excited for someone else as this group is for me. I can honestly say their excitement for this event fuels my excitement. They have been so encouraging and have put so much faith in me. Thank you all!”
Fundraising for Denver Rose of Tralee:
BBQ Benefit for the Denver Rose of Tralee” at local pub Scruffy Murphy’s 2030 Larimer on July 7th from 3-7pm.
The Denver Rose Center will be selling Newbridge jewelry, the official sponsor of the Rose of Tralee, at the Colorado Irish Festival July 13 -15. Tiffany will also be making appearances throughout the weekend at the Colorado Irish Festival.