DRUMGATH’S very own Caoimhe O’Hagan will be representing County Down at this year’s Mary from Dungloe Festival starting on Saturday.
The Down Mary will be involved in the international festival’s 51st year running from Saturday, 28 July to Sunday, 5 August bringing young women from all parts of the world to the town of Dungloe in County Donegal.
The 22-year-old is one of 14 Marys who have been selected to represent their county or city.
The 14 Marys are not just from Ireland, they include young ladies from cities including Glasgow, New York, Chicago, Dublin and includes Belfast Mary, Jade Rodgers who runs children’s dance classes in Newcastle.
A past pupil of Our Lady’s Grammar School, Newry Caoimhe has very recently graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a BEng in Software Engineering.
Caoimhe said this was the last year she could apply for the festival as she has been offered a graduate role in Dublin.
And it was through “happy childhood memories” of holidaying in Maghery, near Dungloe that she first fell in love with the festival.
“My family have a holiday home in Maghery and for the last 12 years we have spent every summer and weekends throughout the year up there.
“Growing up I loved seeing all the Marys at the festival, to me they were like princesses, so it is very exciting to finally be living that dream I had as a young girl and there is something very special about being able to represent my county.”
The festival is based on the story of Mary Gallagher, a daughter of Paddy and Annie Gallagher from the townland of Lettercaugh, who was described by her school friends as being the “most beautiful girl from these parts”.
Local stonemason and composer Padraig MacCumhaill, a close friend of the Gallaghers wrote the now famous ballad, “Mary from near Dungloe” and the release of the song in April 1968 by Donal Lunny is said to be the “foundation stone” on which the Mary from Dungloe Festival was built.
Caoimhe received word that she would represent County Down during the last week of her university exams.
“No-one else was put forward to represent Down so initially I was on a waiting list, as there is a cap of 14 Marys.
“It was the week of my last exam in uni and I got an email telling me that there was a space.
“I was absolutely thrilled.”
She added: “I am hoping that representing Down in the festival will give some publicity to it for our area in the hope that other girls in years to come will put themselves forward.”
The Marys will spend the week visiting their sponsors, taking part in activities including paddle boating and a sports day and a gala ball on the Friday evening, where they will enjoy a four-course dinner followed by entertainment with their escorts.
Caoimhe is being sponsored by the Strand Bar in Maghery which her family frequents when staying there.
“On the first day we are brought out on to the stage and introduced to the crowd.
“In the days following there is so much happening such as a visit to Glenveagh Castle, a mayoral reception at the Guild Hall in Derry and attending the Country Concert for some dancing and jiving with country stars.”
In addition, the Marys will visit Dungloe Hospital and Day Centres before their official interviews take place on Saturday morning.
On the last day of the festival, the Marys will take part in the carnival parade before the crowning of the 2018 Mary from Dungloe by Daniel O’Donnell.
The crowned Mary will have the opportunity of representing Dungloe for the year while attending various events plus 1,000 euro cash, jewellery, being dressed for the year by a clothing boutique and a week’s holiday in Donegal.
“I am most looking forward to meeting the other Marys and getting to know them throughout the course of the week,” Caoimhe said.
“This year’s theme is Local Heroes and I think it is really inspiring that so many young women are coming together to be ambassadors for their areas.”
Caoimhe has been receiving fantastic support from the people of Drumgath so far.
An avid follower of GAA, Caoimhe played Gaelic football for her home club, Drumgath for many years before joining Annaclone U16s.
As well as her love for GAA, Caoimhe has been busy volunteering for the Michaela Foundation for the last six years.
She has been involved in their summer camps and completed a sky dive, raising £1500 for the charity.
Caoimhe was awarded the Pope John Paul II Gold Award for recognition of parish involvement and social awareness in the local area.
Speaking about the overwhelming support her family have given to her, Caoimhe said her mum Geraldine and dad Peadar are “over the moon” with their daughter taking part this year.
“It was always my mum’s dream to have me representing Down in the festival.
“Our family have so many happy memories in County Donegal so it really is an honour to be a part of it this year,” she added.
Caoimhe has one brother, Oisin and two sisters, Orlaith and Annie who will all be travelling up to support their sister.
And not forgetting Caoimhe’s biggest fan, her granny Betty Fitzmaurice who lives with Caoimhe and her family.
“My granny is very excited about this year’s festival and she is very proud of me.
“It is lovely to have her involved with it all,” she said.