At Last, a Sash of Her Own
When Neumann University accounting major Kathleen Paulson decided to enter Philadelphia’s 2010 Miss Mayo pageant, she already had a pretty good idea what to expect. Caitlin Lotty, Miss Mayo 2009, is one of her best friends at Neumann and was her roommate in sophomore year. And when Caitlin, a nursing major, traveled to Ireland last summer—her prize for winning the pageant—Kathleen went along.
And it was Caitlin who encouraged her to give it a try this year?with an added nudge from Sister Marguerite O’Beirne, Neumann’s vice president for mission. (Sister Margaret, something of a queen maker, also gave Caitlin a gentle shove last year.)
Without such encouragement, Kathleen says, “I don’t think I would have done it. She (Sister Margaret) and Caitlin both pushed me to do it. Sister Marguerite sent me the application form. She’s very persuasive.”
The thought that she might win also never entered her head. “The other girls I was talking to, they were all so accomplished,” Kathleen says. “I’m just a 20-year-old trying to get through college, I’m not doing anything life-changing. (Knowing that) kind of relaxed me because I didn’t think I was going to win. I thought maybe I‘d do OK, but I definitely didn’t think I was going to win.”
Looking at Kathleen’s background, she clearly had a better shot than she realized. She’s been an Irish dancer all her life, first at the McAleer School of Irish Dancing in Wilmington, Del., her home town, and later with the Broesler School of Irish Dance. Her mother Eileen also has been involved in dance as well. She danced as as a girl and serves as co-chair of the Irish Culture Club of Delaware Feis. Brother Nick dances competitively. Like most dance dads, father Nick was also pulled into the act, accompanying the kids to competitions and lugging all the costumes and other paraphernalia. (He has a bumper sticker, Kathleen says: I Don’t Dance, I Finance.)
As for many kids who wear the wigs and the ghillies, dance was Kathleen’s entree to Irish culture and, indeed, to Ireland. She’s traveled there five times. Her Miss Mayo trip will mark her sixth. She believes her great familiarity with the culture helped her snag the tiara.
“I’m fifth generation Irish, so I don’t have any direct connection,” Kathleen says. “Still, I identify with my Irish heritage. As an Irish dancer, we always went over to Ireland. Some of my closest friends are from dancing. For a lot of kids, your friends are from school and your neighborhood, but mine are from dancing, and they’re from all around the world.
“A lot of the people I encountered through dance (like Veronica McAleer), they had direct relatives in Ireland. Those relatives would all take us in like we were a member of their family. We have a couple of good friends in Killarney; we like to say they’re our adoptive family. They love to have us over and it’s always a lot of fun.”
In her interview with the Miss Mayo judges, Kathleen says, she thinks her love of the culture and people of Ireland shone through. She says she especially appreciates the legendary hospitality of the Irish. “They’ll always ask you in for a cup of tea and a scone and a biscuit,” she says. “They always have time to sit and chat with you.”
Now, with her Miss Mayo win, Kathleen will have another chance to experience the warmth and companionship of the Irish up close and personal. And of course, she says, the win itself is gratifying.
Even though she danced for years, competition was never her thing. She was always in it mostly for the ceilis and socializing. Her brother Nick was the one who racked up all the medals. But winning Miss Mayo makes up for a lot. “My brother always won the sashes,” she says. “So now I finally got my own sash.”