By Stephanie Lennon
My Irish heritage has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up, Irish music was the theme song in our home, the tea kettle was always warm, and visits between Donegal, Ireland and Philadelphia were customary. I grew up with a complete sense of my family in Ireland, as well as my Irish citizenship (I hold dual citizenship). I have been lucky enough to sit in the old farmhouse that my grandmother grew up in, hear stories of fairy rings and banshees, and watch my cousin, Brendan Devenney, win “Man of the Match” during Donegal GAA games. More often than not, it was the Irish who made the trek across the Atlantic to enjoy time with “the Philadelphia Lennon’s,” but we also traveled across the pond to experience our native soil firsthand.
As I was walking out the door on November 27, my cell phone rang and it was my cousins from Donegal. They were calling to wish me the luck of the Irish during the 2011 Philadelphia Mary from Dungloe Pageant. They asked if I was nervous, and without hesitation, I replied no. The previous night, as I said my evening prayers, I asked my grandmother, Mary Cannon Lennon, who hailed from Newtowncunningham, Donegal, to send me some Donegal Luck from heaven.
As soon as I entered the Irish Center, I felt completely comfortable. Michelle Mack, the chair for the Mary from Dungloe contest, and Kiera McDonagh, the reigning Philadelphia Mary from Dungloe, greeted each one of us. As the introductions started flowing, I found connections to the other girls. Each one of us was unique, with amazing resumes to wow the likes of Miss America. We brought our own energy and unique personality, as well as our passion for our Irish heritage. This contest, which emphasized personality, community involvement, knowledge of Irish history and most importantly a love for Irish heritage allowed each of us to highlight our individuality within the framework of the Philadelphia Irish society.
Throughout the night we exchanged stories, experiences and laughs. We danced the reels together and shared good craic and by the end of the night, I felt that I had made eight new friends. It wasn’t until midnight that I felt nervous. As we followed the grand march on stage, I started to wonder. After what seemed like hours, Theresa Flanagan Murtagh, the emcee, announced the runners up. Then, followed by a loud drum roll, she announced my name as the 2011 Philadelphia Mary. I don’t think I heard it at first, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw my family jump out of their seats in applause and it hit me. I was completely and utterly shocked.
I don’t know if it was my grandmother, Mary from Donegal, looking down on me from heaven or the fact that she met my grandfather at the original Irish Center shortly after they both immigrated to Philadelphia. Either way, I am blessed with the honor of being the 2011 Philadelphia Mary from Dungloe. I am looking forward to the coming year, as I represent the Donegal Association at various events and functions, including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the International Mary from Dungloe contest in Ireland this summer.