Browsing Tag

Miss Mayo


“I Want to Show People That I’m Proud to be from Mayo”

Tara Regan is a remarkable young woman.

Start with her course of study at Bloomsburg University: social work, with minors in political science and American Sign Language (ASL). She’s always wanted to be in a helping profession. The ASL makes her valuable to a particular client population and the political side of things, she believes, will make her more effective in dealing with the policy side of being a social worker. Too, her cousin is Second District U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle. “On the 4th of July and such, we would always talk politics,” she says. “I would be 12 years old, telling him what I think.”

Look back, too, on her time playing the rough and tumble Irish sports of hurling and camogie with the Glenside Gaelic Club and the Philadelphia Shamrocks. She’s also played field hockey since she was 9—and she continues to play intramural field hockey at Bloomsburg. She also performed in plays at Bishop McDevitt High School. “I always loved acting and theater. I’m really big into Broadway. I love Broadway shows.”

Finally, though, catch a glimpse of the small round white sensor on her arm, and when you hear the story behind it, you’ll understand one reason why Tara Regan, 19, of Glenside, is the new Miss Mayo. Continue Reading


Calling All Miss Mayos!

Marybeth Phillips with Michael Toner

Marybeth Phillips with Michael Toner

It was 1972. Marybeth Phillips was 14, a student at a small Catholic school, St. Leonard’s Academy at 39th and Chestnut on the Penn Campus. And thanks to two classmates who shared her love for Irish dance, something entirely unexpected happened.

She became Miss Mayo—tiara, sash, roses and all.

“I had two really good friends, both of them seniors, when I was at St. Leonard’s. They got wind of the fact that I was an Irish dancer,” explained Phillips, originally from 48th and Springfield in Southwest Philadelphia, now an actor, writer, music consultant and events producer living in Chester County—and part of the year in Ireland.

“Maureen Cavanaugh was active in the Mayo Association of Philadelphia, and Marian Gallagher was also very active in the Irish community. Both of these girls were step dancers. When I met them at St. Leonard’s, those two girls got me a dance part in the school show. Freshmen didn’t get to be in the show, but they lobbied for me. They said ‘Irish dancers are the best dancers, you’re gonna get a part.’ Of course, we were friends after that.”

Irish friends being Irish friends, Maureen and Marian invited Phillips to tag along on their jaunts—including the Mayo Ball, sponsored by the Mayo Association of Philadelphia. Phillips had never gone, but it appealed to her.

“‘You’re coming with us, you gotta go,’ they said. Well, it was black tie and gowns. I’d go anywhere where I could get dressed up.”

Phillips had a great time, but she thought that was all there was to it—until Maureen and Marian urged her to run for Miss Mayo, something that never would have occurred to her.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Phillips laughed, but that didn’t stop her. Once again, the prospect of wearing a gown had its undeniable allure, and Phillips thought she had nothing to lose.

She remembers the night as if it was yesterday. “The first part of the night, we hung around with friends and did the ceili dances, giggling and having fun. Then they pulled us into the dining room and interviewed us. It was a little nerve wracking. Billy Brennan was one of the judges, and he asked me what I knew about Ireland. How many counties were there.

“It was 1973, when Dennis Clark had just written ‘The Irish in Philadelphia.’ That was the beginning of my collection of Irish books. And I’d absorbed a lot of the culture from my grandparents and neighbors. (Grandmother Bridget Coyne was from Clonbur, Galway, and grandfather, Tom Ward, was from Tuam, also in the county.) My neighborhood had an overwhelming Irish character to it. You didn’t know anybody whose grandparents weren’t from Ireland.

“Anyway, Billy asked my how many counties Ireland had. I said 28. I just didn’t remember. I’m sure I knew. I don’t remember any of the other questions. But they’d generally ask you about things you liked to do. It was never ‘what’s your plan to save the world.’ They were looking for poise. They were looking for girls who were well-spoken. Do they have a lot of heart and soul? Do they knock themselves out for people? That kind of thing. They wanted to make sure you weren’t snapping gum or twirling your hair. They wanted someone friendly and outgoing and, ideally, knowledgeable about the Irish and who cherished Irish traditions.”

Ultimately, despite the wrong answer, that proved to be Marybeth Phillips. And no one could have been more, as they say in the Irish tradition, gobsmacked.

“I was so surprised. I just thought: Now what do I have to say?”

Today, winners of local Irish contests, such as Miss Mayo, Mary from Dungloe and the Rose of Tralee, collect some nice prizes, including Waterford punch bowls, fancy jewelry, a large check, or a trip to Ireland.

Back then, it was a tiara, a sash and roses. And that was just fine. Especially the roses, Phillips said. “I was over the moon about those.”

She still has the tiara.

A year later, Phillips won the Philadelphia Donegal Association’s Mary from Dungloe pageant. That meant a trip to Ireland for the big international contest, where she came in third. But Miss Mayo was really the beginning of a lasting and significant relationship with Philadelphia’s Irish community, and with Irish culture. Becoming Miss Mayo made a big difference.

“It made me feel validated. Just all of those little layers of Positive reinforcement kept me involved. I took being Miss Mayo seriously. They like you to represent them, and they want you to continue on with your Irish interests.”

And Phillips did just that. She went on to teach Irish dance. She formed a Celtic dance troupe. She wrote a monthly column, “Putting on Airs,” for the Irish Edition. She joined the Philadelphia Ceili Group, and now serves on its board. She owns a home in Cortoon, Ballinrobe—in County Mayo, appropriately—just across Lough Mask from her granny’s farmland.And all of that is just scratching the surface.

Years later, the Mayo Association is still recruiting accomplished young women to represent them in the Irish community and beyond. As tough as the competition was in 1972, the competition seems tougher today.

“These kids started out in day care prepping for Harvard,” Phillips said. “They’re scary smart. They’re so accomplished, and so young.”

But one more distinction awaits the next Miss Mayo—she’ll be the 50th.

For that special occasion, the Mayo Association is hoping for a reunion of as many former Miss Mayos as they can round up. That’s Marybeth Phillips’ job. And it’s a tough one, but she’s staying positive.

“It’s hard. A lot of them are people who did not stay involved. So far there are something like six of us. If there are only 10 girls who enter the contests this year, and there are 10 of us, that’d be pretty good.”

The ball is on Saturday November 2, from 8 p.m. until the cows come home, at the Philadelphia Irish Center/Commodore Barry Club. Details here.

And you can learn about all of the Miss Mayos here.


At Last, a Sash of Her Own

Kathleen Paulson

Kathleen Paulson

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.”

News, People

Big Night for the Mayo Association

Kathleen Paulson, center; Katelyn D'Adamo, first runner-up, left; Miss Mayo 2009 Caitlyn Lotty; and Laura Clinton, second runner-up.

Kathleen Paulson, center; Katelyn D'Adamo, first runner-up, left; Miss Mayo 2009 Caitlyn Lotty; and Laura Clinton, second runner-up.

Early in the night, the crew at the Philadelphia Irish Center was rolling out extra tables. As the night wore on, if you had a tray full of drinks, you’d have a hard time making your way through the hordes of dancers that filled the floor.

That was the scene at the hugely successful 2010 Mayo Association of Philadelphia Ball last Saturday night. It was a night that saw the crowning of the new Miss Mayo, Kathleen Paulson, an accounting major at Neumann University, and the presentation of the President’s Award to Sister James Anne Feerick, I.H.M.

It’s hard to tell which was the greater highlight, so we’ll say both were. Sister James Anne is the longtime chaplain of the Mayos, a seasoned Catholic school educator and also a pretty fair dancer. (You’ll see her photos in our Flickr essay.) In addition to Ms. Paulson, the Mayo Association also named Katelyn D’Adamo first runner-up and Laura Clinton second runner-up.

As we say, we have a bunch of photos from the night, plus a neat little video of Olivia Hilpl’s Rince Ri School dancers, who performed for the crowd.

Check them out.

  • Watch the video.
  • News, People

    Crowning Glory: Inside the Miss Mayo Pageant

    That's Kaitlyn, third from left.

    That's Kaitlyn, third from left.

    By Kaitlyn Linsner

    Since I currently live in Philadelphia and am Irish-American, I would have to refer to myself as an Irish Philadelphian. And as an Irish Philadelphian, of course, I am interested in all things Irish in Philadelphia. I heard about a Miss Mayo pageant in the area and wanted to write about it, but instead I became a contestant.

    The Mayo Association is a nonprofit Irish organization that consists of descendants from County Mayo. The group has been around for 104 years. Through different fundraising events, the Mayo Association has worked with other organizations to help in the construction of the Galway Cathedral in Ireland and the Irish Memorial at Penn’s Landing. They have also given donations to Philadelphia charities and assisted physically and mentally challenged children, both here in the states and across the pond in Ireland.

    The Mayo Association’s main fundraising event is the Mayo Ball, held annually at the Irish Center located in Mount Airy. The Mayo Ball combines music, dancing, food, drink and the elegant Miss Mayo pageant. I decided to test my Irish heritage by attending this ball and also competing in the pageant, which resulted in a highly entertaining night.

    After sending in my Miss Mayo application, I had to buy a formal gown for the big event. On November 7, I was dropped off at the Irish Center. I was draped in black silk, my head covered with hair spray and bobby pins. There were 12 other contestants mainly from the Philadelphia area, ranging from ages 17 to 24, all of Irish ancestry and eager to compete for the grand prize: a round trip to Ireland. The new Miss Mayo has other duties, such as representing the association in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade and also making appearances at other social events.

    We all arrived around 5 p.m. in our pageant garb and anxiously sat around, waiting to be interviewed by the four mysterious judges waiting in a different room. We then attempted to make small talk with each other, but really this was a way to scope out the competition. Who was wearing the nicest dress? Who had the nicest earrings? And, of course, who has the most qualifying attributes? We talked about our high school endeavors, and I became witness to what low-key pageant girls like to emphasize.

    “I don’t really like to give speeches although I was captain of the speech team in high school.”

    “Oh, I just threw my hair up in like a half-hour and re-used a prom dress. Yeah, thanks, I know it looks really nice, but really I don’t put much effort into what I look like.”

    As we all know, of course, the judges are really looking at what’s on the inside.

    I was contestant number 10, and as each girl resurfaced after her interview, the others discretely preyed on her knowledge, wanting to know what kind of questions were asked in order to formulate some exceptional responses beforehand.

    I didn’t quite care. I entered into the interview hoping to fully express my undying love for Ireland and service through my responses. The four judges sat on a panel, I sat awkwardly close in front of them and answered questions for about five minutes. They were, of course, on a time limit because the dancing, food and drinking was more important. I’d have to agree.

    After the interviews, the 11 contestants and I ate some sandwiches and fruit (must keep the pageant girls skinny) and then took some solo and group photos. I guess this was my first shot at modeling; it took me 10 minutes to decide where to place my arms.

    We then entered into the large ballroom where there was a large stage and many tables filled with guests of all ages dressed to the nines. The music started and soon the Irish were jiving, waltzing and smiling through set dances as the band played old Irish hits.

    Around 9 p.m. we had to line up with our escorts to walk across the ballroom. Two bagpipers led a group of about 30 Irish dancers from the Rince Ri School of Irish Dance. As they danced, we lined up with our escorts. I did not have one and was assigned to walk with the president of the association’s husband. A large age gap, yes, but at least his tux matched my dress.

    We walked across the ballroom, lined up onstage in front of the eager audience and then waved when we were introduced. I tried to stand like a pageant lady, which of course means I had no idea how to stand, and I believe my wave looked like a cross between Miss America’s delicate gesture and a raptor claw.

    Then the festivities continued. Supposedly the judges were watching our every move, and this prompted me to talk to strangers and do the twist with a nun. I tried to learn dances and had to hold myself back from guzzling pints of Guinness. I was not completely sure if an Irish pageant condoned drinking.

    11 p.m. rolls around. It’s decision time. We all congregate around the stage, and some girls giggled, trying to decide who they think the winner is. The dang photographer kept snapping photos, and since most of the girls knew I was writing a story on this, they began to ask me if I was a spy who actually knew the results from the get-go. Not true.
    On stage we go, and sweating in the spotlight I stood waiting as the MC started to announce the winners. Second runner up, first runner up and the winner is… not me.  The new Miss Mayo is Caitlin Lotty, and she is all smiles and instantly congratulates all contestants with so much joy even I could not stop smiling.

    “I am totally floored! I can’t believe this!” Caitlin said. And as she was crowned and given flowers, all the guests clapped and clapped as her mother jumped around with excitement.

    Cue the music and dancing, and everyone continued to drink and be merry. I had a pint of Guinness, did some networking and left with a large grin.

    I lost the pageant, yes, but I now know of an adorable Irish tradition located in a great Irish center in Philadelphia. Although this experience does not quite add up to a free trip to Ireland, I still had fun. Cheers, Mayo Association, thanks for a good night.


    Taking You Home to Mayo

    Maureen Brett Saxon greets Tommy Moffit.

    Maureen Brett Saxon greets Tommy Moffit.

    The most electrifying moment in the Mayo Association banquet came toward the end, when the new Miss Mayo was announced. When Caitlin Lotty’s name was called out, she looked startled, surprised, pleased, thrilled, blown away, shocked,stunned, gobsmacked—everything all in one.

    The second-year nursing student at Neumann University calmed down fairly quickly (although the smile never faded), and she accepted her crown and sash with grace, thanking the association and saying that the honor would show just how much nurses could accomplish.

    The Mayos also conferred the president’s award upon Kathleen Gavin Murtaugh. The Sweetheart of Mayo—and she really fits the name—was Agnes McCafferty.

    Aside from the awards, the Mayo banquet was a night of music, dance and fun. The Philadelphia Irish Center ballroom was filled nearly to capacity.

    We have some photos and a bit of video from the night.

    Check out the video.


    Calling All Irish Girls

    Two of the area’s county organizations are looking for a few good Irish girls to represent them.

     The Mayo Association of Philadelphia is sponsoring the Miss Mayo Pageant, which will be held during the  104th annual Mayo Ball at the Irish Center on Saturday, November 7.

     Miss Mayo must be between the ages of 17 and 27, of Irish extraction or birth.  Contestants are judged on their character, integrity, poise, community involvement, appearance and awareness of their cultural identity. 

     Miss Mayo receives a roundtrip ticket to Ireland and other gifts. She represents the Mayo Association throughout 2010 at the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the Mayo Christmas Party, Social, the Our Lady of Knock Mass, and other events sponsored by the society.

    If you have questions about the pageant please contact Pauline at 610-955-8411 or Olivia at 215-715-8778

    To fill out a Miss Mayo application, go to the associations’s website.  

     The Donegal Association sponsors the Mary from Dungloe pageant at its ball, this year scheduled for November 28 at the Irish Center. It’s open to young women 20-25 who are either Irish born or of Irish descent. The winner represents the association in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and other events, and goes to Ireland to compete in the international Mary from Dungloe competition.

     To apply, contact Michelle Mack at  215-518-3403 or Marie Gallagher at 610-299-9355. There Is an application online at the group’s website.