One of Us

Molly Ronan


Ponte Vedra Beach native Molly Ronan was recently crowned the 2024 Florida Rose of Tralee. As the winner of the title for the Sunshine State, she will travel to Tralee, Ireland, to join Roses from the world over and appear on RTE, the Irish national television network.

Tell me about the Rose of Tralee.

It’s essentially a festival and pageant, all kind of rolled into one. It started in 1959 as a way to celebrate Irish women, Irish heritage and culture. Now it has grown to have international centers. Women from all over the world participate in their local events, and then those who are selected go to Ireland for an 11-day tour. It ends with the last several days in Tralee, where they celebrate the women, who are featured on a television broadcast.

There are people of Irish descent the world over.

Oh, yes. There’s a Rose this year from Dubai, who’s coming to participate. They have a center in Abu Dhabi. There are ones all across the U.S., of course, and Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

How did you first get involved in this?

I grew up doing Irish step dancing. That was always a big part of my life. When I was 16, I saw all of these girls at one of the dance competitions with these sashes that said, “The Rose of Tralee.” I’d always known about the festival. I just didn’t know it was in Florida.

When I saw them, I thought, “I need to take part!” So, the following year, I signed up and I participated as a junior, so I was a Teen Rose. And then I went on in 2018 to participate for the Rose and wasn’t selected and then came back in 2024 and was selected as the Florida Rose.

What’s involved in competing?

It’s more a personality contest. It’s not quite the traditional pageant model, like a Miss America. So, you do an interview with a panel of judges. Then you do a group interview, you and the other candidates. Then, in the evening, you go back in a full-length gown, and you talk on stage about the different things that you do: your community service background, your job, any passion projects that you work on, any talent, things like that.

And then I sang and played the harp.

Where was the contest held?

They hold the selection event of the pageant in conjunction with a dance competition in Orlando. So, I went to the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando.

They have an Irish dance contest during the day, and then during the evening — at around 7 p.m. — they have the selection event.

There’s also the ability for young girls to participate as Rosebuds or Junior Roses like I had done the first year.

The emcee will ask you questions, and then you do your talent right there in front of the judges.

When did that happen?

That was on May 25.

How did you learn to play the harp?

I started at age 14. I just kind of had this feeling. I said, “Mom and Dad, I want to play the harp.” We were blessed enough that they gave me a harp that Christmas, so I started playing then.

And then, I ended up taking lessons with the great Elizabeth Landis, who is a classically trained harpist. I studied with her for over two years, and it was just wonderful. She taught me so many things about the harp, technique, things like that. So, I’ve been able to play at weddings and different events, stuff like that in the area.

I also like to sing, and play as I sing, so it’s nice. And it goes perfectly, not just with Irish music, but with all different styles of music. It’s just an amazing instrument. I’m just so blessed to play it.

I saw that you also play the flute.

Yes, I also play the Irish flute and tin whistle. I actually started playing flute in the Landrum Middle School band.

I started on the silver, and then I transitioned into the wooden Irish flute when I was about 16 or 17.

Tell me about your Irish background.

On my dad’s side, his grandparents are from County Cork and County Clare. And then, my grandma — so his mom — both of her grandparents were from County Cork. She was a flaming bright redhead growing up. She did Irish dancing in New York City.

Her uncle actually owned an Irish pub. So she just grew up always around it and was very passionate about her Irish roots.

On my dad’s paternal side, his grandparents, my grandpa’s parents were both from County Cork and Clare, as well.

So, my dad has always instilled in me a love of the Irish culture. He’s a musician, as well, so that’s how I have worked and developed these instruments that I play. We worked and we sang in places together quite a bit. We’ve always done our Irish music around St. Patrick’s Day. We do church gigs and other local gigs.

There’s a song called “The Rose of Tralee,” and he would always sing it to me as a young girl; he would always change the name from Mary to Molly. So, I grew up just loving it.

Now, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way!

I see you’re going to be on Irish TV.

I’m very excited. Growing up, I watched the television program a lot. And I watched, especially, all the other girls from Florida who go.

You’re from Ponte Vedra originally.

I still live in Ponte Vedra. I went to PVPV Rawlings, Landrum and then Ponte Vedra High School. (Go Sharks!) I went to UF for college. And I ended up moving back home. Now I’m here and I work as a substitute teacher at St. Paul’s Catholic School. I’m also a freelance wedding and event harpist, and I work with my mom. She has her own business, Key Deer Consulting. So, I also work with her, as well.

What do you like best about living here?

When I see friends from school who have gone to other places and then ended up coming back either to visit or live, I think: Why would you leave here? It’s paradise!

It’s truly just beautiful. I grew up here, so I can’t compare it to anything else, but it’s truly just the most laid-back, beach life.

What are your plans for the future?

Teaching Irish music. I very much want to pass the tradition to the next generation. With my time at the school, I’ve really uncovered my love of teaching and sharing it.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I’ve actually really gotten into running 5Ks. I’d never been a runner, but I did one on St. Patrick’s Day, and now I’m hooked.

Anything else?

When I was selected as the Florida Rose, I met some of the most incredible women and girls at that event. They truly, I can say, will be my lifelong friends. That’s something that I will be forever grateful to this experience for. This really is just such a big celebration of women and just such a big celebration of lifelong friendship and Irish heritage and culture.

That is unique, I think, to this organization and to this festival as a whole, and it’s something that I really just am so glad to be part of.

Truly, all of the girls here, they’re from different parts of Florida and they have so many cool careers and different passion projects and things that they’ve done, so to be chosen to represent them, I hope to do them proud. It’s just been the most wonderful experience.

I’m excited to go to Ireland to make even more friends and more sisters. We’re all really Rose sisters, I would say.