Marissa Berry, the Philadelphia Mary in the 2017 Mary from Dungloe International Festival visited Donegal for the first time this week and has shared her story with Donegal Woman.

Marissa, 22, is from a small town in the US state of Pennsylvania. She is a business management student at the West Chester University outside Philadelphia. In the summer she volunteers with Berks Nature, a local conservancy that runs a camp for kids to teach them about the local environment and how to conserve it.

Her future is still to be confirmed, as she told Donegal Woman. “I still have some soul searching to do before I figure out what I really want to do after I graduate, so right now I’m just keeping an open mind,” Marissa said.

In her own words, here is Marissa’s Donegal experience:

“Most of my motivation for visiting Donegal was to introduce myself to Donegal, your beautiful county that hosts the Mary from Dungloe Festival. I got involved with the festival by

I got involved with the festival by suggestion of my newly acquainted cousin, Aoife Keegan, who is a former 2014 Kildare Mary and who’s mother’s family hails from Dungloe, Donegal. I met Aoife last year, connected by an American cousin of mine, and we immediately clicked. She was so kind to host me and show me around.

This September she suggested I participate in the Philadelphia Mary competition to try to get selected to go to Dungloe for the festival. Ever since then our two worlds have been ever so closely connected.

Our group for the trip consisted of my cousin Aoife, her boyfriend Damian (who is from Donegal), my boyfriend who is from Sweden and was experiencing Ireland for the first time himself, and myself.

We spent 4 days in Donegal, and the itinerary included stops at Dunree fort, An Grianian, Letterkenny, Dunlewey and Glenveagh National Park. The weather wasn’t perfect, but I was taught not to expect the best conditions from Donegal ;).

Although the landscape was something out of a fairytale, that was not the only part that made my trip so great. I have Irish roots, which is what has drawn me to visit your great Island, and I can’t do justice in words the feeling you get when you visit a place that your family once called home.

Most Americans find themselves trying to search for some sort of identity, which is why we like to talk about who we are and where we come from. My family has only been in America (on both my mother and my father’s sides) for 3 generations. There is a whole history out there that I have to go out and find. Thanks to the loving, welcoming personality of the Irish people, I was able to make friends and memories in far.

Thanks to the loving, welcoming personality of the Irish people, I was able to make friends and memories in far places, and having experiences of a lifetime.

My trip was absolutely breathtaking. The scenery in Donegal is something that I have only ever seen before in a magazine or on the internet. There is something very humbling about experiencing a world much bigger and much older than you are.

I was very lucky during this trip because I was taken around by Aoife and her boyfriend who is a Donegal native himself. I was able to experience the land and the history with the help of people that live there, and love it.

I can’t be thankful enough for the Mary from Dungloe festival, and what it has done for me already. I think it is one of the greatest gifts to give women, an opportunity to connect two very distant worlds.

I am very much looking forward to my trip back to Donegal for the festival. I can only dream of what Ireland looks like in the summer.”

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