Glenswilly dancer Niamh Shevlin is enjoying the afterglow as the weekend’s events sink in.

On Saturday night she was crowned as the 2024 Donegal Rose, impressing the judges amongst 16 ambitious hopefuls.

“When I heard my name I just went into this daze. When I stepped forward and everyone was cheering I realised, it’s me, I’m going to Tralee,” she recalls.

Donegal Rose celebration – Niamh and MC Noel Cunningham. Photo: Stevie Toye Logopix

Now Niamh, an Irish Dance champion, is ready to put her best foot forward to promote all that is great about Donegal.

The timing was just right. Niamh has taken a step back from full-time dancing to do her Masters in primary school teaching with Hibernia College. She is doing her placement at Glenswilly National School, with just two weeks to go before wrapping up and turning her focus to Tralee. She still dances with the prestigious Riverdance flying squad, a dedicated team that performs by invitation.

Not only were Niamh’s students and colleagues in Glenswilly delighted with her achievement, but another school community, a world away, was jumping for joy too.

Niamh has been teaching virtual Irish Dancing lessons to the students of Hands of Hope in Kampala, Uganda for the past year.

“They are on to the heavy shoes now,” Niamh says with pride.

“I can’t wait to get the sash on and show them all. They were so delighted for me going for this,” Niamh says ahead of their next lesson today.

Niamh had an eye-opening experience when she visited Uganda last March, helping at the school and seeing students’ home places in the slums and rural areas.

“I realised how they have so little, they come from the poorest of the poor communities and someone has to sponsor them to come to school. Just seeing how happy they are because of Irish dancing is so nice,” Niamh said.

“I’m hoping someday one of them will get half the opportunities I got with Irish Dancing.”

In March, Niamh was part of a group of Irish volunteers who officially opened the Irish Dance society in Hands for Hope School, Kampala

Glenswilly boasts three Roses. Amy Callaghan, another talented dancer, donned the sash in 2017 and 2009 Donegal Rose Clióna Heena from Ardara, who lives in Cloghan, also teaches at Glenswilly NS and has been sharing invaluable advice with Niamh in the staff room.

Niamh’s dance career began alongside her twin brother Gavin, dazzling audiences with their synchronized performances. Niamh debuted as a Lead Dancer with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance in 2019.

She says: “Irish dancing is a big part of my life and a big part of my personality. It has given me so many opportunities. I’ve been to 50 countries and six continents and that was all because of Irish Dancing and I never would have got that if it wasn’t for dancing.”

Niamh’s career has already made her a natural fit for the demanding Rose tour and the bright lights of the stage. There’s no fear of a packed schedule!

“I’m no stranger to getting up at 5am, putting on a full face of makeup and hopping on a bus!”

“My whole house is just obsessed with the Rose of Tralee and since Saturday we have been watching back on videos of the Rose tours, it looks like so much fun.”

Photo: Stevie Toye Logopix

Donegal Rose celebration – Katie McAteer hands over the sash at the Central Hotel. Photo: Stevie Toye Logopix

The selection night in Donegal Town, held in association with R McCullagh Jewellers, was also an immensely proud night for Niamh’s parents Mick and Geralyn from Bomany. Sharing in the celebrations from afar was Gavin, who is dancing across Australia with ‘A Taste of Ireland’. The close-knit family is looking forward to being reunited soon.

“I think it made Gavin a wee bit homesick not being there in Donegal on Saturday. He couldn’t be any further from home and we are a very close family, but he has his leave approved in August and he has a hotel in Tralee booked.”

Niamh and her parents celebrate the win. Photo: Stevie Toye Logopix

In the meantime, Niamh will be flying the flag for the Shevlin twins, for Donegal, and the Irish dance community.

“The whole Irish dancing community is going to be behind me as well as Donegal. I take a wee sense of pride in that,” she said.

“Everyone that is from Donegal is so proud to be from here it makes me so proud to represent everybody else, knowing that everyone here is so lovely and laid back.

“Obviously the scenery is so well-known but it has so much more than that. Donegal has some of the best Irish dancers and traditional Irish musicians in the world. Anybody in this scene knows the talent that Donegal has, but a lot of people in Donegal don’t actually know. I’m hoping to show people all the amazing talent we have.”

It’s safe to say that Niamh’s teaching Masters doesn’t spell the end of her dancing.

“I would love to get a hybrid of both going,” she said.

As she prepares for a whirlwind summer of being Donegal’s ambassador, Niamh would like to thank Boyle Construction for their support as sponsors, her parents and all her family, everyone who has their hotels booked already for Tralee, to Pure Boutique and all the other finalists supported her on that special Saturday.

Stay tuned to the Donegal Rose Centre social media for updates ahead of the Rose of Tralee Festival.

Donegal Rose Niamh Shevlin. Photo: Stevie Toye Logopix