by Shane Kenny
"To alleviate their anxieties, the soldiers would paint face masks to assist in communicating their emotions, which were often too painful to communicate effectively. None of them were trained or proficient in art – yet each unique mask produced was graphically engaging and assisted them in articulating their internal trauma."
2015 was a very significant year for myself personally and the other fortunate participants of the Rose of Tralee Festival. I can safely say that these people have become very special friends and that friendship will continue to blossom into the future. The true measure of a friend is how they will react when you fall on hard times, and these individuals certainly helped me as a result of their selfless honesty through the medium of the festival.
A word here or a message there can be the difference in many scenarios for those struggling. However, the class of 2015 went over and beyond to assist and inspire others through a mental health campaign we created called Unmask for Pieta in 2016.
The Rose of Tralee actually prompted me to realise how unhappy I was in myself at the time. After being chosen as Escort of the Year, and having had a truly unique and spectacular experience, the highs soon became clouded in despair.
My mother Nora had passed on exactly four years previously during the festival, having fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. Being a Tralee man, the” fest” always became a byword for fun and celebration. But this had deserted me after Mom passed away, hence why I decided to become a Rose Escort to honour her memory.
I collapsed emotionally after the festival, prompting me to defer my Masters of Architecture degree in Cork, and I felt a large degree of worthlessness and self-pity. Fortunately, events which occurred in the preceding months, such as Christmas reunions, trips to Frankfurt, New York and Belarus with my Rose and Escort friends, helped enormously in providing chinks of light in an otherwise gloomy fog of mild depression.
I was enlightened by a few trips to counselling after plucking up the courage, and by an article in the National Geographic magazine about army veterans suffering post-traumatic stress. To alleviate their anxieties, the soldiers would paint face masks to assist in communicating their emotions, which were often too painful to communicate effectively. None of them were trained or proficient in art – yet each unique mask produced was graphically engaging and assisted them in articulating their internal trauma.
The 2015 year chose to replicate this project by offering themselves as willing participants. Each individual created masks and accompanied them with anecdotes related to very personal experiences of mental health challenges they faced in their own lives. They “Unmasked" as such – sending them from as far away as Australia, America and Canada for the benefit of someone anonymous in need.
Funds from the project were raised for the mental health charity Pieta House both in Tralee and nationally, while the masks were displayed in the foyer of the Rose Hotel during the course of the 2016 festival, garnering much curiosity and awareness.
Without the honesty of the 2015 Roses and Escorts, or assistance from the festival, this wouldn’t have been possible. The masks were then donated to Pieta House in Tralee as inspiration for those utilising the service, and are still in use today.
I would personally like to thank the 2015 year once more for their contributions which in turn has helped me to understand them as people and myself on a deeper level. By self-reflecting on our own mental health, we in turn were prepared to help others through our actions.
Actions may speak louder than words, but when it comes to mental health, actions and words are both equally important to finding inner harmony.
- The true measure of a friend is how they will react when you fall on hard times
- A word here or a message there can be the difference in many scenarios for those struggling
- By self-reflecting on our own mental health, we in turn can help others
- When it comes to mental health, actions and words are both equally important to finding inner harmony
Shane Kenny is a 26 year old Rose Escort of the Year for the 2015 Rose of Tralee International Festival. He hails from The Spa, Tralee. His generous sponsors as Rose Escort were The Oyster Tavern Bar & Restaurant and Michael Williams Associate Architects. He now works as an architect for O'Mahony Pike Architects, Cork.