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Belfast's Rose of Tralee loses crown

By Maureen Coleman

Belfast's newly-crowned Rose of Tralee has been stripped of her title after it emerged she was too young to enter the competition, it can be revealed today.

Cliodhna McCorley (17) from Co Antrim, was chosen as the winner of the Belfast heat at the Europa Hotel in Belfast earlier this month - beating 16 other finalists to claim the crown.

But when her application form was forwarded to the International Rose of Tralee Festival Office, it transpired that she was a year too young to enter the contest.

Cliohdna was immediately informed of the Festival Committee's decision to take the title from her and a new Belfast Rose, Mary Frances Loughran, from north Belfast, was appointed.

The decision means Cliodhna also loses out on thousands of pounds worth of prizes.

Last night, her mother Anne McCorley said it was a genuine oversight on Cliodhna's part and she had not read the Terms and Conditions properly before entering. She said Cliodhna had been disappointed when she was informed that she could not keep her crown and represent Belfast at the Rose of Tralee regional final in Portloaise in June.

But she said the teenager had accepted the decision "in a dignified manner".

Belfast Rose of Tralee organiser Michelle McTernan said Cliodhna had been a "worthy winner" and was a popular choice with the judges, but that she had to abide by the rules which stipulate all entrants must be 18 before the final of the competition in Tralee in August 2008.

"Cliohdna basically signed the form and didn't check the Terms and Conditions," she explained.

"It was a very unfortunate oversight and when the form went through to the International Festival Office, the mistake came to light.

"By this stage we had crowned Cliodhna Belfast Rose and it was a heartbreaking decision to take the title from her. In the four years I've been involved with this competition, this has never happened. I really feel for Cliodhna, but rules are rules and we have to abide by them. She is a very intelligent, mature girl and I've advised her to enter the competition again next year."

Mrs McCorley said her daughter had been the unanimous winner from a group of "beautiful, talented and intelligent girls".

"In spite of her great disappointment Cliodhna has accepted the decision in a very mature and dignified manner and wishes Mary Frances the best of luck."

Cliodhna' successor, Mary Frances Loughran, was pipped to the post by the 17-year-old by just one point in the Belfast final. Michelle said: "I think Mary Frances will be a great ambassador for Belfast."

In 2001 Londonderry girl Nadine Coyle was thrown out of the pop band Six after it emerged she was only 15 and not the required age of 18 for an RTE talent contest.

On that occasion, Nadine deliberately lied about her age and was asked to leave the band, but went on to join one of the most successful girl groups in the world, Girls Aloud.

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