But after studying old Roman and Greek civilisations and covering many different periods of history, Jemma decided to take a year out – and what a year it has been.
“When we got home to Edinburgh there were so many cards, flowers and gifts from people, it was unbelievable. We got all the papers that we had missed sent to us and it was so amazing to reflect on the week and what a great experience we all had. In my parish, St Kentigern’s, we also had a celebration and a lot of the Irish community got together for that which was really lovely.”
And it wasn’t long before Jemma had her first official engagement as the 2010 Mary when she was invited to Glasgow to appear on stage at one of the Highland Radio concerts.
“It was very nice to be able to welcome all the people from Donegal in Scotland on my first official engagement and I went on stage at the concert and did an Irish dance before being interviewed by Shaun Doherty, which was very nice,” she said.
“But the first engagement I really enjoyed was when I was invited back to Dungloe the first time after the festival, to present awards to the transition year students at the Rosses Community School, that was a great honour.”
It has become tradition that the reigning Mary From Dungloe returns at the end of the year to officially turn on Christmas Lights, which was an event Jemma was really looking forward to, but no one expected the bad weather we had at that time in Donegal.
“We came over, but sadly it was cancelled and I wasn’t able to attend on the rescheduled date. But I have to say the journey from Letterkenny to Dungloe was really lovely in the snow, although my parents were probably quite stressed doing the driving,” she laughed.
“I have never seen Donegal in the snow as we traditionally always come during the summer for two weeks and for my gran’s anniversary in December, but it has never been that bad.”
Jemma was very honoured to be invited by The Donegal Association of New York to join them for this year’s St Patrick’s Day festivities in the Big Apple. She flew over for the week with her boyfriend Paul McKay.
“It was all thanks to Annmarie McCullough, the organiser of the New York Mary selection, who made it all happen. Paul and I got to join the association in their parade, which was incredible and when do you get to say you walked down the middle of the road of Fifth Avenue.
Jemma also attended the association’s St Patrick’s Day dinner dance where Margo O’Donnell was presented with the Donegal Person Of The Year award.
“It was really nice to meet Margo, she was really lovely to me and even sang Mary from Dungloe for me. As well as that I got to meet last year’s New York Mary, Lilly Wild, again and it was nice to be able to spend time with her,” said Jemma.
As if getting Mary from Dungloe sung by Margo in New York wasn’t good enough, only a few days later Jemma was serenaded, with the same song, by another well-known Rosses singer.
“We were invited to Daniel O’Donnell’s concert at Usher Hall in Edinburgh and he brought me up on stage and sang Mary from Dungloe for me. Both Daniel and Margo do such a great job promoting their native home.”
In May Jemma was invited to Donegal Live in Glasgow, but it was in the lead up to the event that she go to meet a very special lady. “I did some photo shoots for Scottish press to promote Donegal Live in Glasgow and I met the 2003 Glasgow Mary, Aisling Friel, who was my all-time favourite Mary when I was younger and it was so nice to meet her.”
Although she had so many nice experiences around Scotland, and even America, during her year as Mary from Dungloe, but it’s not these that sound out for her.
“It’s really the times I’ve been back in Dungloe for events that I enjoyed the most, that’s what it’s really about. At Easter I was over to officially open a pop up gallery in Dungloe by Pat Makinson who lives in the original Mary from Dungloe house in Lettercaugh. She invited us to the house for dinner that evening and it was a really special moment for me.”
The future is certainly bright for this charming young lady who is planning to pursue a career in her second passion – fashion.
“I am moving to London soon where I would really love to do something in fashion. I just thought I’d give it a go and see what happens as I can always go back to teach.”
Jemma is very much looking forward to returning to Dungloe for the festival and showing this year’s Marys around. “You are so fortunate to be invited back to do it all again and I can’t wait.
“It’s going to be really nice to meet all of this year’s Marys. You don’t get to do things like these very often, so being able to go back for a second time is very special.
“I’ve had a look at the festival line-up for this year and there’s a very good mix for young and old and I’m looking forward to seeing The Coronas, so fingers crossed the weather will be on our side and it will be great to see everyone again,” said Jemma.
The Mary from Dungloe International Festival takes place from July 23 to August 1.