She’s young, she’s attractive, she’s the Rose of Tralee - and she just so happens to be gay. The first Rose of Tralee ever to come out.
But the Rose of Philadelphia Maria Walsh is much more than the label of “lesbian rose” which seems to grab most of the headlines.
Maria was in Derry this week as part of a tour of the 32 counties, encouraging local women to enter the Rose of Tralee 2015.
“Am I pioneer?” she says. “No. I’m just a girl with short hair and tattoos who happens to be gay.”
It was only after she scooped the coveted Rose of Tralee crown that Maria decided to reveal she was gay.
“I didn’t keep it quiet deliberately,” she said. “My sexual orientation just never came up. It’s not at the forefont of what I am.
“I identify myself with a number of things.”
Maria has been living as a gay woman for a number of years.
“The only reason I opened up about it was because I believe in transparency, education and being allowed to be who you are.
“It would be hypocritical for me to be here in this capacity and not be my true self and my true self is a member of LGBT community.
“Have I anything to do with modernising the Rose of Tralee, no, because the Rose of Tralee has been far more ahead of its time than people give it credit.
“Some think it is just a lovely ladies competition where we all sit discussing escorts and who we are kissing or dating. But we discuss so many things including education, politics, anything and everything.”
Born in Boston, Maria spent the first seven years of her life in the USA before moving to Mayo when she was 7.
But she now lives in Philadelphia, the American city she represents.
“I grew up watching the Rose of Tralee on television,” he said. “Summer would be coming to an end and all the cousins would watch it together.
“It was always on my bucket list to do but it had to be as the Rose for Mayo, or Philadelphia, the place I now call home.”
During her year as the Rose of Tralee Maria has travelled to many places and heads for Chernobyl in February.
She’s now supporting the Chernobyl Children’s Charity onesie world record attempt which takes place in Derry on April 26, 2015. “The search is now on for my replacement,” said Maria. “32 counties in 15 days, at this stage my eye lids are below my kneecaps.
“But it has been great. I came to Derry today, the City of Culture and they made me wear a onesie, it made me laugh.”
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