Waterford Rose Kirsten Mate Maher has been crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee.
The 21-year-old student and part-time model from Waterford is the third mixed-race women to become the Rose of Tralee, after Luzveminda O’Sullivan who won in 1998 and Clare Kambamettu who won in 2010.
She is also the first African-Irish woman to win the Rose of Tralee. She was the favourite or joint favourite, along with the Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey, all along.
Her parents joined her on stage after she was crowned. She admitted to being “speechless” after the announcement was made.
Ms Maher's father, Kwalo Mate, was an army officer from Zambia; her mother Jacinta is from Waterford. They met while her father was training in the Curragh and he went on holidays in Waterford.
He had to return to Zambia just before his daughter was born and did not see her until she was almost two. “I still have the teddy bear he gave me,” she said.
Ms Maher currently works in a boutique in Tramore, Co Waterford. On Monday she was notified that she had been accepted on to a course at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)to study Multimedia and Application Development.
“I certainly did not think it would be me. I haven’t clicked any buttons yet. I might have to click on the defer button,” she said.
“I haven’t thought this far ahead. I really haven’t. I don’t know what I am going to do yet. I’ll have to make a few plans.”
She sings with the Island of Ireland Peace Choir, which was formed in the wake of the Omagh bombing. She is also a keen musician and plays with the Waterford Hockey Club.
Ms Maher expressed some irritation that the media coverage was focusing on the colour of her skin.
“It is something you touch off but you don’t dwell on too much. There is a lot more to me than the colour of my skin and my hair,” she said.
However, she said she was proud of her Zambian heritage and many of her relatives in the country were watching the Rose of Tralee.
“My Dad was over in Zambia last month and he was filling them in what the Rose of Tralee is. I don’t know what they are going to think when they find out about this. They are probably all in bed now.
“I like to stay in touch with my Zambian culture. I can’t wait to go back there. It’s the first thing on the list this year.”
As a hockey player, the success of the Irish women’s team who got to the Hockey World Cup final this year has been an inspiration to her.
Making a name
The crowning followed an eventful festival. Tralee has a knack as a town of making a name for itself. In 1997 it generated worldwide headlines by persuading the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, to visit at a time when he was a semi-recluse.
That anniversary was marked with the relocation of a memorial in his honour in Tralee's town park on Thursday in the presence of the Ohio Rose Erin Stefancin (Armstrong was from the state) and the man who made the visit happen, former tánaiste Dick Spring.
The memorial has 2019 written in Roman numerals making it probably the first in the world to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, which isn’t until next year.
The Rose of Tralee took another giant leap into the conversations of the nation on the first night of the live final. There have been a few surprises in recent years: the marriage proposal in 2013; the news in 2014 that Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh was a lesbian; and then Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins, who went public on her support for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in 2016.
However, not in the wildest recesses of anybody’s imagination was it expected that a Rose would say her parents had both been heroin addicts.
Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey’s story was the best-kept secret in Tralee. She first revealed it at a pre-interview with the Rose judges six weeks ago, but it was not part of the pre-publicity for the festival.
Instead, attention was focused on her being the first mother to make it to the live final. She has a three-year-old daughter, Emmy.
The other Roses did not know her parents’ story either until after she spoke about it on stage.
Her performance on stage in which she sang Aslan’s Crazy World saw her odds tumble with the bookies. Irrespective of the final outcome, she was the story of this year’s competition for many viewers.
“Blow it up now ref. Carlow Rose. Outstanding,” tweeted one admirer.
Bouts of depression
The festival's reputation for tweeness was confounded again on Tuesday night when the first contestant, Mayo Rose Rachel Gibbons, spoke of experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety for many years. It included a 12-week programme at St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin which finished last January.
“I have the most supportive family. I don’t think I would even be alive if it wasn’t for them,” she admitted.
She added a bit of levity to her story, telling the obligatory anecdote about the postman finding her “naked as the day I was born” when she neglected to close the blinds on her bedroom.
Chicago Rose Katie Callanan could not be faulted for her dedication to the festival. She worked as a volunteer in Tralee last year, which saw her commuting from Dublin every day. She also attended seven Rose selection events.
“What would you like to go on to do, the big picture?” asked host Dáithí Ó Sé innocently.
“I’d like to take your job Dáithi,” she responded.