Rose heartened by response to revelations that she is gay

Festival describes Philadelphia Rose as a ‘very worthy winner who happens to be gay’

Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh was last night crowned as the 2014 Rose of Tralee. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Ms Walsh moved to the south Mayo village of Shrule in 1994. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

The new Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh has said she has received positive feedback since going public on being gay.

Ms Walsh said the question of her sexuality never came up during the Rose festival and was not relevant in any case.

She told The Irish Times that her achievement in winning the Rose of Tralee confounded critics of the festival who described it as old-fashioned.

“I would ask those critics who have previously said the festival is old-fashioned if they had visited Tralee over the course of a festival weekend? This was my first time in Tralee and all I experienced was a modern, fun and craic-filled time,” she said.

“I know the 31 other Roses who shared this moment with me were and are very far from old-fashioned. These women are classy, intelligent and identify with the many young women in this country and across the diaspora.”

She was heartened, she said, by comments from former minister Mary O’Rourke, who said the new Rose of Tralee epitomised the words of the song “it was the truth in her eyes ever-dawning”.

Lovely comment

Ms Walsh said: “I don’t know if that was what William Mulchinock had in mind when he wrote The Rose of Tralee, but it’s a lovely comment from Mary O’Rourke.

“One of the first people I met this morning was a shopkeeper in a filling station en route to Croke Park.

“When he congratulated me, I asked him if it was for being the Rose of Tralee or after reading the story in the Sun. ‘Both’, he replied.”

Ms Walsh attended the Mayo versus Kerry match yesterday with her family and will fly back to Philadelphia this evening.

She said her mother and father had known for some time she was gay.

“My family are very proud of me and the most important thing to them is that I’m happy and healthy,” Ms Walsh said.

Rose of Tralee executive international chairman Anthony O’Gara said the festival was “delighted” to have chosen Ms Walsh as this year’s Rose.

“She is a wonderful person. An attractive, intelligent woman and a very worthy winner, who happens to be gay,” he said.

Create interest

“Her sexuality will no doubt create some interest, hopefully all positive. She wants to be celebrated as Maria Walsh in the complete sense of her person and hopefully everybody will respect that.”

A festival spokesman agreed with Ms Walsh that the issue of her sexuality never came up during the competition.

Former Rose of Tralee Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin tweeted: “Our new @RoseofTralee_ Maria Walsh is a wonderful representative for both the festival and young women everywhere.”

She also tweeted: “Sexuality needn’t be a headline but @least a positive story like this brings Ireland’s dinner table & political conversations to 21st century.”

North Carolina Rose Nancy Boyce tweeted: “We love, support and stand by Maria Walsh 100 per cent and are excited about her reign as the International #RoseofTralee!”

Ms Walsh was born in Boston, but grew up in Shrule, Co Mayo.

Emigrated

She emigrated to New York three years ago to work in the fashion industry and moved to Philadelphia, where she now works as a fashion brand manager for Anthropologie.

During her interview on the stage in the Tralee Dome, she spoke about the three tattoos behind her right ear in honour of her cousin Teresa Molloy who died in a car crash in 2009.

She also spoke of being a pioneer having taken the pledge at her Confirmation when she was 12.