Rose of Tralee head hints judges knew of winner’s sexuality

Anthony O’Gara says Maria Walsh was ‘openly gay, there was no secret there’


Ronan McGreevy

The judges who chose the Rose of Tralee probably knew Maria Walsh was gay but were not interested in her sexuality, the executive chairman of the festival has stated.

Anthony O’Gara said Ms Walsh was “openly gay, there was no secret there”, but the judges were not interested in her sexuality anymore than they were interested in the sexuality of any of the other 32 women in the competition.

When asked on Radio Kerry if the judges were aware of her sexuality, Mr O’Gara responded: “I would think that they were, but I certainly did not go there with them. The judges are very astute people. Maria is a modern woman as were all the other contestants and she didn’t hide anything and she didn’t want to highlight her personal life anymore than anyone else did. A little bit of common sense would tell people that was so.

“Let me be a little bit sensitive here. Maria would not have wanted her sexuality discussed if she didn’t win the Rose of Tralee because it would have brought unwarranted attention on her.

“The judges were no more interested in her sexuality than I was. Maria didn’t make her sexuality a secret, but she certainly didn’t want it discussed which was reasonable as one of the 32 Roses.”

Mr O’Gara had a swipe at the critics of the festival saying they should now “wake up” and do a bit more research about it before condeming it as old-fashioned.

Remarks from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray that the festival was “twee” were “lazy commentary”, he maintained.

“If that broadcaster was challenged and showed what the Rose of Tralee really was, they would be surprised,” he said.

“There are a few people out there who continue to support the notion that the Rose of Tralee is twee and old-fashioned. It is not trying to be sophisticated. There are ordinary people on stage trying to have a bit of fun. They are not pretending to be anything other than that.”

He described the Rose of Tralee as a bit of “harmless fun and we don’t pretend it is any more than that”, but he admitted the festival should do more to counter accusations of being dated.

It started in the 1950s, but was not of the 50s, he said, but reflected each decade in which it took place. “Hopefully we are reasonably typical of the best of what Irish people have to offer now.”

Mr O’Gara said he was pleased that the LGBT community were celebrating Ms Walsh’s success in winning the Rose of Tralee.

He said it was understandable that the LGBT community were sometimes “supersensitive” because being gay in Ireland is a “tough place”, but “I think it has changed immensely. It is a normal part of life now.”

Mr O’Gara said the festival was not interested in being an instrument of social change, and would remain “apolitical”.

“It is a good thing that in modern Ireland that people have the common sense to know that all people should be valued equally and I think they should,” he added.