The Rose of Tralee is Ireland’s leading beauty pageant. It’s not only beauty that wins the day, though. It’s a combination of talent, looks and a winning personality. And according to the Irish Times on Aug. 24, all that was found this year in the person of Maria Walsh, the pageant’s first lesbian winner.
Maria Walsh is the “Philadelphia Rose” and is the 56th Rose of Tralee. Despite being the odds-on favorite, she was quite shocked when she actually won the competition.
Maria was actually born in Boston, but raised in Shrule, County Mayo, Ireland. She is currently a studio manager, working and living in Philadelphia. The beautiful and confident young woman actually represented Philadelphia in the pageant. She is not afraid to speak out.
“I’m confident in who I am as a person. To me, being gay is normal. I told my parents and they were supportive, as I knew they would be.
“I’m not ashamed of my sexuality by any means. The Rose of Tralee is about celebrating women’s intelligence, careers, their volunteer work. The question of sexuality just never came up. To me, being gay is normal; it’s natural.”
Maria says that she didn’t even realize she was homosexual until she met and fell in love with a young lady. “It wasn't difficult for me. I walked into a room one night and met this person that I dated for about two years. For whatever reason, I instantly knew that I wanted to be with her and do everything to make that relationship work.”
No longer together as a couple, the two have stayed friends. “She supported me in Tralee this weekend. I’m certainly not ashamed. People have been so supportive.”
In a country as religious as Ireland, you may think her declaration might have had a negative effect, but festival organizers welcomed and encouraged her to come out with Maria claiming, “I’m gay and I’m proud!”
Anthony O’Gara, Executive Chairman of the Rose of Tralee International Festival, said, “We are delighted that Maria was chosen as the Rose of Tralee. She is a wonderful person, an attractive intelligent woman and a very worthy winner who happens to be gay.
“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 everyone will respect that.”
According to Maria Walsh, it all comes down to this: “If this can help any person to feel more comfortable with who they are, then I’m happy.”