- Created on 15 September 2014
The winner of Ireland's oldest and most popular festival, the Rose of Tralee, has announced that she is gay. Maria Walsh won the 55 year old competition held in County Kerry, which claims to find the ultimate Irish woman, judged on beauty and talent.
Just days after she was crowned the winner, Walsh revealed to a newspaper that she was a lesbian, making her the first gay Rose. The 27 year old told the Telegraph in an interview that she believed attitudes to the festival are changing - that reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
She told the paper “I’m sure there’s some negative critique out there... But critique is not bad, it just makes you a better person."
Walsh seems very happy with herself, her sexuality and her Catholic religion, announcing: “My friends think when I hit 50 I’ll have a nervous breakdown because I never had to worry about my inner demons. I am who I am and I’m extremely proud of who I am.”
Winning the competition, then outing herself, is a very powerful message to send out. In all the publicity that Walsh is currently doing she has defended the competition saying that it celebrates women's intelligence and their abilities, not just their looks. She even told the Irish Times that the question of her sexuality just "never came up" at any stage in the event.
It does seem that everyone is a winner: 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 is quoted of saying in the Irish Times. This year's Rose has certainly brought a lot of publicity to a not-so-well-known festival out of it's native Ireland. Handing over that sash was both well deserved and a very smart move.