Belfast Telegraph

Newly crowned Rose of Tralee reveals she is gay

By Nicola Anderson

The new Rose of Tralee has been inundated with messages of support after revealing that she is gay.

After Maria Walsh (27) opened up about her sexuality, messages of goodwill have flooded in for the first gay woman to wear the famous pageant's crown.

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Maria (27) moved to Shrule in Co Mayo with her family 20 years ago, but following her graduation in journalism and visual Media at Griffith College, moved to New York and later to Philadelphia.

The new Rose said that she started a relationship with a woman some years back which lasted for two years, but she was now single.

"I'm not ashamed of my sexuality by any means," she told the Irish Sun on Sunday.

"The Rose of Tralee is about celebrating women's intelligence, careers, their volunteer work. The question of sexuality never came up. To me, being gay is normal; it's natural."

She revealed how one of the first people she had met that day was a shopkeeper in a filling station en route to Croke Park who had congratulated her.

"I asked him if it was for being the Rose of Tralee or after reading the story. 'Both,' he replied," she said. Maria said her family are very proud of her, adding: "The most important thing to them is that I'm happy and healthy."

She is being applauded for her openness about her sexuality and the Rose of Tralee organisation are firmly backing their girl. Executive chairman of the Rose of Tralee Anthony O'Gara said he was delighted with the choice of Rose. He said: "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."

Expressions of support for Maria have also been pouring in with 2005 Rose Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain describing her as "a wonderful representative for the festival and women everywhere".

Former Irish Health Minister Mary O'Rourke said the news underlined Maria's worthiness as the Rose of Tralee, with "the truth of her eyes ever dawning," just like the words of the song.

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