INTERVIEW Tiaras, travel and Tralee

Living

Ciara Galvin

ON her way home from Tralee last week after handing over her Rose of Tralee sash and crown, Maria Walsh pulled into a petrol station and filled her car.
Back to reality for the Shrule native, but minutes later she was swarmed by a team of young girls from Ardrahan looking for selfies and ‘a chat’ with the 2014 International Rose of Tralee.
It proves that people’s draw to Maria is constant, sash or no sash. Settling back into life, does the former Philadelphia Rose mind still being approached by people? Absolutely not. The infectiously, good humoured, Maria says she will miss not being in contact with people as much as she was.
“I will miss the excuse to go out and meet people now. I will miss the fact that when schools go back in September, I won’t have that opportunity to head in there now, though I might if they get me in there as former Rose,” she says.
Having visited well over 60 schools nationwide during her year, Maria sees her interaction with young people and visiting these schools as one of her biggest achievements.
“We remained constant, we remained in the [public] eyesight for the 12 months and I wanted to do that, to show people that the Rose of Tralee is more than two nights on TV.”

Air miles
Working as a fashion brand manager in Philadelphia while undertaking her Rose of Tralee duties meant that Maria spent half the year in the skies over the Atlantic. From being crowned in August 2014, until January 2015, Walsh worked five days in Philadelphia and flew home to Ireland every weekend. How did she manage it? By using her time wisely.
“There were many times when I was flying home for just the day, and flying home the next day, but you make it work, you only have 12 months to really fulfil something. I was doing my work for the Rose of Tralee coming over on the flight and then going back to Philly I was doing the work for Philadelphia,” explains the passionate volunteer.
Since returning from her trip to Tanzania with Irish NGO Development Perspectives at the end of July, this is the longest Maria has been in one country at any given time over the last year.
The journalism and visual media graduate attributes her ability to juggle the last year to her very understanding former boss in Philadelphia.
In July Maria made the decision to officially leave her role and return to Ireland in pursuit of new opportunities.

The future
Asked if it was a daunting decision to leave the role and her adopted home of Philadelphia, the optimistic entrepreneur says she would rather take the chance than have regrets.
“I think there is no harm in staying around and seeing if any opportunity comes from my year, and I’m really trying to figure out if I can marry what I loved this year to my previous experience.”
“You have a very limited window of opportunity after the festival finishes, if there is any other opportunities and I didn’t want to get to September, October and back in Philly going  ‘Oh I wish that I stayed’,” she adds.
So what is on the cards for the future? Right now, the proud pioneer is looking forward to travelling to California for two weeks next month for a holiday, but is already concentrating on making the most of her opportunities. Along with being with a talent management company, Maria has enlisted the guidance of a career coach.
Despite her academic background, she doesn’t see her future solely in media and says she is keen to pursue opportunities in business, along with possible work in media.

The experience
A ‘kip and a cup of tea’ in her homestead in Shrule made up much of the time the avid Mayo GAA supporter spent at home during the year, but Walsh says her family understood the role she had.
“I’m sure they [parents] would have liked to wrap me up in cotton wool for a week every now and again but that didn’t happen. I got my stubbornness and workability from two people and they happen to be my parents [Vincent and Noreen].”
On being the first openly gay Rose of Tralee, Maria says she wasn’t fazed by having to come out to the country.
“I had been living with my family and friends as a gay person for a decent amount of time so it was just another thing. Transparency is such a big thing, especially with young people...That [coming out] didn’t faze me, I was obviously conscious that my parents now had a daughter who was very much known and taglined as ‘The Gay Rose’ and you have to be mindful of that and their own security and privacy around that. They were so supportive of me,” she says, adding that the messages of support from people were ‘phenomenal’.
Down in Kerry for all of the excitement last week, Maria says it was great to meet up with old and new faces but only got a brief moment to chat to Meath Rose Elysha Brennan.
“She was in and out of meetings and press events but we’ll connect over the next couple of days just to make she’s alright. She’s a great great girl.”
With a lot going on and endless opportunities, Maria has a lot to consider over the coming weeks. But, right now, her eyes are firmly set on Croke Park.
“I spent the last five days at the festival making sure I had people to call when I need All-. Ireland tickets. Now that I have no sash I need to make sure I have my name in,” she laughs.
And for the record she things Mayo will win by three points. Maigh Eo abú!

10 quick questions
Most prized possession?
My family

Most memorable moment from the year?
The stand out moment of the year personally was being presented with a Mayo jersey in Croke Park. From an ambassador point of view meeting the President of the United States was amazing. But turning around in the White House on St Patrick’s Day looking at the leading 300 Irish people in terms of ambassador roles was amazing.

Best place to be in Mayo on a sunny day?
The top of Croagh Patrick

What is your guilty pleasure?
Romantic comedies and ice cream

Three things you would bring to a desert island?
Paw paw cream, a person to have a good conversation with and a decent book.

Last book you read?
‘Hard Choices’ by Hillary Clinton.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
The perspective of being a child.

Last time you cried?
When my cousin Jimmy passed away.

What would you like to tick off the bucketlist?
A road trip across the States.

If you could have a superpower what would it be?
I answered this question in Philadelphia for my selection night and I said my super power would be to kick the winning score in Croke Park for Mayo.

Factfile
Name: Maria Walsh
Age: 28
From: Shrule, Co Mayo