Newly crowned Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh has admitted: “I’m gay and proud.”
The 27-year-old Boston-born beauty who represented Philadelphia where she now lives was crowned the 56th Rose in a stunning ceremony on Tuesday night watched by close to a million people worldwide.
The Rose of Tralee is Ireland’s leading women’s pageant, stressing personality, talent and looks. There were over 70 contestants from all over the world this year.
Now she has revealed in an exclusive interview with the Irish Sun on Sunday newspaper that she is living openly as a lesbian.
And festival organisers have welcomed her decision to come out after winning the coveted title.
Born in America and raised in the Mayo town of Shrule, Maria is now based in Philadelphia where she works as a studio manager.
She told the Irish Sun: “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.”
Believed to be the first lesbian to win the award, Maria added that she realised she was homosexual after meeting a girl she fell in love with and with whom she had a long-term relationship.
She said: “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.
“I wasn’t a closet gay person until that point, I just met her and I was excited by this relationship. We loved each other and that’s what was so great about it.”
One of four children, Maria has been fully supported by her family.
She said: “My family and friends have been extremely supportive. My parents were very much about ensuring that their children are healthy and happy.
“Their only concerns were that my career and health and future were safe.
Now Maria hopes that speaking openly about her sexuality can help others.
Maria added: “Being gay and in a gay relationship is just one of many things I identify and associate with.
“I’m confident in who I am as a person. I told my parents and they were supportive, as I knew they would be.
“If this can help any person to feel more comfortable with who they are then I’m happy.”
She also revealed she is still pals with the woman she fell in love with and said: “She’s still a great friend. She was a great love of my life. It ended on great terms.
“She supported me in Tralee this weekend. I’m certainly not ashamed. People have been so supportive.”
Festival organisers have welcomed Maria’s decision to come out.
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.”
Philadelphia Rose Maria will jet back to America on Monday after cheering on Mayo in their All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry at Croke Park on Sunday.