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Maria comes home for Christmas

Maria comes home for Christmas

Christmas is almost upon us, and our fantastic Rose Maria Walsh comes home to celebrate the season in Kerry, we catch up on what has been a busy few months for her and we see how things have changed since that night back in August where she was Crowned Rose of Tralee

Can you tell us how the past few months have been? Has it been life changing?

NM Maria arrival kidsIt is hard to believe it has been three months since “PHILADELPHIA” was shouted out by the Kerryman – Mr Dáithí Ó Sé. People have asked me since “How has it been?” and to be honest, I can’t really find one word impactful enough to share how extraordinary it has been. It has indeed been busy. I have traveled and met many many people. And in all of these journeys I have been able to share how great the Rose of Tralee Festival is. The platforms of me doing this have been – quite grand to say the least. I have travelled to Kolkata, India with the Hope Foundation. I have been quizzed on the Late Late Show by Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ. I have walked the many stalls at the Ploughing Championshop. I have stood on the green field of Croke Park wearing my county’s colors. I have spoken to many young people; my first being at the Mayo Comhairle Na nÓg. I attended the annual Tatler Awards where I sat in a room with Ireland’s leading women. And that’s just a few things hence the struggle to find

the right word to showcase the impact it has been for myself and my family.
We as a team, and that includes the 69 other Roses I represent this year, are really trying to make an impact this year. Some may feel by putting on the sash we’ve achieved quite a lot and indeed we have, but we have also inforced confidence in the young people we all have met to date, showcased the charities we hold dear to our hearts and hopefully brought some smiles to the faces we’ve met along the way!
I am excited to see how this path will evolve. I have a lot more work to do and honestly right now, I am trying to take as many opportunities to share and promote Ireland’s oldest, greatest and most geunine festival across our diaspora.

What does it mean to you to switch on the Christmas lights in Tralee – where it all started for you last August?

I am excited to celebrate the beginning of Christmas in Tralee and with the people of Tralee. As an Irish person I am sad to say August was the first time I visited Tralee. Now I can’t imagine not making a trip every August to celebrate the Roses. My family, friends and myself were welcomed with open arms by the volunteers and the

people who took to the streets to share the celebrations with us all, and I am looking forward to meeting all those friendly faces again.

Are you planning on staying on for Christmas or will you be returning anytime soon after Christmas?

I will be celebrating Christmas this year in Philadelphia with my great friend Megan Swansen and her family. She was the young Philadelphia designer who created my unique stage dress. I have never celebrated Christmas in the States as
I always travelled home to be with my family, but I am excited to spend this holiday with a great family.
I will be back in Ireland for New Years, kicking off the countdown in Dublin.
You may see me for a little longer than a weekend come 2015!

Are you planning on staying on for Christmas or will you be returning anytime soon after Christmas?

I will be celebrating Christmas this year in Philadelphia with my great friend Megan Swansen and her family. She was the young Philadelphia designer who created my unique stage dress. I have never celebrated Christmas in the States as I always travelled home to be with my family, but I am excited to spend this holiday with a great family.
I will be back in Ireland for New Years, kicking off the countdown in Dublin.
You may see me for a little longer than a weekend come 2015!

If you are planning a long-term return to Ireland, how do you feel about making the move?

Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh 13Ireland has always been and will always remain home, and how lucky I am to call it that. For me, wherever my parents are, home is there. So making a move home is quite easy! I am excited to see how this journey pans out over the next few months. Being able to be more present in Ireland for a little longer than I have been to date will allow me to be as impactful as I wish to be. My main goal is to continuing in reinforcing how important it is we cherish and celebrate our Irish connections through the greatest celebration there is; the Rose of Tralee. The festival and the women who will step to the stage next year and the years after deserve this continued recognition. I also believe in supporting all and as many young people related charities and events across the country and world, as they are our future. Here’s to seeing what happens!!

We sometimes take the Rose of Tralee for granted here in Kerry, but in Philadelphia and a lot of the further away countries is it still as alive as ever?

Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh 3I don’t think Kerry people take the Rose of Tralee for granted, how they could! The local people and their families who take to the streets for the five day festival are what people who visit take home with them – you are the heart of it. Within the Irish community in Philadelphia, the Rose of Tralee is celebrated, more so for the month of March when the St. Patrick’s Day Festival is celebrated. Being honored with the International title for Philadelphia is a wonderful accolade for a city that was built by many Irish people. There is a large contingent of Irish people here in Philadelphia; in particular there is a very large Mayo “clan”, which keeps people tied to the ‘mother land’. With the inclusion of newly appointed Minister of the Diaspora Mr Jimmy Deenihan, I feel confident the Rose of Tralee will grow more.

Was it always your dream to be a Rose?

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As most little girls growing up in Ireland or within the Irish diaspora, the Rose of Tralee is an institution. A beautiful celebration of powerful Irish women and the many who support them. The Rose of Tralee has always been on the “maybe, someday” bucket list for me. When I moved to Ireland at the age of seven, I watched each year as the Roses took over the stage for two nights. I was in awe at the dresses and talents of the women I saw. As I grew older, I began to understand the essence of what being a Rose meant to the Irish communities.
Its not just about the pretty dresses and unique talents. It’s the celebration of our every day Irish woman. She is our local footballer, our local teacher, our local gardai, she is the girl next door and the girl helping out at the church gate collection. She is the woman who stands up and speaks out. The person who is pushing everyday to bring the best out in people. She is the one always smiling and the one always supporting. She is most proud of her Irish roots – whether she grew up in the Emerald Isle or not. She is the essence of what the Rose of Tralee is about. And I wanted to try and be that.
When I moved to Philadelphia over three years ago, I immersed myself into the City, the Irish community and felt most confident in my abilites. I always wanted to represent my county – Mayo or the next place I called home. And Philadelphia became that.

Tell us a bit about your charity work for the year. We saw some fab photos on your social media page; you looked like you were really at home there in Kolkata?

The past three months alone have opened up many opportunities to volunteer in many countries. I traveled with the Hope Foundation to Kolkata in India for a week to experience and explore the tremendous work the Hope team do in one of the poorest places in the world. I visited schools, sang songs, visited dump sites that the children called their “playground”. I travelled at night through two red light districts on a medic run and I got to see the beautiful colors, textures and buildings that make up Kolkata.

I have been to the Eastern Cape of South Africa with Niall Mellon’s Township Trust and I am honoured to have visited the homeland of the great Nelson Mandela. I met two hundred volunteers who travelled from Ireland to help children gain a better education. We built two schools in Nelson Mandela’s home village. A first since his passing last year. How impactful and wonderful to be a part of this. How exciting it is to share this experience with fellow Irish. All it takes is one idea and from there beautiful things are created.
Early next year I will travel with the inspiring Adi Roche and her team at Chernobyl Children’s International with twenty of the 2014 Roses. I am also planning on spending time with a NGO group called Development Perspective. Their objective is to challenge ideas we have about the world we inhabit.

Through discussion and experience, they hope to find ways to make this world a more equal place.

Maria kids groupEqually if not more, I am excited to meet many of our young people within Ireland and see the work they are doing in their communities. I was privileged to attend an event by Mayo’s Comhairle Na nÓg. I met over two hundred confident, inspiring young people between the ages of 13 and 17. I could feel the motivation of making a difference instantly when I entered the room.

So where to next for Maria?

As I type this answer, I am en route to to the airport and setting off to the Eastern Cape in South Africa, with the team at Niall Mellon’s Township Trust. This project I am excited for. Over 200 volunteers from all over Ireland are also departing their homes to spend one week building

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