By Joyce Fegan
The first ever Irish-African Rose of Tralee, Kirsten Maté Maher, said it is “mad” people are surprised by a mixed-race contestant.
“It’s mad that we have to be surprised when there is a person of colour or a mixed-race person in the Rose of Tralee because so many people in Ireland are mixed,” Kirsten said.
The 21-year-old south Kilkenny woman, representing Waterford, also said she should not be “singled out” for being mixed race.
“I don’t think it’s anything that I should be singled out by, definitely not anymore.
“I mean there’s so many different races and so many different people here (in Ireland),” Kirsten said yesterday.
The eldest of four children and the daughter of Jacinta Maher from Mullinavat and Kwalo Maté from Zambia, Kirsten said all of the Roses got on “so well” because they respected “difference.”
“It’s lovely to see diversity and, at the end of the day, every single girl that was in this festival is so different in their own way and it’s mad how you can get 57 different girls to get on so well with different personalities.
“I think that’s why we get on because we’re OK with difference and we got on great,” said the newly-crowned Rose of Tralee.
When asked if she was made to feel different growing up in Ireland, Kirsten said that she did not experience anything out of the ordinary.
“I grew up in Co Kilkenny and I went to school in Co Kilkenny, it was a small school, but I got on fine. Obviously, you might get a little bit but it would be the same as anyone getting stick for maybe having glasses or you know that kind of way,” she answered.
In relation to her father’s experience of Ireland, Kirsten said that after 22 years here, he is “part of the furniture” and greets any room he walks into with ‘Well boys’.
Kirsten said she is immensely proud of her Zambian roots but she does not want her hair or skin colour to be the focal point of her year as the Rose of Tralee.
“I am proud of my Zambian roots and I want to bring that across and I want everyone to know that I am half-Zambian but you shouldn’t be focusing in on the fact that I am tanned or that my hair is a little bit different because there are actually Irish people with curly hair like me.
“It’s lovely just to be able to say I’m the first ever Irish-African Rose and I’m also the 60th Rose of Tralee and the third Rose from Waterford,” she said.
In an earlier interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday, Kirsten said there is no “typical Irish woman”.
“I’ve curly hair and darker skin but, at the end of the day, we need to see past that and realise that there is no typical Irish woman and we are all different, and we all come in different shapes and sizes and skin colours and hair and freckles and no freckles.
“We are such a diverse community and we need to embrace that,” she said.
The 21-year-old has just been accepted on to a course to study computer science but her plans may have to change now she has been crowned the 60th Rose of Tralee.
“I actually just got accepted into my course yesterday, so I haven’t clicked any buttons yet. I might have to click on the ‘defer’ button. I haven’t thought this far [ahead], I really haven’t and I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I have to make a few plans,” said Kirsten.
One thing she may give her time to over the next 12 months, is the charity Pieta House.
In fact, Kirsten’s 21st birthday was a fundraiser for the charity.
“We raised over €1,500 which is insane and I can’t wait to do more.
“Suicide is getting more and more predominant in Ireland and we need to step back and say: ‘This needs to stop,’ and Pieta House does the most amazing work,” said Kirsten.
She is also interested in Adi Roche’s charity, Chernobyl Children International.