Maria Walsh in conversation with Hilary Fennell
I was always cool calm and collected about the fact that I loved regardless of gender.
Some people might think that my biggest challenge was the sexuality thing, growing up in rural Ireland, but it never phased me at all. I come from a family that showed me great love and support.
I was born in Boston and raised in Mayo. We moved over to live in Shrule in 1994 when I was seven. We’d loads of relatives here though and had been coming home every summer so it was an easy transition. I’m a middle child and all the syndromes apply. Growing up, I was a real tomboy and very much into sports.
I made the decision to become a pioneer when I was twelve. A woman came to my national school and made the most amazing speech about being confident in your own skin and not drinking. So I took the pledge. My mum and my aunt are pioneers too. I never questioned my choice to not drink but, once I hit my teens, I had to question my way of communicating it to my peers, so that they’d understand.
After school I studied journalism in Griffith College and worked as a runner in RTÉ and TV3 all through my student years. I grew up with a strong work ethic — my dad owned a construction company — and was taught to be disciplined and to have a real sense of what is right and what is wrong.
I have always been fiercely independent. I moved to New York when I was 21, and then to Philadelphia where I got a job in an advertising firm and worked on organising photography shoots.
In 2014 I was crowned Rose of Tralee. I’m proud of my involvement with the festival and I took my role very seriously indeed. I suppose it was a bit of a transition from the tomboy to becoming the girl in the fancy dresses and heels. Some friends just don’t get what the festival is about, they think it doesn’t represent modern women, but I disagree. And I loved every minute of it. I got to travel a lot and to connect with so many different organisations and people. Now, I have returned home to live in Ireland full time and have set up an events company, Juniper and Ruby, focusing on weddings and corporate events.
My idea of misery is having a job where I have to sit behind a desk all day long. I need to be constantly moving, working with a team. I’ve a lot of energy.
I’m a morning person. I love getting up early and enjoying that first coffee.
I have walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and I recently did my first triathlon. I’d like to say I train consistently but, what with all the work I have on at the moment and everything, the two weeks leading up to the triathlon, I was under fierce pressure.
The traits I most admire in others are loyalty and a sense of humour. One of my biggest faults is not calling people back. I’m horrendous for it. And I’m also very hard on myself. I often step away from events in my life thinking ‘I could have done better’ rather than celebrating a win.
I met my partner Shauna when I was doing a four-day run and cycle from Mayo to Kerry to raise awareness for a community project. She makes documentary films. I’m now living between Dublin, Shrule and Limerick.
I definitely believe in some kind of afterlife. While I don’t understand it, I do think the people we lose here go somewhere else and we all meet again one day.
If I could be someone else for a day I’d be Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres. They both have such inspiring backstories and are so full of humour and wit.
The best advice I ever received was from a great aunt — about being able to paddle your own canoe.
So far, life has taught me that it is far, far too short.
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