Panel of judges knew winning Rose was gay

The Rose of Tralee contest judges, headed by RTÉ’s Mary Kennedy, knew the winner, Maria Walsh, was gay.

Rose festival managing director Anthony O’Gara said the organisers were “100% delighted with her’’ as Rose and the fact that she was gay was neither here nor there.

Asked on Radio Kerry if the judges were aware she was gay, Mr O’Gara answered: “I would think they were, but I certainly didn’t go there with them — they’re very astute people.’’

He said Maria, 27, was openly gay, but the judges were no more interested in her sexuality than he was and it would not be their business to question it one way or the other.

There was no secret about her sexuality but she did not want it discussed if she did not win the contest, he said.

While he acknowledged her sexuality would create some interest, he was hopeful it would all be positive.

When asked if he feared the Rose of Tralee would be “hijacked’’ during the forthcoming gay marriage referendum, he said he did not think so.

He also said if any situations arose, Ms Walsh as an attractive, intelligent woman, would be well capable of speaking for herself.

Held for the past 56 years, the Rose event is still seen by some as conservative and old fashioned.

However, Mr O’Gara dismissed such criticism, saying the event was a celebration of Irish communities around the world and something that valued each person equally.

He also said that although Maria was a very beautiful woman, the event was not a beauty pageant and winners were not chosen on the basis of beauty alone.

Meanwhile, Anna McCarthy, of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Noise group, said Ms Walsh’s making public of her sexuality was symbolic of a modern Ireland and a level of acceptance of LGBT people. “I haven’t heard anything negative from my friends, or my family,’’ she said.

Ms Walsh, from Shrule, Co Mayo, has returned to Philadelphia where she will resume work as a studio manager for the Anthropologie fashion brand.

She will also act as an international ambassador for the Rose festival until the next festival in August 2015.

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