Life has taken a massive and unexpected - but hugely exciting - turn for Shrule’s Maria Walsh, after she was crowned the Rose of Tralee in the famous Dome on Tuesday night.
For the 27-year-old fashion professional, the entire experience has been nothing short of a whirlwind of events.
Ms Walsh said she never expected to make it through the various stages of the rigorous competition, which started back in her adopted home of Philadelphia many months ago.
Nonetheless, the elegant brunette made it all the way to Tralee to the coveted spot, opposite Daithi O Se onstage in the Dome, and was watched by millions around the world as she scooped the ultimate honour.
The Philadelphia representative obviously won over plenty of hearts during the week of festivities in the build-up to the live, televised, event, because she came out of nowhere on Monday to be installed as one of the bookies’ favourites - at even money - before she was interviewed by Daithi.
However, speaking to the Mayo Advertiser after her win, Ms Walsh was very modest about any suggestion that she was a firm favourite and instead, paid tribute to her fellow Roses.
“I don’t know about the bookies but in my mind we were all on odds of 32 to 1,” she said. “There is so much that goes on even before the public sees us onstage and everyone was amazing. It was very special and wonderful to receive the final honour.”
Ms Walsh was born in Boston but moved with her family to Shrule in 1994. Her father Vincent is from Roundfort and her mother Noreen is from Leitrim.
She returned to the US in 2010 and now works in Philadelphia as a studio manager, and coordinator of fashion shoots.
There was a huge contingency from Shrule supporting Ms Walsh in the Dome in Tralee for the televised show.
“Shrule was very well represented,” she said. “I got absolutely great support.”
Ms Walsh said she hopes to spend her year as the Rose of Tralee travelling around the world as an ambassador for the festival and encouraging more “young, modern, educated and great women to get involved”.
Mayo is no stranger to success at the Rose of Tralee festival. Castlebar’s Mindi O’Sullivan was a winner in 1998 and the sash came back again in 2005, this time worn by Carnacon’s Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.
Ms Walsh attributed the seemingly ideal Rose cultivation conditions here to “the good air”.
Ms Walsh is a lifelong pioneer and said this may be something she will highlight during the year.
“I made the pledge when I was 12 and I kept it going. I’m a member of the Glencorrib Pioneers Association. It is something I am definitely proud of and I’m excited to be able to voice that and maybe bring some understanding [on the issue] and education around it all.”
Despite her new standing in Kerry as the Rose of Tralee, there is no danger Ms Walsh will forget her roots when it comes to footballing loyalty.
She had been hoping to make it back to work in Philadelphia on Monday, but she intends to make it to Croke Park on Sunday to support Mayo against Kerry in the All Ireland semi-final.
“I was very outspoken about my hopes for Sam coming home to Mayo when I was onstage with Daithi so it would be rude of me not to be there,” she laughed.
Ms Walsh said she expects to be home in Shrule for the first time since her win today (Friday ) and no doubt, the border village will be in full bloom to celebrate their Rose’s homecoming.