Since being crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee, South Kilkenny native Kirsten Mate Maher has enjoyed a whirlwind year.
Since being crowned the 2018 International Rose of Tralee last August, Kirsten Mate Maher has enjoyed a whirlwind year. A proud South Kilkenny woman from Bigwood, Mullinavat, her win as the Waterford Rose brought delight to all on both sides of the Suir. She says a particular delight during her tenue was having the opportunity to attend many different local events and meeting family, friends and neighbours.
“It’s not very often that I got to go to events where I would know so many people,” she said, adding that it was a welcome change to be asked about how other members of her family were keeping and not have to talk about herself all the time!
She says she is proud to have been associated with local charities, especially Pieta House in Waterford.
“We are so lucky to have Pieta House on our doorstep. Not every county is lucky enough to have them.”
Kirsten lost a friend to suicide just over a year ago so it’s a cause which is close to her heart.
Prior to her win last year, her 21st birthday party was a fundraiser for Pieta House.
She has been involved in the hugely successful Darkness into Light event as well as the FeelGood Week initiative. Additionally, her fellow 2018 Roses and Escorts organised a New Year’s Eve Ball at the Glenroyal Hotel in Maynooth as a major fundraiser for Pieta House.Kirsten is also delighted to have been associated with Teac Tom which provides counselling and support to adults, children and groups that have been bereaved by suicide. Based in Kilkenny, the charity operates across the South-East and aims to reach as many young people as possible.
A border Rose
Hailing from South Kilkenny, but winning the title for Waterford, Kirsten says there was plenty of banter about this subject during the year. She attended a border school, Abbey Community College in Ferrybank, and a particular highlight of her year was returning to the school to present the end of year awards.
Kirsten admits it was a surreal experience to be back in the school delivering a speech, meeting the students and her former teachers. “I was so overwhelmed at how proud everyone was,” she says.
Kirsten says she has many fond memories and is full of praise for the school and the education she received.
“I wasn’t the most academic, but I got on very well,” she says.Further illustrating the huge amount of local pride which was generated by her win, a special event was held in her honour in Bigwood shortly after her win.
She describes the support which she has received locally as “phenomenal” and particularly praised all involved with the Waterford Rose Centre. Kirsten continued working for most of the year (she was a popular staff member at Redlane boutique, Tramore) but then decided to concentrate fully on her Rose of Tralee duties.
She has continued her involvement with the Island of Ireland Peace Choir and says she enjoys the camaraderie which exists within the choir and the range of people she gets to meet.
“It’s another support network and I get to meet so many people that I might not otherwise meet,” she explained.
Kirsten says it was rare that she had any particular issues during her tenure as Rose of Tralee.
However, if she needed help or advice on a particular matter, she would firstly go to her mother Jacinta, father Kwalo or another family member. If it was something only a Rose could relate to, she had the back-up of the Waterford Rose Centre as well as her trusted ‘FROTs’.The ‘Former Rose of Tralees’ are in regular contact with each other via their own WhatsApp group. Kirsten says they were a “huge support” and adds that she has been in regular contact with previous Waterford winners Orla Burke (1977) and Brenda Hyland (1983). “I never felt I had to make a decision on my own,” she said.Since Maria Walsh was crowned winner in 2014, Kirsten believes media attention, and particularly social media attention, has intensified on Rose of Tralee winners. “When you turn on your phone, people are there,” she says. However, she says the good far outweighs the bad.
“I have had negative comments but everyone receives negative comments,” she says.
Kirsten admits it took a while to adjust to “living a life that everyone is watching”. She recalls being in Penneys recently when a girl approached her and stated “you’re still shopping in Penneys?”Kirsten replied that she was delighted to do so and pointed out that “Penneys is my favourite!” “I have tried so hard all year to keep my life as normal as possible as I didn’t want my life to change,” she says.
However, certain aspects of her life have changed as she had the opportunity to experience things she may not have otherwise have had a chance to do so. As part of her Rose of Tralee duties, she travelled to India with the Hope Foundation which works with street and slum children. Kirsten described the experienced as “eye opening”. “It was shocking to see the scale of the poverty that these people are living in on a daily basis,” she said.“It is just really difficult to see innocent children in that kind of environment and going there has been an eye-opening experience for me. I had seen photos of places like Bhagar dump before, but nothing can really compare to seeing it for yourself.” She says any negativity which she encountered following her win, and any other difficulties she faced, were put into perspective by the visit. She subsequently decided she wasn’t going to entertain any negativity or encourage media coverage of certain aspects of her life. “I decided that I have had those conversations and now that’s enough on it,” she said. “The children we met had nothing yet they were so appreciative and I felt very privileged to meet them.” She was impressed by the camaraderie which existed among them and particularly the sense of fun and innocence. Kirsten noted how they all looked out for each other and she believes young people in Ireland could learn a thing or two.“It was lovely to see that and I wish we could hold onto that as well,” she said.She admits that being a young person in Ireland nowadays can be difficult, but says the problems faced by children in India are hugely different.
Even though they live in poverty, she noted how parents have raised children who have gone on to enjoy successful careers including as doctors. ““They are so determined and so appreciative. We do not appreciate education enough in Ireland,” she said.
Kirsten also travelled to a centre in Vesnova in Belarus, which is located about 175 kilometres from Chernobyl.
The facility, which caters for 170 children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, is supported by AdiRoche’s Chernobyl Children International.Teams of volunteer Irish builders have spent the past 20 years turning it from a once derelict asylum into a world class childcare centre.The volunteer link-up between Chernobyl Children International and the Rose of Tralee International Festival has seen groups of Rose volunteers and Rose Escorts travel to Belarus every year since 2011.Kirsten says both trips were truly life changing and altered her outlook on life
The Class of 2019
Prior to the commencement of this year’s Rose Tour, she addressed this year’s Roses at a civic reception in Kildare which kick started the 2019 tour. So, what advice did the reigning Rose of Tralee impart to this year’s contestants?“The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and be yourself. There’s no point acting any other way,” says Kirsten. Each year, the Rose of Tralee is inevitably subjected to criticism but Kirsten says she can’t understand the “silly” remarks that are made and the accusations that the contest is “outdated”.
“Because it’s been around so long it’s called ‘outdated’. I’m not outdated. I am a normal 22-year-old in Ireland in 2019 and I’d like to think that girls, and fellas, can relate to me.” She added: “The Rose of Tralee is celebrating 60 years this year so that speaks volumes. So many other towns and counties around Ireland would love to have such a high profile, televised international event such as the Rose of Tralee.”
Kirsten points out that there is huge variety amongst the contestants each year. “The whole idea of the Rose of Tralee is that it celebrates different types of women – 32 girls who are very different, from a variety of backgrounds and with different jobs. The Rose of Tralee is not just about one type of woman.”However, she says one common trait all Roses share is that they are “outgoing”.
Kirsten says she loves returning to Tralee and now feels like an “adopted Kerry woman”. Although still unsure as to what she would like to do in the future, Kirsten feels she definitely has more options following her year as Rose of Tralee.She says she is grateful to have been given such an opportunity and now plans to take a month off to relax.However, she reveals that there are some plans in the pipeline.As her year as International Rose of Tralee closes, Kirsten can certainly be proud of the impact she has had in Waterford, Kilkenny and beyond and is sure to enjoy success with whatever she turns her hand to in the future.