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Celebrating Rose of Tralee Trailblazers on International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women who have made a positive impact in our lives, creating opportunities for the next generation of women through their impact in society. This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating Rose of Tralee trailblazers from throughout the years.

1959 Rose of Tralee Alice O’Sullivan

Dublin-born Alice O’Sullivan, the 1959 Rose, was first ever Rose of Tralee. Though she faced adversity, having to leave her airline job because of the marriage ban, Alice returned to college – studying, and then becoming a lecturer in Environmental Psychology, as well as going on to coach skiing to disabled students.

1983 Rose of Tralee Brenda Hyland

Tipperary-born Brenda Hyland was selected as the 1983 Rose of Tralee. A trainee garda when she won, Brenda entrepreneurial spirit saw her become an air hostess, model, beauty therapist, salon owner. 

On returning to the Gardaí, she worked in community policing in areas including social development projects, especially with youth and women. In 2010 she founded the Irish School of Etiquette with the aim of helping individuals and groups to achieve their emotional and physical potential. Oh, and did we mention Christy Moore even wrote a song about her – “Me and the Rose”. 

2014 Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh

2014 Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh is an Irish politician who has been a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Ireland for the Midlands–North-West constituency since July 2019. Maria holds a BA in Journalism and Visual Media from the Griffith College Dublin.

Born to Irish parents in Boston, Massachusetts, when Maria was seven the family moved back to Ireland, to Shrule, on the Mayo and Galway border.

At the age of 21 she headed back across the Atlantic to live in New York, where she worked in advertising and photography before relocating to Philadelphia and becoming the 2014 Philadelphia Rose. Walsh made history by becoming the first openly gay Rose of Tralee later that year.

She went on to serve as a member of the Army Reserve as a trooper with the Cavalry Corps (1st Armoured Cavalry Squadron), based in the Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp. Now a member of Fine Gael, she serves on the Employment and Social Affairs, Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Meetings, and the Culture and Education Committee. Maria is also a part of the Delegation for relations with the United States. 

She is Vice President of the LGBTI Intergroup, which focuses on the rights of LGBTI+ persons both inside and outside the European Union. Her daily political work deals with myriad issues facing the EU, such as mental health, employment, equality, fundamental rights, culture and education.

1970 New York Rose Noreen Culhane

The 1970 New York Rose, Noreen M. Culhane, has attained a lifetime of achievements since representing the Big Apple 53 years ago. Noreen went on to become the executive vice-president for Global Corporate Client Group — overseeing fortunes made by the highly sought-after New York Stock Exchange.

Noreen attended the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale where she majored in English Literature and graduated with the class of 1972. After college, she worked for five years as an elementary school teacher, studying at night for a master’s degree in special education. In 1977 she made a career change, joining IBM and within two years had been assigned to a branch office in the Financial District of Manhattan. In 1982 Noreen was promoted to a branch manager responsible for the company’s telecommunications industry. She worked in sales at IBM for twenty years and ran the securities industry within its financial services vertical. While at IBM, she pursued further education and completed the Advanced Management programme at Harvard University.

In 1997, she took on the position of senior vice president in sales and client services for the New York Stock Exchange group and went on to become an Executive Vice-president, responsible for drawing in and serving new companies around the globe interested in listing on the New York Stock Exchange, before retiring from the position in 2009.

She has been a member of the Economic Club of New York, and served on the BMCC Foundation Board of Directors which supports the City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College. In 2006 her community service work earned her the Youth Opportunity Award from Inwood House, an organisation focused on providing education to youths and preventing teenage pregnancy. 

2018 Rose of Tralee Kirsten Mate Maher

This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating Rose of Tralee trailblazers from throughout the years.

Kirsten Mate Maher became first African-Irish descent Rose of Tralee after she was awarded the title in 2018, and has been an inspirational and outspoken role model since. Kirsten has helped promote initiatives by Pieta House in Waterford, worked as an ambassador for the Hope Foundation and been involved in Darkness into Light events, as well as the FeelGood Week initiative.

Following her Rose of Tralee year, she has worked as a presenter on Beat 102 103, a brand ambassador, model and holds the position of Social Media Manager with Double L Media, an award-winning social media marketing and creative content agency for brands. 

Former Festival President Margaret Dwyer

Margaret Dwyer became one of the first members of the festival committee in 1959.

She became the first female president of the Festival in 1970 and under her stewardship came a successful new approach to attract more sponsorship and State support for the growth and development of the festival. This helped pave the way to make the Rose of Tralee one of Ireland’s most famous and successful family festivals to the present day.

Ms Dwyer, who was 97 when she passed away in 2016, was originally from the New York but her mother hailed from Tralee. Her husband was killed in Germany during the Second World War and she decided to move to Tralee with her two sons, Ryle and Sean.

During the war, Ms Dwyer worker as a radio telephone operator with AT&T, talking regularly with both US president Franklin D Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. With the highest security clearance, she listened to every conversation to ensure atmospheric conditions did not garble the trans-Atlantic phone calls between the world leaders.

The contribution of Ms Dwyer to the development, growth and long-term success of the Rose of Tralee from 1959 to 2003 and, indeed, to the town of Tralee through her role in the local business sector, has been immense. Having received the freedom of Tralee, her contribution was once again acknowledged in 2012 when she became the first honorary member of the Tralee Chamber Alliance. 

Interested in starting your own Rose of Tralee journey? Click our application page to follow in the footsteps of our Rose trailblazers and find out how to apply today:

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