Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh: 'I asked Obama to be my escort at festival'
When it comes to having a dream date, Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh had one person in mind.
However, US president Barack Obama was too busy to jet into Kerry on Air Force One to escort her on her last week as the Rose.
"I met him in the White House on St Patrick's Day and I invited him to the Rose of Tralee as my escort," Maria said.
Even though the leader of the free world can't make it to the festival, Maria is determined to enjoy her last week as Ireland's leading 'lovely lady'.
The 28-year-old exploded on to the scene last summer when it emerged she was the first openly gay woman to be crowned the Rose of Tralee. But she says that doesn't define her.
"We should not brand people as simply 'the gay Rose' or the 'the gay footballer'," she says.
"I would introduce myself as a pioneer before introducing myself as gay because I made that choice to be a pioneer, to not drink alcohol, whereas being gay is just me."
The Mayo native is a regular Mass-goer and hopes if she does get married, the ceremony will be performed in a Catholic Church.
"I'm single at the moment, but ask any person and they will tell you that finding the right person is high on the agenda," she told the RTE Guide.
"I would love to get married in Ireland. My thing is ... if Jesus Christ was kicking around right now he'd be welcoming all sorts into the church.
"Hopefully Catholic Churches in the next five years will have LGBT ceremonies in their churches," she added.
Maria, who is based in Philadelphia but has spent the past few months at home, has had a whirlwind year, during which she has travelled the globe.
She also visited all 32 counties and has given numerous talks at schools and colleges.
"When I did those question and answers in the schools, it was all about being comfortable with who you are as a person and not allowing being gay to weigh you down," she said.