'I get asked all the time if I'm really Irish' - Waterford Rose Kirsten Mate Maher
Waterford Rose Kirsten Mate Maher has told how she hopes being in the Rose of Tralee festival this year will show "you can be a person of colour and be Irish".
The 21-year-old will represent her home county in the festival and admitted she is regularly asked by people if she is really Irish.
"I get it all the time, 'are you really Irish?' I actually am," she said.
"That's really important to me. I have my Afro. I went through a phase where I did straighten my hair and I wore lighter make-up because I wanted to fit in with everyone else.
"Now I've grown up and realised my Afro is kind of cool. You don't need to change and fit into a certain category. There's different types of people everywhere."
Kirsten, who works in a boutique in Tramore, Co Waterford, has been watching the Rose of Tralee "religiously" since she was a child and has made fast friends with the other ladies involved.
"We're really a big family now at this point," she said.
"It's much more than just a pageant. It's not about how we look. It's about celebrating all different types of women. Our families are going to be involved, it's going to be amazing."
The Melbourne Rose is Cork woman Suzie Jackson (27) who has lived in Australia for three years, where she works as a nurse.
Disaster almost struck for Suzie when she flew home to Ireland for the festival and realised her luggage was missing.
"There was a bit of a panic that day," she said.
"All my dresses and the presents for the escorts. I've got it back, it was located in Manchester.
"I'm relieved now. They never put it on the connecting flight so it just stayed in Manchester but they flew it over the next day."
The Roses' pre-festival tour kicks off on August 13, while the festival will take place from August 17 to 21.