Sunday 26 May 2019

'It represented the many moments I shared with family that had passed' - Maria Walsh on why this is the photo she'd hate to lose

Maria Walsh took this selfie before she met Barack Obama at the White House on St Patrick's Day.
Maria Walsh took this selfie before she met Barack Obama at the White House on St Patrick's Day.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

It’s been three years since Maria Walsh was crowned the Rose of Tralee.

The Mayo woman's win is most significant because she became the first LGBT+ Rose when she won the crown in 2014.

The following year, Ireland became the first country in the world to bring in same-sex marriage by a popular vote.

Here, the former Rose of Tralee shares her most precious memory, her visit to the White House on St Patrick’s Day 2015, and why the selfie she took before arriving at the White House is the one photo she’d hate to lose.

“There are moments throughout my International Rose of Tralee year that I really tried to capture. I tried to ‘be’ in the moment and embrace the unknowns, the ‘who could have known’s’, the oversights, and the realities that came with being the first rose in my family, the first Philadelphia International Rose, the first LGBT+ Rose.”

“But this moment captured more than just my face in a speeding cab.”

“I stepped outside after getting changed in the bathroom of a hotel nearby. My parents and I were heading to New York City that same night, a whistle stop tour of the East Coast taking in events and people in Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York and Boston.”

“The cab driver asked; “Where to lady?”. I laughed. How often do you get to say “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue [The White House] please!”. I think he felt I was lost, in a pretty blue Irish designer’s dress with nowhere to go.” 

Meeting President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle was a standout moment in her career, Maria says.

“Truth about me is - I don’t feel comfortable taking selfies. I am of old school feeling that pictures are better with someone else, or in groups or what I am witnessing. That’s where the real stories live.  Never just me. But I remember telling myself – REMEMBER this. Remember the how’s, the why’s, the who’s, the everything’s.”

“For an Irish American there is no bigger house than the White House. And for a young twenty something democratic, there were no bigger leaders than President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.”

“Some may look at this image and think; how typical, a selfie, en route to the White House. But for me it resembled who I was and the character I grew into over those first six months as International Rose of Tralee. It embodied the leader I wanted to align with when I was young. It was the ultimate ‘fake it until you make it’ moment when I am on my own, with a cab driver who I will never meet again yet he was integral to my adventure to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The trip had deep resonances for her family, Maria says, since Obama had given them a voice.

“But from a deeper more important perspective, it represented the many moments I shared with family that had passed. For me, it was in memory of the one person who reminded me how significant as an American born how significant my Absentee Ballot Form was. It was about his drive to ensure each of my siblings received a printout to make our voices heard in the 2008 Presidential Run.”

“It was the same him, who drove me to watch the Inauguration on January 20th 2009 in The Kings Head in Galway so I would forever remember ‘that’ moment.  I had been on this ‘cab journey’ without even knowing it since 2008. He was with me. And if there was one person who would have been beside me, forcing an invite, ensuring I was there on time, and looked the part, and who would have shouted as I walked up to security at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, ‘tell Obama your favourite cousin Jimmy got you here’!”

Fujifilm’s latest consumer survey in Ireland showed that 80pc of us have lost photos we’ve taken and stored digitally.  42pc lost photo memories due to corruption or damage to their digital device, 38pc changed or lost their phone or PC without saving or printing their photos, and 32pc deleted photos by accident.  

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