THE new Rose of Tralee has revealed how she was warned by her employer not to come back without a crown when she took leave to travel to Ireland for the festival.
Boston-born stunner Maria Walsh (27), returns to work as a studio manager for Philadelphia clothing company Anthropologie on Monday when she will have to break the news to them that she may need to travel to Ireland more frequently to fulfil her Rose duties.
"When I told them that I was taking part in this crazy Irish competition that I'm involved in they were all like, 'you, you of all people' and then when they learned more about it they were like, 'okay, this sounds good'. But when I went for this trip my boss said, 'Do not come back without a crown'."
As the new Rose, Maria hopes to encourage more modern women to enter the Rose of Tralee.
She added: "I'm looking forward to getting out and getting more young, modern, educated and great women to get involved in this.
"It's a huge organisation that provides many opportunities and great moments and I think, in our diaspora, there are so many intelligent, talented women out there that should be within this organisation."
The proverbial dark horse emerged as a late bookies' favourite last night, no one looked more shocked than the winner herself when her name was announced.
"It still hasn't hit me. I would have been delighted if any of the 31 other girls received this honour. They're such high calibre, beautiful, intelligent and hard working.
"We were just saying before going on stage that we would have been delighted if anybody had won and I'm blessed to be representing them all," she said.
A native of Boston, Maria moved to Shrule in Co Mayo with her family 20 years ago but after graduating in Journalism and Visual Media at Griffith College, moved to New York and later to Philadelphia.
She drew tears from family members during her interview when she remembered her cousin Teresa Molloy (19), one of four women killed in a crash on the N17 near Milltown, Co Galway in November 2009.
"It's moments like this, like being in the Rose of Tralee, that make you really seize the day and appreciate life," said Maria. "She has given me a lot of good luck to date, so I know she's looking down on me and my family."