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Dreamt up by a group of men in a pub in 1957, the Rose of Tralee started life as a revival of the Carnival Queen - a cunning plan to attract tourists to the town of Tralee, in County Kerry.

Little could they have known that in 2014, the festival would claim 50 per cent of the Irish television audience, draw in 200,000 visitors and attract international attention.

The TV presenter has confirmed she is in a happy relationship with Emmy-nominated director, Shauna Keogh.

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“My friends think when I hit 50 I’ll have a nervous breakdown because I never had to worry about my inner demons.

I am who I am and I’m extremely proud of who I am.” Yet although Walsh may have won the Rose, the country that crowned her would still deny her the right to marry another woman; same-sex marriage remains illegal in Ireland.

In doing so, she became the first gay Rose in the festival’s 55-year history.

Predictably, the revelation caused shock waves across Ireland.

Over a million people watched it this year, so it’s almost comical when people say it’s irrelevant or not celebrating women in the right way.” Yet, just days before the festival began, Ireland attracted international indignation when a woman who had been raped was forced to give birth against her will.

As one Irish commentator put it, “womanhood in Ireland remains a strictly policed construct.” Many would argue that the Rose of Tralee only reinforces this view.

This week, Maria, 29, told that she has been in a relationship with Shauna "for several weeks".

The couple jetted off to the north of Spain this month, to spend some quality time together.

The criteria for winning the festival is, astonishingly, still based on the lyrics of a romantic ballad, ‘The Rose of Tralee’, written by a wealthy 19th century merchant who was in love with a ‘lovely and fair’ maid.

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