Guest written by Ruth Murphy. Ruth is a Stage 2 English student, and is the Public Relations Officer for UCD LGBTQ+ Society

On Monday, through some sort of miracle, myself and the rest of the LGBTQ+ committee awarded the Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh with our Foy-Zappone award. It took some effort but it was entirely worth it.

 

The Foy-Zappone award was established by last year’s committee to honour LGBTQ+ advocates. It was first given to Dr.Lydia Foy and Senator Katherine Zappone for their amazing work fighting for marriage equality and gender recognition. This year we knew we had to pass on the flame. The committee came together and brainstormed ideas giving many names in the media such as Panti Bliss, Ellen Page and Laverne Cox. More was discussed, contact details were scrounged for, emails were sent. Maria Walsh was very eagerly added to the mix. It wasn’t long before a photo of her was stuck on the wall of our society office. After some time there came a reply. A lovely lady who works for the Rose of Tralee was intrigued. The Rose appeared happy to be offered our award. This was many months ago, possibly September. I am told to send them an email again in December. I decide that I will email them sooner than that just in case but even before that happens lots of us go out for my birthday in October. What happened next was the biggest stroke of luck.

In the club, out of the corner of my eye I spot a familiar face. I turn to my friend and say “Is that the Rose of Tralee?” We did all have a couple of drinks on us but we resolved that it was in fact the woman herself. We went up to the Rose and asked was it she. She said yes, in her completely sober voice, and was extremely polite. I told her about the award and she told me to “keep emailing”. The very next day I sent another email and bam we were offered the date of February 2nd. It was time to jump for joy!

Then we had to go into planning. We had to exchange more details, decide exactly what we were going to do at the event and we had to book a room for it. With help from Eoghan Murphy of the Societies Council we got the room booked and we made arrangements by email and amongst the committee as to how the event would run.

As the weeks went by we did more and more organising. We decided not to reveal that we were getting the Rose in until closer to the event. I recall posting a teaser photo on facebook where all you can see is her arm. I have been told since that this was extremely telling. We announced on facebook and twitter that we were presenting our Foy-Zappone award to the Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh. I, as PR Officer, then had to set out in designing a poster, a task for which I had no prior experience. Hopefully, I did ok. We ordered in posters, originally in the wrong size, but we stuck them up anyway. We made sure to arrive very early to postering which got us some really great spots. In our second week of postering, which was a few days before the event, we got the right sized posters which we half taped in advance and we met outside the James Joyce library before 7am to stick them up. This was the most successful postering the society has ever done. It was almost impossible to walk outside James Joyce library without seeing the Maria Walsh’s face.

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While this promoting was being done we were also ordering in the award, making sure that it matched the awards given out the previous year to Dr. Foy and Senator Zappone.

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As it came closer to the event the reality sunk in. We started to decide what roles to take, so who would man the doors, sort the chamber, bring the rose in, etc. It was decided that I would be doing the interviewing which was both terrifying and exciting. We got Louise the auditor to take photos along with Grace, a friend from DrawSoc. We also got UCDTV to film it and a contributor from the University Observer to cover the event and their design editor to photograph it. It was amazing the help we were able to get from these people. Everybody worked so hard to make it a great event.

On the day we had to sort the chamber, set up posters and banners. We had to make sure the seating was right. Everything had to be cared from the jug of water and glasses from which the Rose and I would drink to the doorstoppers that held the doors open for the crowd.

Most of this carried on as I waited downstairs, staring at some questions that we had pieced together, mobile phone in hand, hoping for a phone call from the Rose of Tralee. I was panicked just thinking about what I would say to the Rose on the phone. I knew I was awful at directions.

Time is passing and the Rose has not called. With about two minutes to go I’m panicking. I knew I’d sent on directions for getting here earlier that day but I’d never got a reply. Where was she? My phone rings. It’s not her. It’s Louise, our auditor. I know I’m going to have to tell her that the Rose is not here, while people are waiting in the chamber for her arrival. I pick up the phone “Hey Ruth, the Rose is here!!”

I sprint across the student centre to meet Louise and the Rose. The Rose has also brought her mother along, who also turns out to be very nice. The Rose turns to me and says “Hi, I’m Maria” and holds out her hand for me to shake. I’m a bit gobsmacked and I can’t recall how I replied. So I lead her a complicated route to the Fitzgerald Chamber, it seems my senses had gone out the window, and as we walk we make polite chitchat. My mind is thinking “Where do I go?”, “What do I say?”, “Are there many people in the chamber?”, “I’m making small talk with THE ROSE OF TRALEE”. We were very lucky in that the Rose of Tralee is the most polite, lovely, hilarious woman so from this point on my job was much easier than anticipated.

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We’re about to enter the chamber and Maria (I asked what I could call her) says “Wait”. She then offers that I wear her tiara into the chamber instead of her. As we enter Maria decides we should wave from the balcony like William and Kate and so we do. I can’t remember what is being said on the microphone at this point, if anything. When we get down the stairs and onto the chamber floor she introduces me as the new Rose of Tralee to a laugh from the crowd. We sit down and being very nervous I go straight into the questions. She interrupts me but only to thank the crowd for the award. I start awkwardly with some light questions but very soon I try to delve into deeper issues such as homophobia and marriage equality and to my amazement I’m not too nervous about it. Eventually it just became normal that yes, I’m sitting next to the Rose of Tralee facing a room full of people and I only wrote most of these questions down on record cards the night before.

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It was difficult at times to know when to come in and how to lead onto the next question. I tried to relate each question to her previous statements. It seemed the audience were enjoying it. They laughed at Maria’s humour. Everything just seemed to flow. Altogether it was a successful evening.

It was not my work that led to this but a combination of the committee and those who helped us out from UCD Societies, DrawSoc, UCDTV, the Observer, everyone including our friend Ciara who was forced to drive places and do jobs for us on multiple occasions. Of course Maria Walsh herself was so easy to talk to and so happy to speak out and did so eloquently which made everything run so smoothly. Obviously we couldn’t have done it without her. Also another personality wouldn’t have been able to make things go as seamlessly as she did. I’m so thankful for this event and honoured to have helped present Maria Walsh with this award. I know now that I definitely can’t state enough the significance of a good committee. I also can’t praise enough the hard work of Louise our auditor without whom I don’t like to consider how the society would continue.

 

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