THE newly-crowned Rose of Tralee has said it is "mad" that some people are focusing on her Irish-African roots after she became the first mixed-race contestant to win the title.
Kirsten Maté Maher, who represented County Waterford, said she hoped not to be "singled out" over her background in the wake of her success.
The 21-year-old, a student and part-time model who grew up in Kilkenny, added that she still can't put her finger on why she was chosen as Dr Jennifer Byrne's successor to the accolade on Tuesday night.
"It’s mad that we have to be surprised when there is a person of colour or a mixed-race person in the Rose of Tralee because so many people in Ireland are mixed," Kirsten said.
"I don’t think it’s anything that I should be singled out by, definitely not anymore.
"I mean there’s so many different races and so many different people here [in Ireland]."
The eldest child of a Zambian father and Kilkenny mother, Kirsten said all of this year's Roses enjoyed each other's company because they were "okay with difference".
"It’s lovely to see diversity and, at the end of the day, every single girl that was in this festival is so different in their own way and it’s mad how you can get 57 different girls to get on so well with different personalities.
“I think that’s why we get on because we’re OK with difference and we got on great".
Speaking about her father's experience of Ireland, Kirsten said that he had become "part of the furniture" during his 22 years in the country and greets any room he walks into with "well boys".
She explained that she does not want her skin colour or hair to define her despite being immensely proud of her Zambian heritage.
Kirsten added: "I am proud of my Zambian roots and I want to bring that across and I want everyone to know that I am half-Zambian, but you shouldn’t be focusing in on the fact that I am tanned or that my hair is a little bit different because there are actually Irish people with curly hair like me.
"It’s lovely just to be able to say I’m the first ever Irish-African Rose and I’m also the 60th Rose of Tralee and the third Rose from Waterford."