Previous winners of Miss Ireland reveal... The power behind the throne
They may still wear a sparkly crown, but modern-day beauty queens are a far cry from the cliches of big hair, back-stabbing and bland desires for world peace.
With this year's Miss Ireland pageant imminent, we spoke to the last five winners of Miss Ireland to find out what it means to be a beauty queen in 21st-Century Ireland, and discovered that the true story of being a pageant winner is in the career opportunities, the boost to self-confidence, the strengths discovered, and the great friendships made.
Miss Ireland 2010
I had just turned 21. I was asked to enter the competition for Miss Waterford and I remember trying to figure out whether or not I wanted to do it. I'm a spontaneous person, and I believe there is a reason why certain things fall in your path, so I decided I would, even though it wasn't anything I had ever planned on.
I had wanted to be a teacher and modelled part-time, but I was really into the idea of the competition and meeting all the girls. I thought it would be a fun thing to be part of, and that everything you do is a learning experience. And so, I entered.
I was in the middle of my teaching practice and starting my final year in university. I joined the competition late, so I didn't attend any of the rehearsals, interviews or photocalls, and I honestly thought nothing much would happen. I expected that I might do well, maybe get into the final seven, but winning was definitely a surprise.
I had no idea that if I won Miss Ireland, I would go on to Miss World - that's how little I knew about it all. I remember the first question a journalist asked me after I won was, 'How does it feel to be going to Miss World in nine days?' Miss World was held in China that year, and I remember thinking: 'What? I'm going to Miss World? In nine days . . . ?' That was the first test of my interview skills and being put on the spot. I was plunged into a different world, and at first that scared me a little bit. I remember trying to adjust to that in the beginning, because at that point, I was just 22. I saw the power of my words and actions, and the power they have for good. I don't think I changed fundamentally, but I grew up faster. I became very aware that I was a role model, even if just for one or two people, so I did a lot of self-reflection, figuring out how I could best use the title to benefit others as well as myself.
In the five years since the pageant, and since moving to New York, I really realise how much I have learned from the experience, and how much I owe to it. It changed the course of my life, and opened a whole world to me that I hadn't imagined would be my path. I began to learn about myself as a person. I took a lot of time to figure out what I wanted from life, because suddenly I had all this opportunity there for the taking. Being Miss Ireland has opened - and still opens - so many doors. It can be used in so many different ways, or not at all; it depends on the person. For me, it's been great.
I thought I would be a teacher forever, then, after winning, I met all sorts of different people. I went to India, to China, then I went back to university and finished my degree. Then I moved to New York, and since arriving here I have been getting so much press, and so many jobs as a result of it. I've done TV, worked with with great stylists and companies like Macy's, and amazing photographers like Antoine Verglas. I was involved in a film with Megan Fox. Those kinds of opportunities wouldn't have come without Miss Ireland.
Now, at 26, I feel that there is so much I have learned, including how hard I can work. I still love putting myself into new situations and seeing how far I can push myself, how I can grow, what I can take from the experience. It's so hard to imagine the person I would be if I hadn't won the competition. I realised that I am really motivated by my career, I want to do well, and there are so many possibilities out there that I want to explore.
I'm passionate about learning from people, and inspiring and helping people, leading them towards their best possible selves, and this has given me the ability to help more people than I would have had otherwise. At the moment, I'm working on a show with that concept in mind.
There are different ways of looking at beauty pageants, but I saw so many strong, successful, talented, kind women in Miss Ireland and Miss World, who were great examples of what a modern woman should be. Miss World showed me that you can be smart and beautiful, and kind and ambitious and entertaining. Anything you want. Because of that, when I look at a map, I don't see the flags of all the countries, I see the faces of these women.
Miss Ireland 2011
I was in NCAD at the time, doing a degree
in textiles, and one of my friends entered me into Miss University Ireland. I had no idea that it was a heat to get into Miss Ireland, I just thought it would be something fun to do, which it was. I won that, and then it was crazy. I was told I would be going into the final for Miss Ireland, and that was something I had never thought about. But once I found out more about the competition, I decided I'd go for it. I'm naturally quite competitive, and it just seemed really exciting.
I didn't feel it was anti-feminist. If I had ever felt uncomfortable or that I was being taken advantage of, I would have left. In the movies, beauty pageants are always shown as being really back-stabbing, but Miss Ireland wasn't like that. It was great to see all the girls helping each other out, even if it was just putting tan on each other's backs, or zipping each other into dresses.
Obviously, we all wanted to win, but there was a nice atmosphere at it and I'm still really good friends with some of the girls I met there. No one else really understands what it was like to be involved, so we have that bond.
I felt a lot of pressure in the run-up to the final, because the papers were saying I was the favourite to win - that made me really nervous. And it was such a long day. We got up at about 8am and did our make-up for all our interviews, but the show wasn't until 9pm. There was a lot of sitting and waiting to be called, and that was nerve-wracking.
During the interviews, I was so conscious of not saying the wrong thing, or cursing. But I never took it too seriously. There were girls who got so wound up the night of the final, that they were crying and panicking over their interviews. That's not a fun experience, so you have to keep a cool head and enjoy it.
When the first and second runners-up were called out and I wasn't one of them, I did think, 'I might have won this', but it was a weird emotion - you don't want to let yourself think you have, in case you haven't. Time went in slow-motion, and then they called my name and everything speeded up to 100 miles an hour. There was confetti and my parents were shouting and hugging each other and my friends were screaming my name.
I was only 19 when I won, and to go to events and think you're just chatting and saying hello, and then to see your picture in paper saying you were the worst-dressed person - that was hard. I had never before paid so much attention to what I wore and how I looked as I had to then.
Giving interviews to papers and finding something you said taken out of context, that was really tough too. It takes a while to learn how all of it works, and 19 is really young to be in that position. But doing all that gave me the confidence to go on Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model, which really gave my career a boost.
I ended up taking a year out of college when I won Miss Ireland, and I did so many great things, including a lot of charity work. I felt really proud of myself. When it was time to start back at college, I had a really hard decision to make. I broke my back in school putting together my portfolio to get into NCAD, because they accept so few people. It was always my dream to go there, but I realised that if I wanted to keep up my profile in modelling, I had to leave. That was really tough.
But I feel now that I have so many contacts in the world of design and jewellery and fashion, and so much experience with magazines, that I think I'll get to where I want to go, only by a different path. I have my plan, I know what I'm doing. I could have got my degree from NCAD and found it really hard to get my foot in the door of the industry, whereas now I know people. When I get to the stage of designing, I believe it's all going to work out.
Winning gives you a huge confidence boost, but at the same time it gives you a lot of insecurities too. I felt when I went out, people were saying, 'Oh, there's that Miss Ireland, she must think she's great', or, 'Oh, she isn't much without make-up on . . .' But now I think that's something you get if you're in the public eye anyway. And you have to get over it. If I worried too much about those people, I never would have considered entering.
It worked out to be a really positive experience. Miss Ireland has given me a platform for writing, and for my blog. I certainly wouldn't have as many followers without it. When I went into Miss Ireland, I wasn't that confident. I was just out of school, very insecure, and I didn't know if I could do it. But I got really competitive then, and kept telling myself, 'You can do this!'
Miss Ireland 2012
I entered Miss Ireland because at the time I was new to the modelling scene. I wanted to work in the industry and Miss Ireland is an amazing platform, whether you win or not. As a child, I can remember watching Miss World in my grandparents' house the year Rosanna Davison won. I was 11, and in awe. I remember saying, 'Granny, she is the most beautiful woman in the world. When I grow up, I wish I could be like her'.
Fast-forward ten years, and I'm standing on the stage. That was a childhood dream brought to life. One of my main goals in life is to always make my parents proud, and I felt like this was something they could be proud of.
The first year I competed I didn't have a clue [Rebecca entered in 2011 and was first runner-up]. I could barely curl my hair or do my make-up, so I expected nothing. I was just happy to be there. When I came second, I was ecstatic. The next year I came back, believing, 'OK, this could actually happen for me', so I got my act together.
I was really nervous the second time around. Of course I hoped to win, but I had learned that it's anyone's game in Miss Ireland! I think other people expected me to win, which made me feel massive pressure.
Winning, for me, was bittersweet [the original winner, Miss Mayo, Maire Hughes, was stripped of the title on age grounds, and Rebecca, as first runner-up, stepped into first place]. However, even that benefited me in the long run. There can be only one winner and, in the end, the process involves disappointment for many girls, but I have been through the highs and lows of it all, and I can say that ultimately, doing this has made me more determined to succeed in everything that I do. Disappointment and failure are both part of life, and it's how you handle them that counts.
I can't imagine what I would be doing now if I had never crossed paths with Miss Ireland. It has shaped so much of my life. Some of my best friends have been made as a result, including Brendan Marc Scully and Sean Montague, the owners of the franchise. I also met my boyfriend through competing.
These days, I spend far more of my time in Dublin, and plan to move down next year after I have completed my pharmacy pre-registration training. Recently, I graduated from Queen's University Belfast with my Master's in Pharmacy, so I'm working as a pharmacist as well as modelling.
I took a year out of my studies to be Miss Ireland, but I always knew it was very important to continue with my education once the year was up. Getting back into studying was difficult, but I think it's important to stress that you can follow more than one dream in your life; if you really want it, then go for it, whatever it is. The only person who can prevent you from achieving your goals is yourself.
I'm also very excited to launch my new healthcare-and-beauty-focused blog and website, PharmMissy. I am using my experiences of working in the modelling industry, as well as my education, to really put something different out there, something with a more informative and healthcare-based approach.
Looking back over the three years now, I can't believe how much my life has changed, and I'm so grateful to have had such opportunities. As a result of Miss Ireland I have travelled internationally to work, something I'm certain I couldn't have done otherwise.
I now work with the Miss Ireland team to organise heats for the main competition throughout the Northern Irish counties, which I absolutely love, and I hope I can be involved with the organisation for many years to come. I'm judging this year also, which is very exciting for me. Usually, the former Miss Ireland only judges the competition the year after she passes on the title, so to be asked back again to judge is just amazing.
Miss Ireland gave me a different outlook on things and taught me some valuable life lessons quickly. I'd say I have a lot more to learn, but nevertheless, the experience was invaluable. If I ever have a daughter, I will definitely be that annoying stereotypical pageant mom!
On a final note, if I could give some practical advice to any girls competing, I'd say: Never be late. Delete any pictures you wouldn't want your granny to see or end up in the press. Don't take things too seriously - nothing is ever as bad as you think it is. Be yourself - don't change because you think you have to 'fit in'.
Miss Ireland 2013
I entered as kind of a bucket-list thing, really. It was something that I had a genuine interest in and had followed for a number of years, and I eventually plucked up the courage to enter when I was 23, because that would have been my last chance before getting too old. I wanted to be able to look back in 10 years' time and say, 'Hey, I was part of Miss Ireland and I was brave enough to take the chance to compete and have that experience'. I also wanted to make new friends and have a bit of fun; I never imagined I could go all the way and win it.
Even though I have three university degrees, winning meant so much to me. It felt like such a personal achievement. Entering something like Miss Ireland takes a lot of courage and bravery, as it can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it had been a lifelong goal to compete; to go on and win the competition outright was nothing less than a dream.
I honestly didn't expect to win. I have a naturally competitive side, which meant I really tried my best in all aspects of the competition, because I knew I would regret it if I didn't, but I also knew that as long as I did my best and had fun, it didn't matter where I placed. In fact, I had booked flights to Croatia with my friends for the morning after the final. I had my suitcase packed and had even checked in, so when I say winning came as a total shock, I really mean it. Needless to say, I never made it to Croatia.
Life has completely changed for me since winning. At the time, I had just finished college and qualified as a secondary school teacher. Now I am modelling full-time and loving every minute of it. I feel I'm going from strength to strength in my career. I will always have my education behind me and that's extremely important, but at the moment I am appreciating the opportunities that are coming my way.
The title completely changed my life. It opened doors and brought opportunities that I would never have expected. One of the highlights of my modelling career is being chosen as the face of the Guinness by Newbridge Silverware Collection. Fronting a huge campaign with two of Ireland's most iconic brands has been such a proud achievement for me. I also got the opportunity to travel, one of my favourite things, and I spent five weeks in Bali at Miss World - that was another proud moment, being chosen as an ambassador and representative for my country.
I don't feel Miss Ireland has changed me, or my perception of myself. But the environment around me has changed. Working in the modelling industry is completely different to anything I had done before, but deep down I am still the exact same girl from Tipperary. This opportunity has made me feel I can achieve anything I put my mind to, though, and I think that's very liberating.
Miss Ireland 2014
I had been following the Miss Ireland competition for as long as I can remember, but I never had the confidence to actually enter it. When it came around to the time of Miss Cork in 2013, it was a friend who convinced me to go for it. Once I won that heat, I started working closely with various charities, and was modelling a lot more. That gave me a taste for the work I would be doing as Miss Ireland and what was involved, and then I worked really hard towards the competition, because I knew that I definitely wanted to be in the position of representing Ireland as a role model.
Winning meant I had achieved a really big goal, as the title is something that you have to really work for. I came into the competition two years before I won without much experience on stage or even in the modelling industry, but once I had gained experience and confidence, I gave it my best shot, and in the end it paid off.
That said, I never expected to win. The standard is so high, and you never know what the judges might be looking for on that particular day. When they called my name, I was completely shocked! Since then, life has changed for me in the sense that as Miss Ireland, everybody knows who you are.
Not only that, but this has given me the chance to do things that may not have been possible without the title. From modelling, to being an ambassador for big brands and different charities, it really has opened a lot of doors for me. Competing in Miss World was huge. Not a lot of people can say that they have represented Ireland on the Miss World stage, so I am delighted to have that.
Being Miss Ireland has meant the world to me. It's something I worked hard for, and achieving that has definitely made me feel I can achieve a lot more than I previously would have believed. I have worked with some amazing people, and the support I've had from family and friends, even strangers, has been unbelievable.
Photography by Kip Carroll.
Styling by Nikki Cummins Black
Sunday Indo Life Magazine