Caitlin McBride: The death of the beauty pageant - how Miss Ireland lost its lustre
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane…
There was a time when the Miss Ireland contest was a guaranteed springboard to fame, launching the careers of many a top Irish model.
It is responsible for introducing us to the likes of Sarah Morrissey (2006), who is still one of the most in-demand models in the country; Aoife Cogan (2005), who just hung up her heels in 2015 after a decade at the top of her game and of course, the pageant queen bee Rosanna Davison, who became a household name when she cinched the Miss World title in 2003.
From about 2002 to 2010, the pageant summed up Ireland’s fascinating culture of celebrity.
During the Celtic Tiger heyday, an endless cascade of socialites would sashay down a red carpet in a glittering gown, models would be flown over and gossip columns would be filled for weeks with antics of judges and contestants alike.
There was always a token story to keep the contest in the news - Robbie Keane’s wife tried her hand at the crown in 2004 and most recently, Holly Carpenter’s revelation that her grandmother was infamous columnist Terry Keane, secured her media coverage for months in 2011.
Nay-sayers may claim that Irish “celebrities” – a pool which comprises mainly of radio hosts, tv presenters and the aforementioned models - aren’t “real celebrities”, but their selling power is undeniable.
In fact, there was so much demand (and money to be made), that in 2008, Andrea Roche set up the Miss Universe Ireland pageant and now, there are two separate competitions to determine the entrants for Miss Universe and Miss World.
Roche, a previous title holder, is responsible for launching the careers of Lynn Kelly and Roz Purcell and the pageant was a segway into launching her own agency. Miss Ireland is now run by former model agents Brendan Scully and Sean Montague.
These entrepreneurs might run successful businesses and these women may have flourishing careers, but being a pageant queen isn’t exactly considered cool anymore.
Sure, you get a free car, a free trip to your contest’s host city and if you’re savvy, a long-lasting modelling career – but winners are no longer guaranteed the same longevity as they were in previous years. You’d be hard pressed to name the last two winners of both pageants…and no cheating with Google.
Similarly, Rose of Tralee organisers last year had to beg for contestants with organiser Brendan Galvin begging mothers and grandmothers to be "cruel to be kind" and to "almost bully their daughters" into entering last year’s competition.
From the sidelines, it’s been an interesting transition to see what young women aspire towards and the most notable changes were made when the boom went bust and it was seen as tacky to flaunt wealth.
During that time, social media took hold and now, everyone wants to be an Instagram ‘it’ girl whose #OOTD sells out with their referral links. They want their own hashtag when they go on holidays and want at least one cosmetics line to their name.
Modelling used to be the most desired occupation among a number of young Irish women – every girl with a pair of heels and a hairbrush in Dublin was a model during the noughties - and agency open days were filled with young, beautiful women keen to get their names on their books.
Now, only four major agencies have stood the test of time – two which specialise in high fashion and the other two namely in commercial work, while four others have closed in as many years.
As it stands, 35 beautiful young women will go forward to compete for the title on September 23, but after that…it’s anyone’s guess.