First Published August 2018
FROM BUNCRANA TO BANGKOK
In the fabulous surroundings of the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin last Thursday evening, Donegal’s Grainne Gallanagh was crowned the new Miss Universe Ireland, by her predecessor Cailín Toibín. Twenty-four year old Grainne, a nurse who’s based in London, will now go forward to represent Ireland at the final of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 17th.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Grainne for a little bit of a chat in the days just after she received her crown and sash. And before we even spoke, I got a measure of just how sound Grainne is. We were originally scheduled to chat on Saturday evening, but the day passed without anything happening. Now that can often happen from time to time when you’re hoping to speak with someone who’s in demand, and as of last Thursday evening, Grainne is VERY much in demand. So you take it in your stride and just see what happens. On Sunday morning, however, I woke up to a text from Grainne, sent at 1.50am the previous night (so right at the end of a very long few days), offering her apologies for not being in touch, explaining that the day had just been hectic (as you’d expect), and offering to chat instead on Sunday at whatever time suited me. Now keep in mind that this Sunday just gone was pretty likely to be one of Grainne’s last days to herself, of any kind, for about the next year!
But there she was, thinking about others. I guess that comes with being a nurse. But like I said, sound. With beauty, brains, a huge heart, and a sun-bright soul – and this top-level sense of soundness – put your money on this young lady to do us proud when December comes, folks.
I began our chat by asking Grainne how she was feeling, just a few days after being presented with the crown and sash of her new role? Had she begun to get a sense yet of how much her life was going to change for the next year or so?
“Do ya know what? I’m absolutely still on a high! I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet at all, to be honest with you. I’m so, so happy that my face is sore because I can’t stop smiling! [laughs]. I just got home here today from Dublin, to my hometown in Buncrana in Donegal, and when I got out of the car all my cousins, and my aunties, and my friends, and all were all down to surprise me. And everyone’s so happy, so it’s lovely.”
What went through her mind at the moment her name was announced?
“We were just standing there holding hands, me and Aoife [Rutledge] the first runner-up, and I was just praying please, please let it be me! [laughs]. But then I just couldn’t believe it [when she was announced as the winner], and I think I just stood there thinking, did I hear that wrong? I stood there for about ten seconds with my hands on my face. I don’t even know what I was thinking, it was just a blur. But it was so exciting, and everybody was screaming, but I was crying. It was so, so nice, such a lovely feeling.”
This year’s Miss Universe pageant will be held in Bangkok in December, where Grainne has actually been before on her travels. But what’s in store for her between now and then as the new Miss Universe Ireland?
“Well I’ve met up with Brittany [Mason], the director of Miss Universe Ireland, and we briefly went through things like what do I want from Miss Universe Ireland. And there’s gonna be an awful lot of photo-shoots, modelling, travelling. But obviously I don’t want to give up my job as a nurse, because that’s who I am. It’s part of me. And I just don’t feel that if I was to give up nursing that it would be being true to myself. So I’m going to continue that. And because it’s a flexible job, I’ll be able to do less hours and focus on Miss Universe Ireland as well, and keep both of them as a priority. But I’m definitely going to work so hard for Thailand, I can’t wait. Like, I’m so, so, so excited! [laughs]”
Grainne works as a nurse in London, so how will she balance and integrate those responsibilities and duties with her new role?
“Well I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t have any kind of a set plan for what I was going to do when I won, ya know. I just didn’t expect this. So I think now I’m just going to have to go day-by-day, and prioritize what I’m going to do. I can do agency work as a nurse, so I can book my shifts when I’m available and that way I’m not letting anybody down if I can’t go to work. And if an opportunity with Miss Universe Ireland comes up, I’ll be aware that I’ve got that and so I won’t be able to work this week, or whatever. I don’t want to be letting anybody down by not showing up to work, as such. So it’s good that it’s so flexible. If it was any other job, it might not be. So I feel like I’ll be o.k. in that sense.”
Grainne has already stated that she wants to use her time as Miss Universe Ireland as a platform to promote and raise awareness and education for female health. Aside from the obvious reasons, I asked Grainne why this is something so close to her heart…
“I suppose with me being a nurse and being a woman, it’s very noticeable in the country, in Ireland, that women’s health issues do take a back seat. Obviously with the recent scandal around the smear-testing, being one example. It always seems to be that women’s health is never on the forefront, there’s always some publicity around it where something’s gone wrong, or the way it took so long for the Repeal the 8th amendment to finally happen, ya know. I just feel that in this country there could be more done to highlight the problems in women’s health. And obviously then with me being a nurse, and being a woman, all of these factors are the reasons that I chose that platform. I really do feel that it’s one that’s needed. There’s so many women in Ireland that need encouragement and support in that sense. And with me being a professional, I feel that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just saying things off a whim, or while uneducated in those areas. So there was loads of reasons, but I’m definitely glad I chose that platform, and hopefully now I’ll be able to do more charity work around it now that I’ve got this title.”
From working as a nurse in England, has Grainne noticed differences in standards towards women’s health care between the two countries?
“That’s a good question. I suppose there is a bit of a difference. I suppose in Ireland, it [women’s health] does take more of a back seat. Whereas in England, it is a bit more to the forefront. It’s just that you’ll notice kind of little things that are different in your day-to-day job. We’re not very bad, obviously. Women’s health is very important in this country, but I just feel it could use a little bit more encouragement with everything.”
As we mentioned earlier, Grainne has already been to Bangkok before, and indeed, has done a fair bit of travelling – spending time in Boston, San Francisco, and Spain – and with plenty more air-miles sure to be clocked up during the year ahead. But she’ll have to be careful not to have a repeat of what happened to her last Christmas! We’ll let Grainne explain…
“[Laughs] Is this the passport situation? [laughs]. I was going home for Christmas, and I was so excited about getting home to see my family. I was packing all my things, and packing all my presents, and didn’t realise that I didn’t have my passport! And I also didn’t have any photo i.d. at the time, because my purse had actually been stolen a few months before. So I got to the airport, realised I had no passport, it was Christmas time, so there wasn’t any other available flights to get home. So I started to panic, and I started to cry, and I was ringing my family saying I wasn’t going to get home, and that this was the most awful thing in the world! [laughs]. But then one of the girls that was working at the airport took pity on me and she checked my bag on herself, and took me up to the flight herself, and made sure I got on o.k. and everything. So it was great in the end. She was really, really nice.”
The Miss Universe Ireland pageant 2018 wasn’t Grainne’s first venture into contests of this kind. She was actually crowned Miss Donegal in 2016, and was also the first runner-up in Miss Earth Northern Ireland in 2017. So I wondered when did Grainne first think about taking part in competitions like these?
“Yeah, my very first one was when I was Miss Donegal for Miss Ireland World in 2016, and I just entered that last minute. It was something that I’d always been interested in. Everybody told me it would be great for me to do that, so I just kind of thought well, why don’t I just go for it? And actually, Miss Universe Ireland was the first contest that I ever entered, but it didn’t actually end up happening that year. So Miss Universe Ireland was always my first dream, and my biggest dream. But before Brittany Mason took it over it was quite disordered, and disorganised. So it didn’t end up happening that year and that was when I decided to enter for Miss Ireland World instead, as Miss Donegal. It was a great platform, it was brilliant, but it just wasn’t to be the year for me. And again, Miss Earth, when I entered that, I think it finished the way it did for a reason, and that was because this one this year is the one I was supposed to get, ya know.”
For people who won’t know much about her yet, how would Grainne describe herself?
“How would I describe myself? I kind of like everything! [laughs]. I like all different types of music. If you were on my phone you’d be thinkin’ what is this girl into?! Because I have everything from rap, to country, to pop, to Irish folk music! With t.v., I don’t get to watch much, because I’m quite busy. But if I’m free I like to sit in and watch some Netflix. And I love to run as well, and to swim in the sea when I can. Those are some of the things I like to do. As for my personality, well I’d like to think I’m quite bubbly, I’m definitely hard-working, I’m ambitious, I’m determined. And I feel like those are all good traits for me to have for being Miss Universe Ireland, and going on to compete in Miss Universe. And I suppose I’m quite talkative, too [laughs].”
If, through being Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne could have the chance to meet anyone in the world, who would she want that to be, and why?
“Who would it be, and why? Hmmm. I don’t know actually. Oh my God, there’s so many people. I’ll have to think longer about that one! I don’t know. I’ll come back to you on that one [laughs].”
As we came to the end of our chat on what I imagine will be Grainne’s last free Sunday for quite a while, I asked her if she had any kind of personal motto or mantra that she did her best to live by?
“I do. What I live my life by is this: Anything worth having doesn’t come easy. And I’ve said that since I was very young. I just feel that if you work hard for something, that it’s always going to be worth it in the end. Because anything that you’ve worked hard for, is going to be something that you’ve really wanted. So it’s going to be something that you’ll look back on and be proud that you achieved. That’s definitely my motto, and it’s definitely something that I’ve stood by.”
Not only will Grainne stand out when it comes to beauty, brains, charm, and style in Bangkok next December, I don’t think there’ll be a sounder contestant there either. Maybe Buncrana should set aside December 18th for one hell of a party.