Four ambitious young Donegal women are putting the environment first as they compete in a beauty pageant with a difference.

The Miss Earth Ireland 2023 competition got underway recently, with 23 women from across Ireland taking part. The theme is ‘beauties for a cause’ and the goal is to promote environmental awareness and charity endeavours.

Donegal is well-represented in this year’s competition. Kevea Gallagher from Dungloe, Layla Doherty from Ballyliffin, Emma Grace from Kilmacrennan and Nicole Duddy from St. Johnston are all taking part in the hope of representing Ireland at the world final in Vietnam.

Donegal Woman talked to each of the finalists to hear their goals for the competition.

Layla Doherty

Layla Doherty

Layla Doherty from Ballyliffin is no stranger to such competitions. The 21-year-old was Miss Donegal North in the Miss Ireland 2021 final. Miss Earth came at the right time, as she is currently on a gap year from college. She is eager to learn in the lead-up to the final in May.

“I have followed Miss Earth Ireland for a while and it always looked so fun. I have always loved public speaking and I am a freelance model for a bit of craic so pageantry is definitely my thing. I only know the basics when it comes to environmental awareness but living in Inishowen, we’re doing our best to recycle, reuse and upcycle as much as we can due to mica in our homes,” she said.

“Miss Earth Ireland also allows me to speak on issues like transport as well as tourism.”

Layla said it would be a ‘dream come true’ to win Miss Earth Ireland. The final takes place on 27th May in The G Hotel in Galway.

Emma Grace

Emma Grace

Emma Grace, aged 26, has seen a lot of the world. She was born in New Mexico, grew up in Mayo, finished school in America and went to University in London. She moved back to Ireland in 2022 and is now settled at her family home in Kilmacrennan outside Letterkenny.

Emma, an abstract artist, has a passion for upcycling and volunteering with mental health charities. She is an ambassador for this year’s Letterkenny Darkness into Light event and is also on the committee. She is also the team coordinator for the Team Hope Shoebox Appeal for 2023. Her art is informed by her own difficulties with physical and mental health, and her pieces have been on display in An Grianan Theatre. She is also studying to be a certified functional medicine coach.

Speaking about Miss Earth, Emma said: “This competition helps each of us to find our own unique voice. The more work in the community that I do, the more I realise I want to grow more as a person.”

Emma believes that there are many small actionable ways of helping the environment that make a big impact.

“I applied to Miss Earth Ireland, as I loved the message “beauty for a cause”. Focusing on the environment and making an impact really aligned with my values, as I believe we should love the place that gives us life, nourishes our bodies, provides natural medicines and allows us to live the life we do. We should all leave a place better than how we found it, and this includes caring for our environment.”

Nicole Duddy

Nicole Duddy

Nicole Duddy loves the message that Miss Earth has to tell to the world. The 24 years old works as a content writer for an international company that has an office in Galway. She has also worked in film production. 

“Overall, if I have taught something new to a person during the journey of the competition, I’d consider it a success,” Nicole said.

“I understand that many people don’t have the resources or time to do big changes when it comes to the environment so I hope to showcase how even the little changes make a significant difference. One project that I’m currently working on is with my two friends to create a farm-fresh hamper for charity. We will be making our own butter sourced from my friend’s dairy farm, veg from his polytunnel and eggs from another friend’s hens, along with some other bits and pieces.”

A pageant such as this pushes people out of their comfort zones, and Nicole is enjoying the challenge. 

“This is something younger me thought I’d never do. She would panic at the thought of publicly putting herself out there, the way I am today. So part of this is to show myself that I’m not the nervous wee Donegal girl whose confidence was shattered. But I’m the woman who picked herself back up and built her confidence to know she can do anything.”

Kevea Gallagher

Kevea Gallagher

Kevea Gallagher also has personal motivations for getting involved. The Leaving Cert Rosses CS student is taking on the new challenge to learn more about charity fundraising. 

“Recently we lost one of our friends and it was a big tragedy here in Dungloe. I want to learn how to raise money to fund services for young people in our community to talk about mental health more,” Kevea said.

“I think that boys, more than girls, need to be aware of how to help each other through bad times. I feel like a competition like Miss Earth would show me how to raise money for guest speakers or counselling for boys in our community.”

Kevea is being well supported by her family, her parents Roseanne and Joe Patrick and the groups that she is involved in: Claire Gallagher Irish Dancing and Rosses Athletics.

Miss Earth Ireland co-director Alan Murphy says the competition stands out as an empowering initiative.

“The finalists are incredible this year, they do so much great work for the environment and for charity as part of this competition,” Alan told DW.

“It’s about teamwork and fun and making friends, that is what we strive for as directors.

“But I think as well, the most important thing I notice about being involved in a pageant like this is that the girls become best friends for life, they become a team that hypes each other up, and they become a team raising money for charity and doing work for the environment.”

This year’s Miss Earth Ireland contest is focused on raising funds for the Irish Wildlife Trust. Stay tuned to the social media pages of each finalist as they share environment-supporting tips and fundraising initiatives for wildlife and their habitats in Ireland.

Best of luck to each finalist