I'm turning my pain to power to beat the bullies

Ahead of the Miss Universe Ireland final, JENNY REGAN talks to the four Cork women taking part about their individual challenges - from being bullied about their looks to undergoing spinal surgery, battling anxiety and more - and why winning the title would mean so much to them
I'm turning my pain to power to beat the bullies
Hayleigh O'Driscoll

FOUR Cork finalists are set to wow judges at the Miss Universe Ireland 2017 final which takes place tomorrow night (Thursday, August 31) in The Round Room at The Mansion House in Dublin.

Cailín Áine Ní Toibín, 23, Sophie Bahl, 20, Hayleigh O’Driscoll, 21 and Hope Hickey, 23, were selected along with 26 other hopefuls around the country out of more than 60 applicants to compete in the hotly anticipated final.

The pageant will comprise of three categories; Personal Interview, Swimwear and Eveningwear. The winner of the coveted title will make a special appearance at Toronto International Film Festival next month and represent Ireland at Miss Universe.

Cork model Lisa Madden won Miss Universe Ireland 2014 and went on to compete in the international competition. Other high profile models Andrea Roche and Roz Purcell competed in the global competition and are now successful self-made businesswomen.

New director of Miss Universe Ireland, Brittany Mason, took over the franchise (owned by IMG/WME) in Dublin in May this year. Her aim is to breathe new life into the competition and to showcase a ‘new era’ of Irish women.

From her humble beginnings in a small town in Indiana with a population of 368, to coming in second place at Miss Universe in Germany at just 17 years old, Brittany describes her experience with the Miss Universe brand as ‘life-changing’. Having travelled the world, enjoying a successful modelling and acting career, Brittany relocated from the US to Dublin a year and a half ago. She recently discovered she is 59% Irish which might explain her affection for the young women she mentors.

“I know there are girls with big dreams in small towns across the country but they just don’t know how to make them happen,” said Brittany.

“I’m here to bring those opportunities to the women of Ireland. We want to empower women and to celebrate the Irish women on an international stage. We have a lot of amazing girls competing so we are really excited.”

For live updates and ticket information on tomorrow’s final, follow @missuniverseireland on Instagram and Facebook.


Cailin Aine Ni Tobin
Cailin Aine Ni Tobin

Cailín Áine Ní Tóibín

Miss Universe Ireland 2017 finalist Cailín Áine Ní Tóibín, from, Cobh formerly held the Miss Universe Cork title in 2015.

She went to school at Coláiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire and is a gaeilgeoir.

Cailín works in Brown Thomas as a luxury sales advisor and will begin further training on the Brown Thomas Management Training programme in Dublin next month. She has been modelling with Lockdown Models for the past four years.

Cailín is a self-confessed gym junkie and enjoys dancing at her cousin Sinead Sheppard’s dance studio.

She is passionate about the subject of mental health and hopes to be an advocate for the charity Pieta House.

She said: “There is a person close to me who is affected so it really puts things into perspective. Mental health is something that needs to be spoken about, not just in Ireland but worldwide so Pieta House is my focus.”

Cailín has one older and one younger brother and says her family are her biggest cheerleaders: “My parents are my number one fans at the moment. They are hugely supportive. My grandmother even lights candles for me. Representing my country on an international stage would be a dream come true.”

Fun Fact: Cailín participated in ‘The Great Island Charity Row’ which involved rowing 15 miles around an island without stopping!

Sophie Bahl
Sophie Bahl

Sophie Bahl

Sophie, 20, from Rochestown is a former pupil of St Angela’s and Hewitt College. She studies Early Years and Childhood Studies at UCC.

She has one brother, two sisters and a young niece whom she loves to spend time with. In her spare time, she likes to hit the gym and has a passion for fashion.

Sophie’s motivation for taking part in Miss Universe Ireland 2017 stems from a personal battle with her confidence due to a spinal condition.

“Miss Universe Ireland is something I had always wanted to take part in but I never felt confident enough as I had scoliosis, which stopped me from doing a lot of things. I had spinal correction surgery last summer and am now fully recovered so this opportunity came at just the right time!”

Sophie’s main focus is to help raise awareness about the condition.

“Aside from the possibility of representing my country at Miss Universe, I want to become an ambassador for scoliosis sufferers with the Straight Ahead Ireland charity.

“I hope that I can show anyone currently suffering from scoliosis that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”

Fun fact: Sophie lived in Perth in Western Australia for a year when she was nine years old.

Hayleigh O'Driscoll
Hayleigh O'Driscoll

Hayleigh O’Driscoll

Bishopstown woman Hayleigh is studying Business at Cork Institute of Technology. She works at clothing store Bershka in Mahon Point.

She enjoys going to the gym and loves a spot of retail therapy.

As an only child, she enjoys spending time with her family and is particularly close to her mum, who she says is her inspiration.

Hayleigh says that by taking part in Miss Universe Ireland, she is “turning pain into power”.

“I got bullied a lot as a child. I am naturally thin and I’d get comments like ‘Oh, you’re so skinny it’s disgusting’. So from a young

I had a complex about my legs and my confidence was knocked. Things like that can really affect you and so it took a lot for me to decide I was going to enter.”

Having suffered with anxiety as a result of these negative experiences, Pieta House is Hayleigh’s chosen charity.

“Suicide rates are extremely high in Cork,” she said. “We need to talk about it, not just when it happens but also when it isn’t happening. It needs to be a constant topic for discussion.

“We need to get the message out there that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

Fun fact: Hayleigh can do the eyebrow dance from the Cadbury’s chocolate advert.

Hope Hickey
Hope Hickey

Hope Hickey

This young woman from Kilbrittain is the youngest in her family, with four older brothers whom she says are “very protective and very good to me”.

Hope went to school at Coláiste na Toirbhirte in Bandon and completed her studies in Economics and Maths at UCC in May.

She is on the management team of River Island in Mahon Point and models with Lockdown Models when she can.

Hope is a staunch sports enthusiast who played camogie for Kilbrittain and Cork. She is a regular gym goer and loves fashion and art.

She is no stranger to pageants and came in the top three at Miss Cork 2015, which later led to her competing in Miss Ireland where she came in the top 10.

When Hope saw that director Brittany Mason was revamping Miss Universe Ireland 2017, the competition immediately caught her attention,

“Brittany is an incredible person and an amazing mentor, making herself available to us 24/7. She has been so good to us and is really helpful in every way.”

Hope has seen her confidence grow through her participation in pageantry and sees winning as an opportunity to develop both professionally and personally.

“If I won, it would change my life. I am contemplating doing a Masters in PR or something media-related next year so winning would be a huge boost to my career.

“The possibility of a dream coming true is what makes life exciting.”

Hope would like to get involved with Cork Penny Dinners, a charity she says she really admires.

“Homelessness and poverty are rampant. I think it’s wonderful that Cork Penny Dinners provides people who are struggling with a place to go for a hot meal.”

Fun fact: A couple of years ago, Hope appeared on the show Winning Streak on behalf of her grandmother and came away with €25,000.

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