Alopecia doesn't make me less of a person...

Four young Cork women are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Rosanna Davidson by representing Ireland at Miss World in China this November. JENNY REGAN talks to the finalists of Miss Ireland, about suffering from alopecia, charity tandem cycles and dreams of being a UNICEF ambassador
Alopecia doesn't make me less of a person...
Tara O'Leary. Pictures by Steve Savage

IRELAND’S glitterati will be out in force at one of the most anticipated events on this year’s social calendar.

The Miss Ireland 2017 final, organised by Miss Ireland directors Brendan Marc Scully and Sean Montague, takes place at The Crown Plaza Hotel in Norwood, near Santry in Dublin this Friday, September 22.

The winner will go on to compete at the prestigious Miss World 2017 pageant in Sanya, China, on November 19, which, incidentally was where Rosanna Davidson walked away with the crown in 2003.

Founded in 1952, Miss World is one of the world’s biggest TV shows broadcast to more than 140 countries worldwide and attracts thousands of entrants from over 120 countries. Prolific winners of the title include Rosanna Davidson, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai and Megan Young, all of whom have carved out successful careers in the entertainment, acting and modelling industries.

Miss Cork 2017 Tara O’ Leary, 20, and Miss Cork runners-up Zoe Sohun, 21, Laura Hourican, 22 and Rachel Punch, 18 will battle it out among the other 28 finalists for the coveted title of Miss Ireland 2017 in what is set to be an extra special event as the pageant celebrates its 70 th birthday.

The glamourous event will be hosted by Cork TV Presenter Elaine Crowley and Miss Ireland director Brendan Marc Scully and the judging panel will include stylist Sonya Mohlick, current Mr Ireland Darren King and title sponsor and owner of Vanity X Make-up Academy Debbie McQuillan.

Miss Ireland 2017 has evolved over the years and having scrapped the ‘swimwear’ section four years ago, the competition focuses on building the contestants’ self-esteem and confidence and honing their interview, presentation and media skills, as director Sean Montague explains: “Putting on a bikini to be judged on what your body looks like was never what Miss Ireland was about. The finalists meet with the judges the day before for a lengthy interview process so they are not judged solely by what we see on stage on the night.”

Miss Ireland 2017 will use her title to raise awareness and fundraise for charitable causes, hence the theme #BeautyWithAPurpose which is central to the Miss World organisation’s philosophy. Since its inception in 1947, Miss Ireland has raised hundreds of thousands of funds for various charities.

For ticket information and live updates, follow @MissIrelandOrg on social media or visit


Tara O'Leary. Picture by Steve Savage
Tara O'Leary. Picture by Steve Savage


Miss Cork 2017 title-holder Tara O’Leary is from Kerry Pike and is the youngest of four brothers and one sister. Tara went to Colaiste Choilm in Ballincollig and studies Business Information Systems at CIT.

She loves college life and describes CIT as a very friendly and welcoming place to learn.

“Growing up, I was quite shy but the course I’m doing involves public speaking and working in groups. My experience at CIT really stood to me in Miss Cork.”

Tara also works part time at Oriel House Hotel in Ballincollig and as part of her Miss Cork prize, she is signed with Pulse Models in Cork.

“I never did modelling before. Once you get the feel for it, you just want to do more! I love it and it has opened up many doors for me.”

Since winning her crown, Tara has been involved with a few charities and bravely did a bungee jump for the Irish Guide Dogs Association in May.

She is an advocate of mental health awareness and recently did a charity tandem cycle with her dad, which she said was an orchestrated move to demonstrate the notion of not being alone when faced with a challenge.

“I thought if we did the cycle together, it would be symbolic as we’d face the challenge together and not be alone, which is so important in terms of mental health.

“Many people either suffer or know someone suffering with anxiety and depression. It’s a universal issue,” she said.

Tara feels inspired by 2003 Miss World winner Rosanna Davidson as she is now a successful entrepreneur and food author.

“Pageants these days are not just about a pretty face as Rosanna has demonstrated. I really want to do Cork proud and do the best I can.”

Zoe Sohun.
Zoe Sohun.


Zoe is from Fermoy and is currently living, studying and working in Dublin, which explains her current title of Miss Dublin South. She has one older sister and recently celebrated her 21 st birthday. She was deputy head girl in her final year at Loreto Secondary School in Fermoy. She now studies Law at DCU, organises events at Krystle Nightclub, and works for Abercrombie and Finch. Her many interests include going on road trips, reading and writing fiction.

Zoe says her friends were a little surprised that she entered the competition.

“At school I was really into my schoolwork so some of my friends raised an eyebrow when I entered the competition. I’m very interested in women’s rights and I believe that walking on a stage, feeling beautiful and confident is the right of every woman.”

“An essay Baby Woman by Emily Ratajkowski explores the idea that if a woman shows a bit of skin, then she can’t be intelligent and confident. We really need to rid ourselves of that misconception.”

Zoe plans to work with Pieta House and the Childhood Cancer Foundation. Her her dream would be to be an Ambassador for UNICEF, having interned for them while in school.

“To me Miss Ireland is someone who doesn’t just turn up to glam events in heels but someone who is really involved with her community and that’s what I want to do. To represent your nation is the highest honour you could ever have.”

Laura Hourican.
Laura Hourican.


Miss Cork city Laura Hourican is from Rochestown and is the second youngest in a family of two brothers and two sisters.

She went to Christ King Secondary School and Bruce College and is now in her final year in UCC studying Economics and Psychology.

The self-confessed social butterfly works part-time between The Bowery nightclub, The Silly Goose and Deep South and is enjoying her new experience of modelling with Pulse Models.

Laura admits that before her Miss Cork experience, she felt ‘shy and awkward’ so her motivation for getting involved was to tackle her confidence.

During the semi-finals of Miss Ireland in August, Laura bravely spoke out about alopecia, a condition she’d been secretly battling since she was 17.

“When I started losing my hair it was a knock to my confidence and I didn’t feel like I could talk about it.

“Then, at the semi-finals, I just felt the overwhelming need to be open and to say ‘I have this condition but it doesn’t make me less of a person’.”

Laura plans to work with Alopecia Support Ireland in the hope that her story will help someone else who may be suffering in silence.

Rachel Punch. Picture by Rebekah Hartnett
Rachel Punch. Picture by Rebekah Hartnett


Miss Cork East Rachel Punch lives in Cobh and has one younger and one older brother. At just 18 years old she is the youngest of the four Cork delegates.

She has just started 6th Year at Colaiste Mhuire in Cork city and has been building up her portfolio with Pulse Models.

In her spare time, she likes playing piano, swimming and keeping fit.

Rachel plans to raise funds for the L’Arche Community and the Cope Foundation in Cork.

“My friend’s uncle is a client at L’Arche so I know about the wonderful work they do.

“My dad is involved with Cope so he has inspired me to help out.”

Rachel has seen her confidence grow in recent months and her competitive streak is coming out as the final approaches.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting this far as the other girls are a bit older and more experienced.

“To win would mean the world to me because since Miss Cork I’ve wanted it so much and I’m really motivated and focused. It is such an incredibly positive experience.”

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