AT THE start of 2017, Tara O’Leary made a promise to herself, a resolution that she would go for something she always wanted to do, but wouldn’t have had the nerve to do previously.
Just three months in, the young woman has not only entered the Miss Cork contest — she’s gone ahead and won it!
The 20-year-old, from Kerry Pike, outside Ballincollig, is in her second year of BIS at CIT, a four year course.
She was crowned the new Miss Cork at Fota Island Resort on Saturday night, in a hotly contested event, organised by Pulse Models and Event Management and sponsored by Kearys Mini. A total of 32 young women took part.
Tara said: “I am still in shock, I can’t wait for what is ahead. The butterflies have not gone away!”
The young woman who went to Kerry Pike primary school and then onto Colaiste Choilm in Ballincollig is the youngest child in a family of six. She lives at home with parents, Bríd and Sean (who works at CIT as an engineer). She has four brothers and one sister — Eoin, Gavin Daren, Ronan and Aisling.
“I am the youngest so I am well looked after,” said Tara. “They have all been good to me over the years.”
She has a very strong bond with her sister Aisling in particular.
“My sister is my role model, she is 22, she pushed me to go for Miss Cork. We are quite close, I would have looked up to her loads over the years, I still look up to her.”
So how did Tara get involved in Miss Cork?
“I would probably not put myself forward for things, I needed a bit of a push, I wouldn’t have the confidence. When the New Year came about I said that I would make a good new year’s resolution, that my resolution would be to go for it, to do something I would love to do, but would not have the nerve to.
“Miss Cork came up and I was asked to do it, I realised that I would love to, my sister said to do it. I thought, definitely, I am going for it.
“I thought of all the benefits — it would be a nice thing to do, I would make new friends, it would help my confidence, it would be a great experience, I would meet new people, anyone would love to represent Cork, it would be amazing.
“I never ever thought that on the day ‘I am going to win this’. If I came last I would have been equally as happy. Every single girl I met was the nicest, we all clicked and we had a laugh.”
Nerves didn’t enter the equation on the night itself, said Tara — earlier that day, however, was a different story.
“The only nervous time was the interview, during the day, where we had to go before four judges, and were asked a question. That was nerve wracking, but I thought, it is only a question, all I can do is answer. I was myself, I forgot it was intimidating.”
On the night, Tara enjoyed every moment. In the first round the girls wore cocktail dresses from Silk Peaches in Ballincollig. Tara wore a lovely gold and silver dress, which she said was very standout.
She had to tell the crowd her name, age and who was sponsoring her — EM Fitness and Nutrition, who she says were wonderful to deal with over the past few weeks. She had done personal training there, as well as classes, as she is very much into her fitness and also clean/healthy eating.
The young woman did a tiny bit of modelling previously, but has always been into fashion.
“People always like my clothing, they always pay me compliments about my clothes choice, I liked to be inspirational, I love to do myself up.”
She describes her style as classy, but definitely adds a bit of character, mixes it up, she doesn’t stick with plain/ boring and adds a bit of edge.
In round two of the competition, the contestants modelled evening gowns from Verso and Tara said she felt very bridal in her beautiful white/ivory dress.
“I think my dad almost shed a tear, he was so proud.”
From 32 contestants, the finalists were whittled down to ten. Normally it is eight, but competition was so fierce this year.
“We said we were so happy to have made it so far, I didn’t think anymore of it.”
They were then each asked a question.
“I was the third called up and I was asked; ‘What is your favourite quote’. It was the perfect question for me, I love quotes, they are very inspiring, they give you reassurance. My answer was to ‘live for every day’, because you never know where your life is going to end, ‘live for today’.”
It is a quote that will serve her well too this year, she said: “I will take that with me, every opportunity that comes along for me, I will take it, Miss Cork is only one year, there are so many opportunities.”
When the winners were being announced Tara said all the girls lined up on stage — they called third place first, which was shared this year by Laura Hourican from Rochestown and Zoe Sohun from Fermoy.
“We were all so delighted, we were so proud of everyone,” said Tara.
Then the second runner up was announced as Rachel Punch from Cobh.
“She was the girl who was standing next to me, I was delighted as I spoke to her a lot during the rehearsals, she is only 17, so she was like my little sister. Then they said Miss Cork 2017 is Tara O’Leary… I never ever would have guessed it would have been me. I was almost waiting for another Tara to come out..
“Straight away they grabbed me and gave me the crown and sash, I couldn’t believe it, I could not stop smiling … I still haven’t! Growing up I would have been to Disneyland, when they put the crown on my head, I thought, ‘I am a real princess now’.
“The next morning I looked over and saw the crown and sash on my locker, I put the crown on my head to make sure it was real!”
The reaction from family and friends and even strangers has been amazing.
“I have never seen my family so happy! Sunday I couldn’t get off my phone, I was bombarded with so many messages, people have been wonderful, I am so grateful. I got about two hours sleep, I couldn’t sleep after the after-party in Soho.”
One thing she is really looking forward to in the year ahead is supporting local charity. “At Christmas I get more enjoyment from giving, I have always wanted to work with charities, I can’t wait.”
She intends on doing the Darkness into Light fundraiser for Pieta House and as a young person is too well aware that it has been a tough year, nationally, but especially for Cork. She added if she could be of any help to even one person, it would be such an achievement.
Tara will go on to represent Cork at Miss Ireland in October — for now she says she is going to appreciate every day as Miss Cork.