Sarah Jane Dunne, a daughter of the famous late Pecker Dunne from Killimer, has qualified for the Miss Ireland finals, which will take place on Saturday, July 19.
She is the first member of the Travelling community to be selected as a finalist for Miss Ireland, a competition, which has a 67-year history.
Speaking about her qualification for the finals, the 24-year-old said it came about after she entered a radio competition.
“I was in a competition that Ryan Tubridy had on 2FM, Miss Personality, basically nobody knew what we looked like when we entered that competition. We just filled out application forms with all our details and then they picked eight finalists, who they thought were interesting. It went on for two days; we went on the radio, we were interviewed, there was a public vote online and the public decided who they wanted to be Miss Personality.
“After that, I was asked to go forward for the semi-finals of Miss Ireland. Miss Kilkenny was one of the places they had to be filled, there were no heats in Kilkenny or a few places and when I got through the semi-finals, I was given the title Miss Kilkenny.”
While she may not have sprung from Kilkenny, she is based there now. “I’m going out with my boyfriend for six years and he’s from Kilkenny and I’ve been living there for the last year. I had been there for a while but when I started college in Trinity I was living in Dublin. I moved back to Kilkenny after I was finished.”
Sixty-seven years is a long time without a Traveller reaching the deciding stages of the competition and she says there has been a lot of interest in her progress. “I’ve got a really good response. My phone has been hopping. Exposé and Midday have called me and a lot of the papers are interested in covering the story.”
It’s not an area of activity that many young Traveller women get involved in and she feels it may be because they just don’t know much about what’s involved.
“You wouldn’t really see Traveller girls putting themselves forward for something like that. I don’t know would they be aware of the process, you kind of have to look into it yourself and as long as I’m entering pageants, I haven’t seen any other Traveller girls entering them. I know other Traveller girls who are interested in modelling and who do modelling. One girl I know, who is a Traveller from Dublin, is very interested in entering Miss Ireland but she just didn’t have a clue how to go about it. So, I started helping her and telling her how to enter the pageants.”
Sarah Jane has just qualified as a teacher and is looking for work now. “I’m applying for jobs at the minute, so I’m hoping to secure a position. If I got one in Kilkenny it’d be handy because that’s where I’m living but I’d nearly take whatever I can get.”
While she will be representing Kilkenny, she hasn’t lost her fondness for Clare. “I would have loved to represent the Banner County but I was so busy with college during the time the Miss Clare heats were on, I couldn’t take part. I do know the girl that is representing Clare this year, Kate McGlennon. We were both finalists in the Miss Irish Sun last year and since then, we’ve remained good friends. She is a stunning girl and a good laugh!”
By Owen Ryan