'As a trainee quantity surveyor I'm a woman in a man's world but being Miss Earth lets me show my feminine side'
Dearbhla Walsh, from Londonderry, is NI's representative at a beauty pageant with a difference
Dearbhla Walsh is a beauty queen with a difference. As Miss Earth Northern Ireland 2015, the 22-year-old from Londonderry is on a mission to promote environmental awareness, the cornerstone of the international Miss Earth pageant.
And as BSc Hons student of quantity surveying, the glamorous eco-warrior is the perfect choice to represent the province in December at the prestigious event in Austria, one of the three largest beauty pageants in the world, and one of the most publicised beauty contests in the world.
"I'm hoping to see where the Sound of Music was made and I'll be travelling around promoting the eco way of life," says Dearbhla. "I'm part of the UK team, with Miss Earth England, Scotland and Wales."
A former Miss Derry, Dearbhla lives at her family home in the city with her mother, Siobhan, a teacher; her father Billy, and younger brother Liam (16). At a statuesque 5ft 11in, with piercing blue eyes, she was a natural for the beauty catwalks from a young age.
"My sister Evan owns a beauty salon and mum always encouraged me to enter competitions," she says.
"It has been very good for building up my confidence and meeting other girls. It's a great platform for my career."
Sporty as well as brainy, Dearbhla is a keen horse-rider and golfer.
And like the current Miss Northern Ireland, Hillsborough student Sasha Livingstone, Dearbhla considers herself a feminist and rejects criticisms of beauty contests as sexist.
"I'm a woman in a man's world and I like the fact that I can go out and show my femininity," she says. "I won't try to hide it. I'm one of three girls in a quantity surveying class of 15 - I'd like to get more girls interested. Boys do get listened to a bit more and I'm out to change that, too."
Currently single, Dearbhla became interested in quantity surveying through her skill at maths, and was encouraged by a careers adviser to apply for a degree course at a Letterkenny Institute of Technology. She's now in the third year of a four-year course.
"Dearbhla is an excellent choice to represent Northern Ireland at Miss Earth because she can affect change within the world of construction," said UK pageant director Louise Brown. "This young lady shall be working as a quantity surveyor advising on building materials to be used within the construction world.
"The theme song of the Miss Earth pageant is Woman of the Earth, I am woman. This epitomises Dearbhla she is also a woman in a predominately male dominated engineering world of construction."
Throughout the competition, Dearbhla is promoting environmentally responsible and resource-efficient buildings. As part of the pageant's ethos, participants must devise an eco-message. Dearbhla's is: Building Northern Ireland for a sustainable future.
"As part of this message, I'm strongly advocating sustainable builds that make use of local indigenous materials - those occurring naturally within our local area," she explains. "There is nothing novel in this type of build. For thousands and thousands of years housing was built from found materials such as rock, earth, reeds and logs - and no more so than here in Northern Ireland with our 'waddle cottages'.
"The less energy required to turn an object into a usable building material, the better."
Dearbhla firmly believes in eco pioneer Mike Reynold's "earth ship" buildings. The major structural building component of the earth ship is recycled automobile tyres filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel labelled rubber. This brick and resulting bearing walls that it forms are virtually indestructible.
Aluminium cans and glass/plastic bottles can also be used to build interior walls, using a matrix technique for strength and durability - with bottles letting light shine through.
"We don't have any earth ships in Northern Ireland yet, but if I have my way, we'll get them the as soon as possible," Dearbhla laughs. "Brighton City Council approved the building of 16 earth ships on Brighton seafront, but the site was proved to be of archaeological significance and the build was stopped, unfortunately.
"There is only one earth ship in Scotland and two in England. They make so much sense: they're the most economical building ever. Once constructed, you have no bills. Everything is run by wind turbine, rain and solar panels.
"They're not aesthetically pleasing on the eye yet - that's another thing I want to change."
Dearbhla heads to Austria as Miss Earth NI on November 10 for a month, courtesy of her Richmond Centre sponsors, before the final in Vienna on December 5. This is the first year the competition is being held outside of the Philippines. The final will be televised, covering the 110 competing countries.
Dearbhla's maternal grandparents Marie and Barry McCafferty will be supporting her from their home on Oakfield Road in Derry.
"I'm very blessed to have such a daughter. Dearbhla is a true delight," added proud mum Siobhan.
A global contest helping women make positive headlines
Along with its rivals Miss Universe and Miss World, Miss Earth is one of the three largest beauty pageants in the world.
Miss Earth gained the attention of the worldwide media in 2003 after Vida Samadzai, an Afghan woman, now residing in the United States, competed in a red bikini. Samadzai was the first Afghan woman to compete in an international beauty pageant in almost 30 years, but the fact that she wore a bikini caused an uproar in her native country.
Miss Earth also made headlines in 2005 when a Pakistani beauty queen, Naomi Zaman, a Miss Pakistan World winner, participated for the first time. She is the first delegate from Pakistan to compete in any major international pageants. Beauty pageants are frowned-upon in Pakistan.
Likewise, Miss Tibet Earth 2006, Tsering Chungtak, the first Tibetan — the first in any major international beauty pageants — made headlines.
Aside from her environmental cause, she raised international attention regarding the Tibetan struggle for freedom.
And her participation in the pageant received approval from the Dalai Lama.