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I never felt moving home was embarrassing... I love where I'm from'

Former Miss Universe Ireland and frontline hero Grainne Gallanagh reveals how the pandemic has inspired her to go back to her roots in more ways than one after moving home, writes Deirdre Reynolds

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Grainne has become a great ambassador for her native Donegal on Instagram.

Grainne has become a great ambassador for her native Donegal on Instagram.

Grainne has become a great ambassador for her native Donegal on Instagram.

When Grainne Gallanagh goes back to her roots, she really goes back to her roots.

After years in the concrete jungle of London, and then Dublin, the former Miss Universe Ireland is loving life at home on the farm since returning to her native Donegal as the world went into lockdown.

Now the Instagram star is giving up her blonde ambition too after returning to her natural brunette hair colour since our exclusive windswept photoshoot in her beloved Buncrana.

"I feel like I identified as a blonde, but the upkeep is unbelievable," Grainne jokes of blonde-siding Magazine+ with her dramatic new look, unveiled on social media last week. "So much time and the condition of my hair was just frazzled, so I decided to go back to my roots."

It's been a year of changing head space for the 27-year-old nurse, who originally moved back from London to the capital to take part in RTÉ's Dancing with the Stars in early 2019, before the pandemic saw her head back up the road to hunker down with her mum Patricia and dad Paddy.

"I found it great and also awful," she jokes of joining Ireland's generation of boomerang kids. "My parents are a bit older, and I was away for a few years, so it was great to be able to spend time with them.

"There was no sort of worry of going anywhere, being anywhere; there was that sort of relaxed pace in the first lockdown. But then it was also awful because there were times I was like, 'I'm going to go insane, I have no space, I just need to get out of this house!'"

Still golden-haired at the time of our shoot, since then, Grainne has become the unofficial poster girl for the beginnings of the Wild Atlantic Way, sharing snaps of her cold water swims and hot takeaway coffees with her 45,000 followers on social media.

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Grainne on the family farm in Buncrana.

Grainne on the family farm in Buncrana.

Grainne Gallanagh on the beach in Buncrana Co Donegal.

Grainne Gallanagh on the beach in Buncrana Co Donegal.

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Grainne on the family farm in Buncrana.

"I love where I'm from," she beams. "I'm so annoying on Instagram and online. I'm like, 'Come to Donegal - it's class!'

"I'm constantly at the beach showing people and they're like, 'Alright, we get it, you're at the beach', and I'm like, 'Yeah, but you need to come here and see it for yourself!'"

Gorgeous Grainne first came to public prominence when she represented Ireland at Miss Universe 2018.

But the pageant queen says she had no hesitation in swapping her evening gown for her nurse's uniform when the global pandemic took hold last year.

"At the start, I had been out of nursing at that point for six months," tells agency nurse Grainne. "Even if I'm on annual leave for a week, I'd be sort of anxious going back. And then there was obviously going to be a lot of changes with Covid.

"It was quite scary for the staff because nobody wanted to pick it up and take it home. Nobody wanted to take it out of the hospital. As my parents are that little bit older, that was my fear, that I would take it home to them, so I lived on my own in my sister's house for the first while, which was a little bit lonely. After the cases started to go down, I moved back in with my parents."

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The family ended up isolating together in January after separately being identified as close contacts and testing positive for the virus.

Now Grainne and her lookalike big sister Gemma (31) are set to spend even more time together when their hit podcast What's the Crime? returns for a second outing later this month.

"Myself and Gemma love true crime," she explains. "It sounds a bit morbid and a little bit weird, but we love true crime stories like documentaries, podcasts, books.

"We would watch something and then we would discuss it on the phone, [so] we just decided we would do a podcast.

"Basically, I research true crime stories and then I tell the story to Gemma, and so far it's done really well - people love it. Every episode is different; some are Irish and some are from around the world.

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Grainne stopping by On The Go coffee in Buncrana.

Grainne stopping by On The Go coffee in Buncrana.

Grainne enjoying a drink at The Drift Inn in Buncrana.

Grainne enjoying a drink at The Drift Inn in Buncrana.

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Grainne stopping by On The Go coffee in Buncrana.

"We always do ones that we find out what happens in the end because those cliffhangers, my God, some of those stories keep me up at night like, 'Who dunnit?'

"You have to be very sensitive as well," she acknowledges of the killer genre. "Obviously, me and Gemma have a laugh, but about other things - never the actual crime or the actual person. You have to remember that it did actually happen in somebody's life.

"You just never know, it could be someone's family member, especially with the Irish crimes because it is that little bit closer to home. It's sort of a tricky one, but so far we're really happy with it.

"It's so exciting that people are enjoying it, because you worry are people going to judge you or think it's weird or be like, 'Why are they doing that?' But I suppose you have to do these things anyway."

Between giving it some welly on the family farm and researching some of the world's grisliest murders, it's a long way from the glamour of Miss Universe that brought her to Bangkok for the final just three years ago.

"It was only 2018, but it does feel like a lifetime ago," Grainne recalls. "It's something that, of course, I'm so proud of and I love looking at the photos - it's so hard to believe that I did that and it was me.

"It was brilliant and I love the memories I have from it, but it was also such an anxious time for me. I think back and I can feel the anxiety again.

"A lot of the stuff you see online, you just see glimpses of everything, but there was a lot of work I did behind the scenes. It was so stressful and people don't really see that side of it. My regret is that I wish I didn't let it overshadow so many of my memories."

Today, the model is just as likely to be found in welly boots as a bikini, as she plans to keep it country "indefinitely".

"I love being here," enthuses Grainne, who is the youngest of five sisters. "Obviously we were brought up on the farm, and just sort of outside all the time, and I'm getting back into that now. I wouldn't say I'm 'helping' daddy with the farm, I'd say I'm more of a torture than anything else, giving him extra work, but I think secretly he loves it.

"I never felt being at home was embarrassing or anything like that. My parents have spoiled me my whole life, so I always feel like I'm their baby no matter what. I feel like it's always going to be an open door and I'll probably always come back wherever I go."

Double-jabbed and looking fab, now the frontline worker is urging others to follow in the same vein - but accepts that others her age may feel differently.

"I got the AstraZeneca and I felt fine," she tells. "A lot of people are a bit iffy about getting it, especially the AstraZeneca, but I was grand. I was a little bit tired.

"It is a personal choice and it is something that people will have to make up their own mind on. But I got it and I would be happy for all my family to get it and I would encourage people to get it because it is herd immunity. It is a necessity that as many people get it as possible.

"It's not something that I would really be very vocal about because it is so personal, and a lot of people have their own decisions and their own reasons behind that. But I would tell my family I think that we should all get it because I just want all this to be a distant memory."

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Grainne with her sister and podcast co-host Gemma.

Grainne with her sister and podcast co-host Gemma.

Grainne enjoying a stroll on the beach.

Grainne enjoying a stroll on the beach.

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Grainne with her sister and podcast co-host Gemma.

And she's already prepping for her first big girls' night out with her wingwoman, Gemma, with the lively pub scene the thing she missed most during lockdown.

"I'm going to start getting dolled up about a week before," jokes Grainne, who is loved up with boyfriend of six years, Ryan Coleman. "I'm going to start booking all my appointments.

"Me and my sister were like, 'Right, OK, as soon as it opens we're going to have lashes, hair, spray tan, nails - but we're still waiting on that. I suppose it'll be something to look forward to."

Meanwhile, she laughs off the notion that she could already be in contention for the title of Ireland's sexiest farmer.

"Those are just pictures," she jokes. "Take them with a pinch of salt. I do not look like that 90pc of the time.

"There's other photos of me in pyjamas with a greasy bun in my hair - those just don't make it online!"

Check out season one of What's the Crime? on Spotify now

Between giving it some welly on the family farm and researching some of the world's grisliest murders, it's a long way from the glamour of Miss Universe that brought her to Bangkok for the final just three years ago.

"It was only 2018, but it does feel like a lifetime ago," agrees Grainne. "It's something that, of course, I'm so proud of and I love looking at the photos - it's so hard to believe that I did that and that was me.

"It was brilliant and I love the memories I have from it. But it was also such an anxious time for me. I think back and I can feel the anxiety again.

"A lot of the stuff [you see] online, you just see glimpses of everything, but there was a lot of work I did behind the scenes. It was so stressful and people don't really see that side of it. My regret is that I wish I didn't let it overshadow so many of my memories."

Today, the model is just as likely to be found in welly boots as a bikini, as she plans to keep it country "indefinitely".

"I love being here," enthuses Grainne, who is the youngest of five sisters. "Obviously we were brought up on the farm, and just sort of outside all the time, and I'm getting back into that now. Like, I wouldn't say I'm 'helping' Daddy with the farm; I'd say I'm more of a torture than anything else, giving him extra work, but I think secretly he loves it.

"I never felt being at home was embarrassing or anything like that. My parents have spoiled me my whole life, so I always feel like I'm their baby no matter what. I feel like it's always going to be an open door and I'll probably always come back wherever I go."

Double-jabbed and looking fab, now the frontline worker is urging others to follow in the same vein - but accepts that others her age may feel differently.

"I got the AstraZeneca and I felt fine," she tells. "A lot of people are a bit iffy about getting it, especially the AstraZeneca, but I was grand. I was a little bit tired.

"It is a personal choice, and it is something that people will have to make up their own mind on. But I got it and I would be happy for all my family to get it and I would encourage people to get it because it is herd immunity. It is a necessity that as many people get it as possible.

"It's not something that I would really be very vocal about because it is so personal, and a lot of people have their own decisions and their own reasons behind that. But I would tell my family that I think that we should all get it because I just want all this to be a distant memory."

And, with the lifting of restrictions, she's already prepping for her first big girls' night out with her wingwoman, with the lively pub scene the thing she missed most.

"I'm going to start getting dolled up about a week before," jokes Grainne, who is loved up with boyfriend-of-six-years, Ryan Coleman. "I'm going to start booking all my appointments.

"Me and my sister were like, 'Right, OK, as soon as it opens we're going to have lashes, hair, spray tan, nails - but we're still waiting on that. I suppose it'll be something to look forward to."

Meanwhile, she laughs off the notion that she could already be in contention for the title of Ireland's sexiest farmer.

"Those are just pictures," she demurs. "Take them with a pinch of salt. I do not look like that 90pc of the time.

"There's other photos of me in pyjamas with a greasy bun in my hair - those just don't make it online!"

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