Friday 4th of march at 6 in the morning, I drove off to the Schiphol airport to go to Cork, Ireland.
I was invited to be a guest judge at the finale of Mr Gay Ireland 2017, a great opportunity to pick the follower from my dear friend Konrad who did a great job as Mr Gay Ireland 2016 and also participated at Mr Gay Europe 2016.

When I arrived in Cork, one of the first things that stood out for me were the nice people. In the hotel, cab drivers, people on the street, were very open and social. A city which was much bigger than I expected with a nice, cosy and warm touch.

I love traveling. I love getting to know new cultures, the way people think, how they act and what their culture is all about. A waitress in the hotel told me, because it was my first time in Ireland, I had to try a pint of Guinness, so I did. Belgium is a country known for its beer, that’s why I really wanted to try it. I liked it, so my trip started off very good.

As the first evening was there Brian Merriman, the producer of Mr Gay Ireland, invited me for a dinner with him, Konrad and some previous winners of the MGI competition. We talked about how their competition started 12 years ago, their HIV project and fund raising each year. Very touching how they work on such a project as a team. It felt like we had known each other for years. Such warm and honest people, that’s what made me enjoy it even more.

We went to the club where the finale would be the next day, so I could already see the location and have a chat with the contestants one day before the show. It was important for me to have a talk with them because as a Mr Gay, you are always an ambassador and a spokesperson. How you talk, your opinion, way of communicating; is very important. Even in a club or somewhere it doesn’t look like you have to act professional.

The next day I discovered Cork. I went in the city, did some sightseeing and visited the local market. And before I knew it, it was time to get ready for the finale.

It was a warm welcome and the contestants were very nervous for the finale.

The final was in bar Chambers, a known LGBT bar in Cork. Even the taxi drivers knew what it was. There were 7 contestants and a few rounds. The first round was that each contestant brought someone who introduced the candidate in their own way. Very moving to see how they supported each other. The second round they each introduced themselves to the crowd, and got an LGBT related subject they had to talk about for 1 minute. A very important and interesting round. The third round was a swim wear round. More to show off their presence, being happy with yourself and confidence than just showing off their bodies. And last but not least they had to show off their formal wear.

There were a lot of prizes to win. For example Mr Congeniality who is picked by all the contestants. Mr Gay Fundraiser who raised the most money for their HIV project and also the smartest one who scored the most on the written exam. Stephen Lehane won the title of Mr Gay Ireland 2017 that night. He will be representing Ireland at Mr Gay Europe 2017 this year and will be the ambassador for Ireland for one year.

I want to wish Stephen the best of luck, want to thank the organisation of Mr Gay Ireland for this unforgettable event and the organisation of Mr Gay Europe for the opportunity.

Raf Van Puymbroeck
Mr Gay Europe 2016