Make-up artist Ciara Daly on the secret of lasting happiness

Multi-award-winning west Belfast make-up artist Ciara Daly is a passionate advocate for mental health and wellbeing. Her own personal battle with depression and her quest for lasting happiness led her to found the annual HappyFest wellness movement. Jenny Lee finds out more about her journey and commitment to help others find happiness in both their inward and outward appearances

Ciara Daly, founder of HappyFest performing yoga at festival launch
Ciara Daly, founder of HappyFest, a wellness event designed to open the door to different possibilities and approaches to general wellbeing and positive mental health and to encouraging people to seek a new way of finding happiness.

Can you fill me in on your own mental health struggles and healing journey?

TWENTY years ago, I was first diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed antidepressants. At that time, understanding mental health concerns was vastly different from today. I vividly recall having to visit a library to check out a book on depression just to grasp why I was feeling the way I was. I didn’t know anyone else who had ‘depression’, which left me feeling very isolated and lonely.

Back then, I was told it was a chemical imbalance and that pharmaceuticals would help regulate it. Looking back, I now realise I was under immense pressure for a long time, and my body was signalling that something needed to change.

Over the years, I continued to pile on stress and pressure, juggling the demands of building a business and raising two kids on my own. Instead of addressing the root causes, I just kept increasing or changing my medication.

Ciara Daly has been working as a makeup artist for 20 years, opening her own make-up boutique on Belfast's Lisburn Road, offering one-to-one make-up applications, masterclasses and teaching up and coming artists
Ciara Daly has been working as a make-up artist for 20 years, opening her own make-up boutique on Belfast's Lisburn Road, offering one-to-one make-up applications, masterclasses and teaching up and coming artists

Eventually, I visited a gynaecologist who diagnosed me with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a severe form of PMS that can cause significant emotional and physical symptoms. The recommended treatment was a full hysterectomy. This recommendation became my turning point, prompting me to explore a holistic path.

This journey has been transformative, helping me understand the importance of addressing the root causes rather than just the symptoms.

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Which alternative therapies worked for you?

I was always open minded to try various avenues to better myself - from talking therapies to mindset courses, but the game-changer for me was when I discovered psychedelic therapy, also known as plant medicines.

Although not widely known or talked about here, these indigenous plants of the Amazon rainforest, such as Ayahuasca, are now being recognised and advocated by well-known scientists, psychiatrists and trauma experts. Clinical trials continue to have ground breaking results in the world of psychiatry.

What would you say to people who have never tried alternative therapies themselves?

Try and be as open minded as possible, because we don’t know what we don’t know, and there are so many ways that we can return to our true authentic selves.

How do you maintain your own mental and physical health now?

Alongside changing my diet and cutting out alcohol I also changed my lifestyle and I often do in-depth breath work sessions, cold water therapy, hot yoga and meditation.

This all combined has allowed me to be medication-free for over four years with a better outlook on life. It has truly given me a new zest for life and a passion to help others.

Why did you set up HappyFest?

On my own healing journey, I came across so many wonderful alternative therapies, so many amazing people, practices, techniques and medicines that just weren’t known enough about.

Through a very long process, and through my own experiences I found my answers and came off all pharmaceuticals for good. It was then I knew that I had to help others.

Happiness ultimately comes from within, from living a life that feels genuine and true to who you are.

—  Ciara Daly

Two years ago, I took a leap of faith and announced that I would be holding a day-long festival aimed at helping people become happier, it was as simple as that.

It was almost like ‘a calling’ and a world away from my business and corporate career-to-date.

What can people look forward to at HappyFest 2024?

We have five marquees and teepees jam-packed with experts and facilitators focusing on various elements of body, mind and soul. There will be a huge selection of activities for children, like art classes, bouncy castles, face painting, mindfulness for kids and birds of prey, alongside a real-life blacksmith telling folklore and mythical legends of our land.

With over 50 exhibitors, there are lots of wellness businesses to explore, food trucks, live music and an array of talks from mindset and life coaches, relationship experts, nutritionists and emotional eating coaches to breathwork facilitators, laughter yoga and ecstatic dance workouts.

You have some great music lined up. Would you say music is a powerful medium for instilling happiness?

Music is incredibly powerful when it comes to enhancing our mood and evoking happiness. It has the unique ability to resonate with our emotions, stimulate memories, and create a sense of connection and joy.

Whether it’s the rhythm, the melody, or the lyrics, music can really uplift our spirits and bring people together. It’s a universal language that can transcend barriers and has the power to heal and inspire.

It’s a family-friendly festival - how important is it to teach kids about good mindfulness and holistic health?

Children today are growing up in a fast-paced, often stressful world, a very different one to the one we experienced. It is vital that they learn tools and techniques to manage their mental and physical wellbeing early on.

By teaching kids about mindfulness and the tools to manage their emotions, we empower them to understand, build resilience, and develop a positive outlook on life.

Holistic health practices can set a strong foundation for lifelong habits that contribute to overall wellbeing.

Business diary
HappyFest organiser Ciara Daly (left) pictured at the launch of this years event with (from left) Michael Lyons, Momentum Fitness; mind wellness specialist Deirdre Maguire; Ciara Cruiks, BIA Yoga; Podraig Craig from HappyFest and musician Amanda St John

What would you say is the secret of happiness?

Finding that balance and being true to yourself. It’s about taking a step back from all the hustle and bustle and the need to do, do, do.

For me, it’s been a journey of blending my career goals with looking after myself and making sure my mental health is a priority. Surround yourself with a supportive community, be open to new experiences, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.

Happiness ultimately comes from within, from living a life that feels genuine and true to who you are.

Ciara Daly, making clients happy in her day job as a make-up artist
Ciara Daly, making clients happy in her day job as a make-up artist

Some people mask their feelings by using make-up to put on a false outward appearance. Do you find yourself almost becoming a therapist at times in your make-up artist role?

I’ve been working as a make-up artist for over 20 years, setting up Ciara Daly Make-Up on the Lisburn Road. It’s been an incredible journey, working with clients from all walks of life and getting to express my creativity through makeup.

It can be a powerful tool for self-expression and confidence, but it’s also true that people sometimes use it to mask their true feelings. Once the mask comes off and we rebuild the make-up from the ground up, there’s a vulnerability and a raw honesty between me and the client, and we both often share personal stories and struggles.

My goal is to enhance their natural beauty and boost their confidence, while also encouraging them to embrace and love their true selves. It’s a two-way dialogue and healing journey between the makeup artist and client, and it’s one of the things that led to the birth of HappyFest.

Supported by Ards and North Down Borough Council, HappyFest is on Sunday July 7 at Crawfordsburn Activity Centre. For tickets and further information visit