Women take centre stage at Dublin Horse Show

Tralee milliner takes best dressed lady prize in competition boasting 600+ entrants

The Dublin Horse Show is a delight for the senses.

The ripple of applause around the showing ring when a popular horse is beckoned to come forward for further inspection. The clank of a pole and cries of dismay from the crowd when the last fence comes down in an otherwise clear round.

And then there are the smells.

The hoof oil and other earthy horsey smells coming from the stables. The tempting whiff of hot crepes wafting towards the main arena. But to truly test your olfactory senses, you had to head for the band lawn where more than 600 women and a smattering of men queued from mid-morning to take part in the Blossom Hill Ladies’ Day competition. The combined smells of hairspray, perfume and fake tan mingled to produce a concoction that would have been lethal if a lit match came into contact with one of the feathery fascinators.


After interviewing the 600-plus entrants, MC and judge Brendan Courtney declared it a record turn-out for a best dressed competition anywhere in the British Isles. Whether that fact was true or not made no difference. After standing on the stage for more than five hours, he could say what he wanted. As long as his voice held up. "Now I have a voice like Demi Moore's," he croaked hoarsely before announcing the winners.

His fellow judges included fashion writer Angela Scanlon and milliner to the stars Philip Treacy, who also assailed the senses with his shocking blue Alexander McQueen suit and tie. It was the first time the Ahascragh man visited the show, although his hats have appeared on other heads there on many occasions.

"If you have a head you can wear a hat," he said, a sensible motto for someone making their living from selling hats. And almost every woman at the show seemed to agree. They included Philomena Cribbin from Straffan, Co Kildare who was hoping to show off her homemade hat to the milliner. Her hat was a miniature showjumping arena with three horses tottering precariously on top and a fence made of Lego. She was supported by a walking frame because "I hurt my knee and it's going against me, but it's not putting me off".

There were also a few red Puissance walls perched askew on heads. Breda Hegarty from Cork loved to watch the Puissance as a child and decided to incorporate it into her hat “which was tricky because the wall is an unusual shape”.

Another hat maker, Carol Kennelly (42) from Tralee took the top prize of the day, bagging an €8,000 trip to New York. "I don't know if I'm going to cry or faint or a bit of both," the shocked designer said. Needless to say she made her own hat, a cream and bronze confection of pearls and ruffles. Kerry designer Tina Griffin made her ivory dress which included an eye-catching ostrich feather skirt.

Runner-up, PR woman Lisa Regan, was more excited for Michael Mullins, who made her hat, than for herself. She bought her 1970s green shirt dress in a yard sale for €15. "I went out looking for a kitsch bread bin and I saw this," she said. She got her bread bin too. "I got it for €2 so I had a great day."

A dapper Maurice Keogh from Dublin's Sandycove was crowned best dressed man for channelling a country gentleman. The carpenter's elegant cane was not merely decorative, he explained. "I was working in Charleville castle and I came off the stage. I chipped a bone in my ankle."

His girlfriend Sophie Bonheim spent months persuading him to enter alongside her before she cunningly backed out at the last moment. "But I don't mind as it turned out a lot better than I expected," he said, before collecting his prize worth €5,000.

Winner all right, as they say in other horsey circles.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times