Miriam Lord: Presidential wannabe moves centre stage on Ladies Day at Galway
Gavin Duffy happy to get into any enclosure to press the flesh
It was Ladies Day at the Galway Races, so naturally the skies opened. After weeks of sunshine and the best holiday weather for decades, the rain put its best hat on and got stuck into the annual fashion blowout with unbridled enthusiasm.
“The ground is no worse than summer soft” was the breezy verdict of the horsey crowd, meaning that the turf hadn’t yet turned to porridge and racing conditions were still firm beneath the soggy grass.
This was of no comfort to the hordes gamely schlepping through puddles in the vicinity of the G Hotel Best Dressed Lady Marquee in the hope of catching a judge’s eye. These days nearly all the best-dressed lady marquees seem to favour shades of red and pink, along with very extravagant fascinator headpieces. Or splashinators and lashinators as they became on Thursday.
Mercifully, the latest addition to the indoor facilities at Ballybrit opened in the nick of time on Monday, so racegoers could drown in bubbly instead. The lower level of the new Wilson Lynch Building houses a betting hall, and the upper floor is given over to an expansive and swanky new champagne bar.
It was so busy during the afternoon that there were queues to get in. The cheapest bottle on offer was an Italia sparkling wine (€75), followed by non-vintage Moët (€130) and up to the Dom Pérignon (€230). All served in large transparent champagne buckets so people can see how flash they are.
They were all flying off the shelves.
Barry Ryan from Clifden was playing the piano in one corner, his stylings barely audible above the din. “The last few days weren’t hugely busy, but today is mental,” he told us.
What are the most requested songs?
“My Lovely Horse.”
President Micheal D Higgins, who was at the track on Wednesday night, was not around to console the thoroughly-drenched and mildly-drunk Ladies Day attendance. He had to return to Dublin to attend meetings. Which was a pity because he would probably have bumped into one of the people looking to take his job after this year’s presidential election.
In the busy concourse around the best-dressed pandemonium, he fizzed about like a hat-seeking missile
Gavin Duffy, who is seeking four nominations from county councils so he can get on the ballot sheet, was in full campaign mode during his well-publicised visit to the races. He is very confident he will be a candidate.
The businessman and star of the Dragons’ Den TV show was certainly putting himself about during his visit to the City of the Tribes. He began with an interesting mid-morning interview on Galway Bay FM and then swept into Ballybrit for a rigorous round of glad-handing and an intensive selfie blitz.
In the busy concourse around the best-dressed pandemonium, he fizzed about like a hat-seeking missile. Utterly confident, striding up to groups of women and generously presenting himself for photographic opportunities.
Gavin was working very hard. Under the canopy outside the new tote hall he bustled from potential vote to potential vote.
He steamed up to a couple of women taking shelter. “What are you like!” he bellowed, extending a hand and the unspoken allure of selfie. “I’m Gavin!”
His wife Orlaith was at his shoulder, and he also had a grey-haired man in tow who was holding a large umbrella over him, as is always done for presidents. After some heavy-duty giggling from the women, the potential candidate moved on, repeating the drill, bursting with bonhomie.
“Hehhh-Low! How ARE Yis!”
No shortage of energy, that’s for sure, as he mentioned more than once during his radio interview and again when he met journalists at the racecourse.
“A lot of people have said – which is very complimentary, but showing genuine concern – ‘for a very successful person like yourself Gavin, why are you doing this’?” he told the Keith Finnegan Show.
He said it again at Ballybrit. “A lot of people have asked me with concern: ‘Gavin you’re so successful why are you putting yourself though this’ but I feel I can do the job well.”
Sinead Cassidy, spokeswoman for the Galway Races, told us the event “is Ireland’s biggest festival in terms of attendance and endurance”. No better place, so, for a successful man succumbing to the scent of greatness in his nostrils.
But let us leave Gavin working his way up to the champagne bar, where there was acres of flesh for the pressing.
There was a rumour that a gazebo won the Best Dressed Marquee prize, but we couldn’t peg it down
He left behind Paddy O’Brien (19) and Daniel Hessian (20) from Limerick, who nipped over to get a snap but were too late. The lads shrugged, and we heard one of them mention “Miggeldy”, which has recently become an affectionate name for Michael D, particularly among young people.
Paddy said he would be voting Higgins “because I think he’s great for the Irish language and our culture, and he’s a great President”. But Daniel said he was adopting a wait-and-see approach.
So they like to call the President “Miggeldy?”
They do.“But not to his face.”
The result of the Best Dressed Lady was imminent. (There was a rumour that a gazebo won the Best Dressed Marquee prize, but we couldn’t peg it down).
The finalists were arranged on a platform outside the steaming judging tent, watched by a simmering crush of women who didn’t make the final cut and women who were dying to see who did. The audience spread out over the enclosure and up along the curved staircase leading to the champagne bar.
An MC kept the suspense going while describing the various outfits. “Tatiana dress in beautiful nude shades.” That sort of thing.
Eleven finalists in all. “Because they couldn’t separate two of them,” explained a devoted fashionista. It must have been one hell of a fight but none of the contestants looked injured.
We can’t forget the men who would be honoured at the G Hotel’s “Dapper Gentleman” contest later on in the evening. The chosen look was “Peaky Blinders”, in homage to Cillian Murphy’s TV dra-series. Although after an afternoon in Ballybrit where almost every young man was wearing tight half-mast trousers, waistcoats, flat caps and braces, it is clear we have reached Peak Peaky Blinders.
Moira O’Toole, a national school teacher from Kilkenny, won the Best Hat category with her own red and pink straw creation. She made it using “Buntal mat” which is straw from the talipot palm in the Philippines used in millinery. She won a €1,000 voucher for the Kilkenny Shop and two nights in the sponsor’s hotel.
The big prize went to Charlene Byers from Newry, Co Down – a seasoned winner on the Best Dressed circuit – who wore a light pink dress with cape detailing. When her name was called the crowd applauded politely. Nobody on the staircase clapped until one woman broke ranks and saluted the winner.
Charlene, who runs a hat shop and teaches piano part-time, scooped a beautiful diamond and pearl pendant from Cobwebs Jewellers in Galway worth €6,000, a trip to Paris, a penthouse stay in the G Hotel and €2,000 in cash.
“The hat hasn’t taken over her face,” noted one of the organisers.
There was great excitement. The winners were taken to the parade ring between races and presented with their prizes. The judges included Chanelle McCoy, who wore a very striking hat with long black feathers soaring skywards.
“Ostrich feathers,” said one of the fashion experts. “No, wait, I think they could be cock. Best to just call it plumage.”
But back to Gavin Duffy.
Why run at all?
“Because I want to be president. I feel I could do the job very, very well. I have this vision for the presidency. I want to represent the people of Ireland, and be their voice at home and abroad, to inspire citizens of every age to make Ireland a better place so that we can reach our full potential to connect with as many people as is possible.”
The potential candidate also wants to stimulate growth along the western corridor. To this end “Gavin Duffy has been doing a lot of research about development and infrastructure”.
And while he can’t influence political decisions “if a president keeps visiting the west of Ireland and saying ‘it’s a pity we don’t have a bigger investment over here’, well then I think people, the mandarins in the departments up in Dublin, will sit up and take notice.”