Punchestown: Digging those heels in to enjoy Ladies’ Day

A few Best Dressed hopefuls were ready for wintry blast but most had to grin and bear it

Ladies’ Day: bonkers in about five different ways. Two hours before the off, cars and coaches were disgorging hordes of ladies dressed for a luncheon in sultry Savannah, a summer wedding or a night on the pull. Anything but a wintry day at the races, where Irish skies spat darts of ice and the temperature never rose above 8 degrees.

The grit (and gritted teeth) on display was a homage to doughty Irish womanhood. The females huddled around the Best Dressed judging area, teetering on five-inch platforms and shivering in bare legs and shoulders, included girls on a half-day from local schools.

Meanwhile, their teenage male peers swaggered around, warm and comfortable, in three-piece suits, bow ties, flat caps and nice shiny flat shoes. What’s with the suits, we asked a chap in a royal blue three-piece and a black flat cap? “Conor McGregor I suppose,” said the dapper one. “Every f**kin w**ker here is trying to be Conor McGregor.”

Cosy and chic

Back among the women, for the newbie entrants in the Best Dressed stakes, the event seems to carry its own code. Mary Hayes from Limerick, outstandingly elegant, warm and appropriately dressed in a Miriam Mone suit, vintage pillbox hat and fur stole described herself as “dressed for the races – not for a party or an evening out. I’m 100 per cent comfortable and my teeth aren’t chattering”. The suit was purchased a decade ago with the winnings of a Best Dressed competition at Listowel, which suggests she is a kind of Best Dressed expert. “If I was a judge, I’d pick the most appropriate outfit for the day, but it is springtime and they’ll probably go for something spring-looking . . .” she said a tad tentatively.


She and her daughter, Mamie, had the air of women who were having a laugh (not a given, from the evidence around us, when the stakes are so high). If they won some money, said Mamie, they would buy a 4x4 just so they could change outfits in comfort between home and the races. As it was, she said laughing, they had to change in “a little Ford . . . pulling up tights, cowering behind the open doors”.

Two other women having a laugh were Maria Treacy, from Shanagarry, Co Cork – wearing a massive banana leaf hat, made by florist Ina McCarthy – and her friend, Karen Hilliard, from Listowel, Co Kerry. They were incredulous that all the seating usually available outside the tents in the reserved enclosure – a “base” , without which any woman in heels is subject to cruel and unusual punishment – had been removed for Ladies Day. “It’s no fun to have no base,” said Maria. For the record, they got a seat outside the champagne tent at the hefty cost of €98 apiece for a couple of bottles of champagne.

Break out the bubbly

Back on stage, Rozanna Purcell, model, chef, former Miss Universe Ireland and judge for the Best Dressed competition, left her nice, warm overcoat on as Dr Jane Mulrooney from Galway – “a big fan of champagne” – took the prize for her pink and blue dress. On the big screen, to no one’s interest, Shin a Vee, the 2/1 favourite was romping home in the first race. A long day lay ahead in those heels.

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column