Fire-breathing, opera singing and original poetry - the brave ladies who kept the Derby House Hotel in Kildare town crowd entertained last Friday night were indeed a talented bunch.
The 12 local girls were fighting it out for the chance to be crowned Kildare Derby Festival Queen, and they kept the packed function room entertained with their stories and party pieces.
The Festival Queen competition is the traditional start of the week-long party in Kildare town, which is run annually to coincide with the Derby at the Curragh, and is now in its 33rd year.
Amy Lawless from Martinstown was crowned this year’s Queen, and walked away with E1,000, a VIP day out at the Derby and the privilege of leading last Sunday’s Derby Festival Parade through the town.
Amy, who works with horses at Allen Stud Farm, has a degree in Equine Science and has just returned from an exchange programme at the ‘horse capital of the world’, Newbridge’s twin town of Ocala in Florida. She was sponsored for the competition by Kill International equestrian centre, and will also be automatically be entered into next year’s Kildare Rose competition.
In her spare time she enjoys a bit of cossack riding, and she wrote her own limerick about the Irish Derby to entertain the crowds.
Also notable for their unique party pieces were contestant Shauna Rothwell from Suncroft, sponsored by Cunninghams, who sang a beautiful operatic version of Time To Say Goodbye.
Final contestant Claire McCann from Hollywood, sponsored by Paddy Power bookmakers, had many nervously looking at the chandelier on the function room ceiling. The 23-year-old changed out of her full-length Roisin Linnane dress to perform a daring fire-breathing act and the jets of flame which shot from her mouth towards the ceiling had the crowd whooping and cheering in appreciation.
Also taking part in the contest were Marie Carolan from Kildare (sponsored by The Phoenix Venue); Leigh-Anne Sweeney, Kildare (Simon Sweeney Hair Design); Zoe Connolly, Kildare (Grace’s); Danielle Dwyer, Newbridge (Tigerlilys); Lyndsey Fagan, Kildare (Derby House Hotel); Chantelle Bowers, Robertstown West (Curragh Chess Club); Kelly Mackessy, Monasterevin (Kildare Town Twinning); Rosie O’Brien, Calverstown, (Silken Thomas) and Kelly Moran, Kildare (Macaris).
The judges on the night were Cllr Tony O’Donnell, local man Will McGrath who was the winner of the 2010 Rose of Tralee Escort of the Year competition; Edel Kearney, former Kildare Rose and Derby Festival Queen 2009 winner; Yvonne Coyne of the Curragh Racecourse and Laura Coates of the Leinster Leader.
The night, which was sponsored by The Derby House, The Curragh Racecourse, Newbridge Silverware and Lily O’Brien’s, was emceed by radio personality Noel Shannon.
Edel crowned the new Queen in the absence of last year’s winner Kimberley Harrington, who is studying in England. “I would just like to thank everyone for coming here. I’m in shock, but it is great to be the Derby Festival Queen,” said Amy.
The new Queen’s first official duty was to preside over the Derby Festival Parade through Kildare town last Sunday. The event, which attracted over 30 groups and floats, was a great success, said Derby Festival Committee chairman Ollie Kearns.
“There was very good weather, and it was an absolutely classic day,” said Ollie. The winner of the Best Float was Kildare Farm Foods and the Lisa Rooney Dancers took the Best Group award.
The festival runs until Sunday, and highlights to come include:
Tuesday - French Market, 9am to 6pm at Market Square; Art and photography exhibitions at Aras Bhride; the Guy Williams Lecture on ‘Royalty in Kildare from Henry II to Elizabeth II’ at Aras Bhride.
Wednesday - Bessie Byrne Sponsored Walk at 7.30pm in Market Square
Friday: Free Open Air Concert in Market Square with Kildare’s Got Talent at 8pm; Dave Morrissey at 9.30pm and King Modo at 10pm.
Saturday - Free Open Air Concert in Market Square with Best Buddies Talent Show at 6pm; Dave Nolan Band at 7.30pm and The Imelda May Tribute from 9pm.
Sunday - Free Open Air Concert in Market Square with trad musicians Wire and Wood from 8pm and The Four Js from 9pm.