Forever In Blue Jeans – Celebrating 30 Years of the Blue Jean Country Queen
Athboy is the place to be on the June Bank Holiday weekend as the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival marks it’s 30th anniversary.
Since 1987, the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival has been bringing young women from all over Ireland and around the world to the town of Athboy, Co Meath, for a weekend of fun, music, and festivities. This year festival organisers Meath Macra na Feirme are looking to celebrate the 30th anniversary in style, welcoming back some familiar faces, adding new events, with some very exciting musical performances and of course hosting thirty new queens who will be competing in this year’s festival.
The festival was the brainchild of Patrick Farrelly, a one-time member of Carnaross Macra na Feirme. Patrick was inspired by his visits to the Rose of Tralee Festival to replicate that experience in his home county. Although it was not until one day, whilst he was out ploughing on his Massey Ferguson 188 when he heard Philomena Begley’s “I’m a Blue Jean Country Queen” playing on his tractor’s radio that everything came together. On that day The Blue Jean Country Queen Festival was born.
Since it’s inception the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival has become the highlight of the year for Macra members, the community of Athboy and its surrounding areas and indeed it has come to be regarded as one of the top events in the North East. Over the years it has brought queens from all over Ireland, the UK, mainland Europe, America and Canada for an experience none of them can ever forget.
The 2017 festival will run from Friday 2 to Monday 5 June once again with the backing of its main sponsor Athboy Credit Union. Thirty young women will participate in this year’s festival and while they come to Athboy to compete for the title and for the Blue Jean Country Queen crown, what is most important for the festival organisers is that each and every Queen has an unforgettable weekend and returns home with a special place in their heart for the community of Athboy.
Upon their arrival, the Queens will meet their host families who will treat them like royalty for the weekend. These hosts are people from Athboy and surrounding areas who will provide the Queens with a warm welcome and a place to stay for the weekend. The involvement of the local community has long been an integral part of the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival dating back to the early years when the Queens were hosted not just in Athboy, but by Meath Macra members all over the county.
The festival will be officially opened on Friday 2 June in the Darnley Lodge Hotel by Athboy Community Person of the Year, Tina Growney. It is then time for the public to finally meet the 2017 contestants as they are interviewed on stage by emcee Joe Healy. An Athboy local, Joe has been conducting the interviews for the past several years, following in the footsteps of the likes of Brendan Grace, Ray D’Arcy, and Hector O hEoghagain. When the interviews draw to a close the Queens get a chance to let their hair down and dance the night away to music by DJ Mark Caffrey.
While there have been some mainstays on the festival programme over the past 30 years, this year’s organisers have decided to throw some new elements into the mix. On Saturday 3 June the festival will host it’s first baking competition, The Great Blue Jean Bake Off, with judges representing McClosky’s Bakery and Doreen’s Bakery, Athboy. There will also be a chance for children to develop their acting skills with a drama workshop hosted by Evelyn Purcell, a professional actor, and owner of the Summer Stage performing arts summer camp. These new additions will go alongside the annual Craft Fair and Street Carnival, which run from 1-5pm and will also feature sideshows from Meath’s Macra clubs and Athboy community groups, as well as music and entertainment from local musicians and Reel Deal Dance Academy.
Once the Street Carnival is over the Queens will head to Floods Bar for the annual Karaoke where they will sing their hearts out. While from 7 pm, Athboy Credit Union will once again host a free BBQ in the Credit Union car park. The streets of Athboy will be alive from 9 pm as the Queens embark on the annual pub crawl which will eventually lead them to the Festival Marquee where they will kick of the evening‘s entertainment. Headlining Saturday night is the premier Garth Brooks tribute act – Trevor Smith and Friends in Low Places – The Ultimate Garth Brooks Experience who will take to the stage at 11 pm. Friends in Low Places have performed to sold out crowds all over Ireland and abroad, including Vicar Street, Dalymount Park and have recently been embarking on a tour of the UK.Meanwhile next door there will be dancing in TABU Nightclub and Venue.
As with every year the Saturday night events come with a theme – and this year it’s Double Denim – so get your best worn denim jeans and denim jackets on and get ready to party like it’s 1987.
Of course, it would be impossible to celebrate the 30th Anniversary without acknowledging the hard work of all the previous organising committees, Queens and a countless number of people who have helped the festival throughout the last three decades. On Saturday night from 8.30pm in the main function room of the Darnley Lodge Hotel, there will be a free 30th Anniversary Celebration for Blue Jean supporters past and present. The event will feature displays of memorabilia and with music by DJ John Bird.
Sunday’s activities get started with the Queens Reeling in the Years, as they march down the main street of the town, each one dressed to represent a year between 1987 and 2017.They will arrive at Athboy’s Fair Green at 12.30, signaling the start of the Lark in the Park, featuring the annual Fancy Dress Football as well as fun and entertainment for all the family. Following their athletic displays in the football, the Queens will take to the catwalk for the Fashion Show, where they will be under the watchful eye of Roanna Harding of fashion blog She’s So Dapper, as well as Maureen Callaghan of Ebony Ladies Fashion, Trim and Amanda Mullen of Amber Boutique, Athboy. Their modeling skills will be rewarded with prizes sponsored by Staunton’s Life Pharmacy and each Queen will also receive a rose sponsored by Flower Innovations of Kells. Throughout the afternoon there will be a number of events organised for all ages to enjoy, including face painting, bouncing castles and various sideshows. The afternoon offers free musical entertainment from local artists and everyone is encouraged to bring along a picnic and enjoy a wonderful afternoon.
Just hours later it’s time for one of the highlights of the festival, the Gala Banquet in the Darnley Lodge Hotel. Here the Queens, in all their finery, will be joined by their escorts, supporters as well as host families and dignitaries. At this event, each Queen will receive a memento sponsored by David and Hazel Sheridan of the Darnley Lodge Hotel.
Following the banquet, the contestants will dash off for a quick change out of their formal wear and back into their blue jeans before heading to the Festival Marquee for the announcement of the Blue Jean Country Queen for 2017. The winner will be crowned by reigning Queen Dearbhla O’Connor from Co. Louth.
As well as the coveted title, the winner will receive €1,000 in prize money from main sponsors Athboy Credit Union, the perpetual trophy, and a beautiful handcrafted tiara. The runner up will receive €500 from Forefront Nutrition, while 3rd place will receive €300 from M&G Groundworks. Then it will be time for festival favorites Matt & Paul Leavy to lead celebrations in the Festival Marquee alongside music in TABU Nightclub and Venue.
Each year Meath Macra selects three individuals and hands them the task of selecting a winner. This year, to mark the 30th anniversary, one of those people is Samantha Baldwin, the winner of the inaugural Blue Jean Country Queen in 1987. Samantha, who represented Wicklow at the very first festival, has not been back to Athboy since and now lives in the UK. Speaking on being asked to judge the 2017 festival she commented, “I never thought I would be asked to be a judge at the 30th festival. It is a great honor and privilege.” On her own experience as a Queen, she remarked, “I remember being very nervous traveling to Athboy that Friday, but everyone made you so welcome you just became one big family! We were all winners that weekend, to be part of something so great, so fun, and still here today is amazing.”
Samantha will be joined on the judging panel by returning judge, John Conway, who is a former Leinster Vice-President of Macra na Feirme and Geoff Thompson of The Young Farmer’s Clubs of Ulster.
The weekend finally draws to a close on Monday 5 June with one last opportunity for some entertainment in the lounge of the Darnley Lodge Hotel where The Sandmen will play a lunchtime session from 1 pm and where the Queens will say their final goodbyes as the festival comes to a close.
Speaking at the launch of this years festival, Chairperson Aiveen Cully-Dunne thanked the dedication and hard work of the members of Meath Macra na Feirme, past and present, who have helped to make the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival what it is today. She also thanked all sponsors, in particular, Athboy Credit Union and other top sponsors; The Darnley Lodge Hotel, EPM Construction, Firepan Photography, Staunton Life Pharmacy, Forefront Nutrition and M&G Groundworks. She took the time to express her thanks to local businesses and the community of Athboy who have played an integral part of making the festival such a special event.