RACING TO KEEP UP WITH THE BUSINESS
Horseracing is a money-earner on and off the course - just ask these local business people
IT is busiest five days of the year for all in Naas and the surrounding regions. Five packed days of racing at Punchestown means businesses in the town and nearby villages are kept very much in demand before and during the Festival.
Punchestown, which is the biggest sporting festival in Ireland, will run from Tuesday, April 28 to Saturday, May 2.
Liam Holton, from the Punchestown Festival, believes that this year the Festival will break record numbers of visitors to Kildare. This, he said, is one of the surest signs of Irish economic recovery.
It is expected that some 110,000 visitors will descend on the racecourse over the five days.
"One of the biggest things for us is that we have huge numbers who travel from abroad, especially the UK which gives us a chance to show Kildare off from a tourism perspective," Allan Shine chief executive of the North Kildare Business Chamber said.
It is estimated that €65m will be generated for the local economy with much of that centred in Naas and surrounding villages.
Some €8m of that will be spent in the beauty and clothing industries. Racing has always been synonymous with style and that rings more true in Punchestown than anywhere else.
The Festival is returning to four days of prizes for the Gold Fever Best Dressed Lady at the track.
This year, models Rosanna Davison, Pippa O'Connor-Ormond and Georgia Salpa are among the judges who will be scouting for the most stylish woman at the races.
Punchestown native Niamh McCoy opened her women's clothing boutique Gallery 9 in the town centre two years ago.
In 2006, she won best dressed on Ladies' Day at the Festival so she knows what it takes to stand out from the crowd.
"We're getting established now and we have a lot of repeat customers," Ms McCoy said.
"It's almost too busy this time of year, I could do with some help with the workload," she joked.
"I have a lot of people in the racing industry who come to me for all the big festivals and without Punchestown, Naas wouldn't be associated with that.
"When it comes to racing, people are looking for something different, I think they come here because of that," the businesswoman explained.
Similarly, Attracta Mongey, who has just opened Diamond and Pearls boutique in nearby Clane, just in time for the Festival, thinks race style is changing.
"I think trouser suits are going to be huge this year," she said.
She has another shop in Offaly and she said that she can't believe the difference that Punchestown is making to her new store.
Back In Naas, Kim Kelleher stocks one of the most important aspects of racing day: hats and headpieces. Throughout her colourful shop there are racks of vibrant headpieces - the weirder and wackier the better the store-owner revealed.
"During the week before the Festival, the queue will be out the door," she said.
With Gold Fever hair extensions sponsoring Ladies' Day this year, the emphasis will be even more acutely focused on who can pull off stylish headgear.
"Punchestown is great for Naas. We depend on it, if we didn't have it I'd hate to think what the town would be," she continued.
It's not all about the women though, and Browne's Menswear in the town is also gearing up for a busy season.
Throughout the five-day festival there will be music throughout the streets in the evenings and most of the pubs will have live entertainment.
Ger and Anne Marie Farragher own Kavanagh's pub in the town centre. Mr Farragher said that, after coming through the downturn, they are feeling optimistic about the future.
"You're working harder now, but once you're seeing the fruits of that work, you're happy. Punchestown is a huge factor in that. We're very fortunate to be in Naas."
The Farraghers will have to draft in some temporary staff for the busy week as it takes some 20 people to keep the place ticking over as punters pour in after a day at the track.
"We'll have music every night during Punchestown. Before the recession, people didn't care what was on in pubs but now they've higher standards."
The hotels in the area are fully booked for most of the week and many have seen a huge turnaround in the local economy of late.
The prestigious K Club has sold all of its rooms during race week and is currently undertaking a refurbishment of 70 rooms due to the recent upturn. Similarly, the Kilashee Hotel, under new ownership since August 2014, is also undergoing extensive renovations.
Fine dining in Naas is easy to come by and restaurateurs Camila Grey and Vincent O'Leary are expecting to pack the house in their Lemongrass restaurant next week.
Their Asian cuisine is a favourite with race-goers, and the couple plan to capitalise on the races in their Naas and Citywest locations.
The charm of Punchestown is that race-goers spend their evenings in Naas and close-by villages, according to Naas resident and business expert Brian Purcell.
"It is more intimate than other race festivals and people enjoy that," he said.