OVER the past few months across the country 8,000 acts have been putting their talents to the test in a nationwide competition to be named the Smithwick’s Stars of our Bars champion. The contest, run by the Vintners Federation of Ireland, saw comedians, musicians, singers, dancers and others compete in their own local among 300 participating pubs in 25 counties.
On Saturday night Kilkenny saw the cream of its crop battle each other in the county final. And what a final it was.
Twenty acts representing city and county watering holes ensured a packed Kilford Arms for the occasion. The Cosy Inn in Graignamanagh kicked things off with Edel Fenlon’s version of Footprints in the Sand, followed up by Tara Browne of Rafter Dempsey’s with Beautiful Disaster while Grogan’s Bar in Callan went back to back with Claire Fisher’s How Do I Live and Dempsey Walsh’s Any Dream Will Do.
Former Rose Deirdre Gannon of Cleere’s introduced the crowd to some classical with Nessun Dorma while Kilkenny Elvis Kevin O’Dwyer in representing the host venue, Kilford Arms, provided his usual flare. Ann-Marie Coyne of O’Gorman’s didn’t leave a dry eye in the house with My Mother, while all were struck by the lengths Eugene Dewberry had taken to represent Pat Carroll’s. To perform his rendition of Circle of Life, Eugene signed himself out of hospital for the night and took to the stage to shouts of “G’wan Eugene”.
Ellen Stapleton of Cleere’s gave a “Perfect” performance while Natasha Knox of Rafter Dempsey’s went Adele-style with Set Fire to the Rain. Last year’s county winner, Tom Kirwin, was back for Ryan’s with his own number Penny Feather Lane, followed closely by a unique performance from Malzard’s, Stoneyford, girl Aideen Dermody with Habenard from Carmen.
Evan Delaney had left behind a fundraising night at the Hogan Stand, Ballyragget, to perform To Make You Feel My Love, while Ryan’s Mark Stewart got up with his trusty guitar for Day Old Hate. Heat colleague Collette Connolly provided more great talent, as did Paddy Hanrahan of O’Gorman’s with Valencia. Steve Bailey in representing Malzard’s, Stoneyford, sang To Love Somebody, followed by The Knox Sisters spine-tingling version of Tell Him for the Black Cat. Lorraine Maher and Nick Campus teamed up for Ryan’s and their take on Old Devil Called Love proved popular while the night was wound down by the sole non-singing act of the event: Castle Towers Set Dancers representing Rafter Dempsey’s.
It was a tough call for the five-person judging panel of Martin Bridgeman (KCLR), Kay Brennan (Community Radio Kilkenny City), singer Yvonne Moriarty, Geoff Rose and chairman Damien Bowe, formerly of D-Side and current entertainer.
As they deliberated for an hour the audience heard from local Vintner chairman Pat Carroll and Stars of Our Bars national co-ordinator Ollie Hennessy, who praised all the performers and event organisers. Kilkenny girl Shona Lanigan, who won the inaugural title last year, performed two songs, showcasing the standard which needs to be met by those progressing in the competition.
The judges choose four to represent Kilkenny in the regional final at the Forum in Waterford on May 27. The wildcard position went to Tom Kirwin; in third place was Deirdre Gannon, who took home 250 euro; second went to the Knox Sisters, who were awarded 500 euro; while the first place spot and 1,000 euro was taken by Evane Delaney.
All four will now compete against four each from Wexford and Waterford. From there two will go onto the national final, which takes place at the Heritage Hotel, Portlaoise, on June 17 before judges including Newstalk’s Tom Dunne. The overall winner will get 7,500 euro, with runners-up taking home 3,000 euro and 1,500 euro.