From sunbeds to satin dresses: Mairead Ronan leads Irish celebrities looking back on their debs
Andrea Smith speaks to Mairead Ronan, Caroline Grace Cassidy, Ruth Scott, Teodora Sutra and Rachel Sarah Murphy about their debs experiences
Ah, it’s debs season again, that rite of passage that's as old as time, where the sixth years of 2015 will dress up in their finery, find themselves a date, buy a corsage and party the night away for one final fling with their school pals.
They'll all look stunning leaving the house, and the next morning we'll see them trailing zombie-like through town, with the girls wearing the guys' jackets and carrying their shoes to spare their tortured feet. While for some, it’ll be one of the best nights of their young lives, for others it’ll be a night fraught with expectations, where all the preparation and effort involved culminates in a resounding anti-climax.
Curious to see how other people fared, we asked some well-known faces about their memories of that one special night .Was it a delightful debs? Or a grim graduation?
Presenter of Weekenders on RTE 2fm
"I went to the Convent of Mercy in Roscommon and we called it a grad rather than a debs, although, weirdly, it was held at Christmas in the middle of sixth year in Rockford’s at The Royal Hotel. As it was organised by the school, there was no alcohol served. There was a massive party secretly planned for afterwards, and we had all paid a fiver for two beers or whatever, but as we were down hanging up balloons and streamers in the nightclub, the head nun called us to a last-minute meeting.
“The gardai had been on telling them about the party, and those who'd paid had to go to one side of the room. I was head girl, and myself and the deputy head girl were fully on the bold side, and there was murder! We were killed and it was all quite scandalous - tears, tantrums, the works.
“My dress was quite the drama - Princess Diana or Kate Middleton wouldn’t have a look in with the excitement of getting it. Shot taffeta was in and mine was kind of a purple colour and slightly off the shoulder with long sleeves. There was no cleavage showing, because when you go to a convent debs in Roscommon at 17, it's frowned upon! A lot of girls wore dresses with velvet tops and taffeta skirts.
“I brought my pal Padraig, and he called to the house with flowers and chocolates. Lots of people we knew turned up at the hotel to check out the style and have a drink with us, and then we went in for the meal. The nuns and teachers came and I think the head nun made a speech, and then they buggered off after the meal. There was a great atmosphere and we danced all night, and I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the nightclub doing Rock the Boat - after all the fuss about the dresses!
“Padraig and I were the best of friends and there was nothing romantic between us. There was no kissing, and when the slow set started, it was a bit awkward as the two of us weren’t interested in mauling each other. When the grad was over, a bunch of us went back to my mum’s house, where a couple of the lads played guitar and we had a singsong. It was a great old night.”
Producer, The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show and Presenter of Ireland’s Fittest Families
"I went to St Michael’s Holy Faith in Finglas Village. Our debs was held at the Vortex nightclub in Meath, and the whole thing was organised by the students. Lots of teachers came along on the night though. I loved my time in this school and all my teachers, and have photos with them too."
"Like most things I buy now, my dress was simple, black and fitted. I bought it in Julien in St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. Satin was in, and I remember myself and my friend Imelda being the only ones in black. A lot of girls wore white that year. I didn’t because in a time before fake tan, white made me look ill. I had my updo done at the local Peter Mark salon, my make up was done by my sister Simone, and there was no tan, nails or lashes.
"I brought Graham Byrne as my debs date. We had a short-lived romance before we did our Leaving Cert that year. Lovely guy, but when I liked him, he didn’t fancy me. Then, when he did like me, I’d moved on to someone else. Then I liked him again and he was in love with a girl who looked like Posh Spice (Christ, I’d HATE to be 17 again!) By the time my debs came around, we were just friends.
"The night was hilarious when I think of it. All of my family and neighbours piled into the house to eat and drink and look at me. Then my sister drove us to the debs in her husband’s new BMW. The night started with food and drink, was followed by bad karaoke and finished with a dodgy DJ. But I’d built the night up to be so epic, inevitably it was going to be a letdown. It was grand, but not the most amazing night I’ve had in a long dress.
"One funny memory is that I was chatting to the girls and saying, “Dear God, who's that singing? They’re horrific?” My friend Lisa said, “Eh Mairead, it’s Graham!” He had seceded to sing Bohemian Rhapsody!”
Author of Already Taken
“I went to Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan, and spent 5th and 6th year being repeatedly warned that I wouldn't be allowed to attend the debs if my behaviour didn't improve - it was always touch and go that I'd even make it there!
“I love clothes now, but at that time I lived in jeans, Adidas runners and sweatshirts, and while my mother dragged me around all the usual debs shops, I recoiled in horror at all the pretty dresses. Having been a complete tomboy all my life, I knew I wanted a black dress so I got one made. It had a velvet top, long sleeves, and the skirt was made of very expensive satin material. The rage in 1994 was that the girls all had sunbeds rented in their bedrooms. They were all burning themselves senseless! I was very low-maintenance - I did my own hair and applied a bit of panstick and lashings of mascara and black eyeliner.
“My escort was my boyfriend at the time, Gareth, who was actually my best friend’s brother. He was a sweet guy, and came with his parents to my house for a drink before our taxi came. My parents and my granny were also there, and Mam made some prawns in filo and we had a glass of Moet, so I felt very grown up.
“We were supposed to go to the school first for a big photo, but I boycotted that bit and just went straight to Jury's in Ballsbridge for the meal. We danced our legs off, drank moderately and ended up making a huge fry up in my friend’s kitchen at 5am. I had a great time, but I kind of wondered why so many girls had talked about this night incessantly for three years? It was nice, don't get me wrong, but nobody ate the food and some people got off with one another’s partners, so there were lots of girls crying in corners. It was like the usual Saturday night out except it was a Thursday!”
Model with 1st Option
“I went to Gorey Community School and my debs was in 2008. I was eight when I came to Ireland from Latvia, and over there, they have a ceremony in the school when you graduate, The parents come and everybody gets dressed up nicely and has photos taken, and maybe there’s a small party. but it’s nothing like here. They don't wear ballgowns and tiaras and get totally hammered.
“My debs was after the Leaving Cert results came out. There was a lot of excitement beforehand because none of us had been to a ball before, so it was a chance to wear a floor-length dress and get our hair and make up done. What I wanted was something princess-y, and I found a dress in the US that I loved but they didn’t deliver to Ireland. I went for a simple black dress in the end, and it was sort of backless but it had diamonds on the straps at the back. I did my hair myself in a side-parting upstyle, but I regret doing a spray tan.
I already had a tan from being in Latvia and it turned out kind of orange.
“I went to the debs with a lovely guy called Ronan who was in my year, and while I had dated him, I think we were just friends by then. He came to the house and we had photos taken with my mum Zane, older sister Margarita and little sister Gabriela. Then we all went to the school to have our photo taken.
“Ronan had borrowed a convertible BMW, so we cruised over to a hotel in Arklow for the reception and thought we were so cool. It was good fun, but I don’t remember it being amazing or very glamorous. It was a nice, final last night out for everyone in our year, because we were all going our separate ways to college and work after that.
Rachel Sarah Murphy
Actress, Fair City
“I went to Scoil Mhuire in Cork and decided I was going to design my own dress. My friends weren’t surprised as they knew I was a bit “out there.” My friend’s mother, Mrs O’Flaherty, had a well-known dress shop on Blarney Street and she made it for me. It was pink, and short underneath with chiffon over the skirt. I went to London to get some of the material, and there was mother of pearl around the sweetheart top. Most people hired their dresses back then, and I had gone to a boy’s grad before that and I hired a Laura Ashley dress.
“There was great excitement about the debs at school, and it was all about make up, hair, dresses and boys. I remember wanting to shine and look fabulous on the night. I wore my hair curly, and my mother was great at doing make up and I remember applying fake tan. My mother Victoria, my aunt and my sister Joanna were all there when my date Troy arrived, and he brought his whole family to the house. My dad passed away when I was 15, and it was sad that he wasn’t there as he was much-missed.
“Troy was always going to be my date, and I adored him as he was so lovely. I actually took two boys because I phoned my friend Trevor that evening and invited him to come along too and bring a naggin of vodka! The debs was held in Jury’s in Cork, and I won “best dress.” I think it was picked by a panel of teachers, and I was delighted as I took the whole dress thing so seriously. I had great fun as I loved my friends and my teachers, and we danced the night away. My mother sneaked in for a dance with a neighbour for a while, and then I remember everyone coming back afterwards to my house when it was over."