| 4.5°C Belfast

Airport worker flies high with Derry Girl a fan of hat designs

Close

Ceara Fennelly with customer Rachel McMeekin

Ceara Fennelly with customer Rachel McMeekin

Stephen Hamilton

Ceara Fennelly with customer Rachel McMeekin

Meet the milliner who is just waiting in the wings for her fledgling hat business to take off.

Ceara Fennelly, an aircraft dispatch worker at Belfast International Airport, only produced her first headpiece last year but she can already boast Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan among her clientele.

With a section of a Co Antrim flower shop dedicated to a range of her head-turning designs, the Loughguile mum-of-three is now in big demand for weddings and race days, not to mention parties hosted by the Queen.

It all began when Ceara, who started up less than a year ago as Four Seasons Millinery, was asked to redesign a headpiece owned by a friend's late sister to be worn to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace.

"Tragically, a friend, Beverley Parker, died very suddenly from cancer," 36-year-old Ceara said.

"Her sister Jacqui Kirkwood came into the shop with an old fascinator belonging to Beverley.

"She had an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and she really wanted to wear the hairpiece to the palace because she wanted to bring a part of Beverley there with her.

Close

Ceara Fennelly at Ivy Lane Floral Design in Antrim

Ceara Fennelly at Ivy Lane Floral Design in Antrim

Stephen Hamilton

"The hairpiece needed a lot of work so I took it apart and put it back together, having completely changed the look of it but kept the fundamentals of the piece."

She added: "I was very nervous because I knew how much it meant to Jacqui but she was absolutely delighted with it.

"That's crucial to how I got started."

Married to easyJet cabin manager Clark, with whom she has two daughters and a son - Aoibhinn (11), Lorcan (7) and Fianna (3) - Ceara has gone from hairpieces to "making proper hats" that are "as big and glamorous as possible".

She says she has learned the tricks of the trade at one-to- one workshops with local stylists including Fee McToal, Niav Riley, and the world famous Grainne Maher, who she describes as "amazing" and "a role model".

In recent months her clients have included Charlotte Tilbury models and make-up artists, who wore Four Seasons Millinery items to Down Royal races, while other pieces have been worn at the Galway Races.

But her highest-profile fan by far is Nicola Coughlan, aka Clare from Derry Girls, most recently seen leaving audiences in stitches during a Great British Bake Off appearance over the festive season.

"We were friends on social media and I messaged her asking if she would be interested in trying out some items," said Ceara.

"She was so lovely and very keen to support a local artist.

Close

Ceara Fennelly at Ivy Lane Floral Designin Antrim

Ceara Fennelly at Ivy Lane Floral Designin Antrim

Stephen Hamilton

"I sent her two headpieces, one of which she wore during an appearance on Drag Race on TV, and then at her birthday party, which saw a headpiece that I made all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

"I'm just starting out so it was extremely exciting to get someone like her and I'm very grateful to her. She hasn't forgotten her roots even though she's doing very well for herself in London."

To date Ceara, who works part-time at the airport, has made 25 hats and 30 hairpieces over the last 12 months. Hairpieces cost around £25 or £30, while hats are priced between £30 and £60, "because I only charge for the materials as I'm just starting out", she explained.

Her projects can each take a week or longer to complete, with everything made by hand, and she particularly loves working with felt and crystals.

"I come home from work and spend about three or four hours in the evenings doing this," she said.

"There are usually beads all over the place; I was taking over the whole house so my husband recently made me a special area upstairs to work in."

Close

Nicola Coughlan is a fan of her designs

Nicola Coughlan is a fan of her designs

She added: "I'm still learning and I've actually just signed up to an online academy based in London but one day I'd love to do this as a full-time job."

Ceara's handiwork is currently on display in the artisan area at the back of the Ivy Lane Floral Design Studio which is located at Church Street in Antrim town.

Her mum Bernie McCollum (62), a former nurse, works in the flower shop, which is owned by Helen Faulkner.

"Whenever my father passed away a few years ago Helen took my mum on and that helped her overcome her horrendous grief," she confided.

Ceara says she "always knew she was crafty" but admits that it was her fundamental desire to help other women "look like a million dollars" that led her down the road of millinery.

She also reveals that her family enjoys days out at the races and she has always been "bewitched" by the glitz and glamour of the well-dressed women who attend.

"My family and I love Ladies Day at the races and we try to go maybe twice a year," she said.

"Obviously the style and glamour is second to none and we believe that a fabulous day out is a good excuse to get dressed up to the high heavens.

"The atmosphere is magical and it's a fantastic thing to look forward to."

Both Ivy Lane Floral Design and Four Seasons Millinery can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph