Dolly Parton imitators in Listowel, Ireland, to set Guinness World Record

COUNTY KERRY, Ireland — Dolly Parton is in town. Not the real one, but more than 1,000 people trying to impersonate her.

The town of Listowel — home to fewer than 5,000 people — is attempting to set a world record for the largest gathering of Dolly Partons in a public space. Tickets for Saturday’s event, which is also a charity fundraiser, cost 30 euros ($33) and include a blonde wig.

But the growing group of Dollys must adhere to strict rules for the town to make history. Attendees, per Guinness World Record guidelines, must be “instantly recognizable” as the 77-year-old country music legend and need to wear a full head-to-toe Parton-inspired costume based on an outfit she has worn in the past. For weeks, organizers have been on hand to provide outfit advice.

Their main tip: “If in doubt, think ‘Am I serving Dolly Parton?’”

The town — which already broke a Guinness record when 1,436 people dressed as nuns, dancing and sipping from whiskey flasks in the streets in 2012 — needs a minimum of 250 people to qualify as Dolly Parton impersonators to set this record. So far, the town has sold more than 1,200 tickets. Dolly Day officials will prevent those who do not pass the look-alike test from entering the final counting area.

The famed American singer-songwriter has a lot of star power in Ireland — helped in part by one of Parton’s songs, “We Irish.” (Lyrics: We Irish love to sing / We Irish love to dance / We Irish love to party / Whene’er we get the chance.) As Parton put it in a 2020 interview, “The Irish have always loved me, and I have always loved them. We speak the same language.”

Organizers are counting on that love — and, perhaps, the love for parties — to break the record. “Everything about Dolly is great,” said Liz Horgan, who has spent months organizing the event alongside a committee of 13 other locals. To help the effort, the real Dolly Parton donated a prize that people can bid for at auction: two nights of accommodation with five-star treatment inside her beloved personal tour bus, known as “Suite 1986.”

Cora O’Brien, another Dolly Day organizer, said Parton’s songwriting and creativity are other qualities that tie her to Listowel. “She’s an amazing woman. A country person like all of us here in Ireland,” she said. “There’s a lot more to her than the music.”

“Everyone in the community is getting really behind it,” Horgan said. The committee had floated the idea shortly before the coronavirus brought the planning to a temporary halt, she said.

Peter McGrath, 95, now known as “the oldest Dolly in town,” is recovering from sepsis and pneumonia — but that hasn’t stopped him from raising awareness of the event. Last week he was spotted wearing a curly blonde wig during a game of golf. McGrath, whose favorite Dolly song is “I Will Always Love You,” hopes he will be well enough to be part of the world record attempt on Saturday.

Martin Chute, a local who hand-paints the names of shops onto storefronts, is among the hundreds getting into the Dolly spirit. The 63-year-old was recently photographed wearing a blonde wig as he climbed a ladder and sang into a paintbrush.

Denim clothing, push-up bras, guitars and American flags are on display in Listowel’s shops and bars. One boutique clothing store is selling dangly Dolly-inspired earrings. The town’s candy shop is selling cowboy hats, and the local garden center has made a Dolly out of plant pots.

Other stores are adorned with butterfly decorations, a nod to the singer’s 1974 song “Love Is Like a Butterfly” and her love for the brightly colored insect. She has at least one butterfly tattoo and often wears butterfly-inspired accessories.

Some in the community are bonding over their love for Parton and their outfit choices, especially on Facebook. “To create the iconic Dolly cleavage I’m using bubble wrap,” Carol De Buitleir wrote. “Put a little talcum powder on the girleens. Fold the bubble wrap into a round shape and insert into the bra.”

Parton herself holds 10 world records, including most Grammy nominations for a female country artist, and is the first country singer to be nominated for an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).

Listowel is often referred to as the “literary capital of Ireland,” with a number of writers including Bryan MacMahon and John B. Keane hailing from the area. Each year the town hosts Writers’ Week, the country’s oldest literary and arts festival.

And while Parton won’t make it over to Ireland for the event, Eugene Naughton, president of the Dollywood Company, will be attending. Naughton said that Dollywood Parks and Resorts was also offering tickets to the Dollywood Theme Park and Splash Country water park as part of the fundraising effort. Money raised from Saturday’s event will go to the cancer support organization Comfort for Chemo and the Kerry Hospice Foundation.

With podcasts, specials and a Netflix show, it’s Dolly Parton’s world and we’re all just living in it

“I fell in love with the idea,” Naughton said, adding that once he arrives in the town, he will meet with the organizing committee and with locals. He said Parton’s positive influence far beyond the United States amazes him.

7 reasons the world loves Dolly Parton

The town, which had to apply to Guinness World Records to be granted permission for the event, will not know for about eight to 12 weeks if it made history, as officials need to review video and photo evidence of the event. Attendees must also remain in the same place for five minutes, the guidelines state.