The people to watch in the year ahead

Sat, Jan 3, 2009, 00:00

Who are the Irish people likely to make their mark this year? Here are some individuals to watch in 2009 - from sport, to politics, to business and the arts

TOM BRENNAN and PATSY CARNEY, Entrepreneurs

Tom Brennan and Patsy Carney studied together at the University of Limerick before they established Eirgen Pharma four years ago to develop and manufacture "high potency" drugs for the treatment of cancer.

After the successful completion of 10 clinical trials, the company plans to introduce its first commercial products to the market this year. Such drugs - for the treatment of early and late-stage breast cancer, prostate cancer, Hodgkin's disease and brain and colon cancer - have or are currently being licensed to pharmaceutical groups in the US, Europe, Canada and further afield. The firm has offices in Toronto, Athens and Tokyo.

In its Waterford headquarters, Eirgen plans to increase its staff to 40 from 17 in the next two years. While many research-based pharma companies incur long years of losses before turning a profit, Eirgen has been profitable since its first full year of operations.

NUALA Ní CHONCHÚIR,Writer

Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúirs third collection of short stories, entitled Nude, will be published by Salt Publishing in the UK in September next year. "The theme is the nude in art, with a lot of stories about art and paintings," explains the Ballinasloe-based full-time writer, who has also written two poetry collections, published by Arlen House.

Her earlier short story collections, also published by Arlen House, are The Wind Across the Grass, published in 2004 and To the World of Men, Welcome, published in 2005. In the last couple of years, Ní Chonchúirs writing has been short-listed in a number of literary competitions. Among the awards she has received to date are the Jonathan Swift Award in 2007, the Dromineer Literary Festival Short Story Prize 2006, the Francis MacManus Award, RTÉ, in 2003 and the Cúirt New Writing Prize in 2004.

AODHAN CULLEN, Founder, Statcounter

At the age of 25 Aodhan Cullen is already a seasoned technology entrepreneur. At 12 he started his first business typing CVs for his Dublin neighbours and at 16 founded Statcounter.com, a free advertising-supported service that boasts over two million members and generated a profit of €750,000 last year.

It allows websites to track the number of visitors they attract and other important data such as how they found it. Statcounter, which Cullen runs with his wife Jenni, is totally self-funded and has been rebuffing approaches from US investors. After investing heavily this year, 2009 will see them competing with the big boys.

ÁINE UÍ FHOGHLÚ, Poet

Áine Uí Fhoghlú, whose second collection, An Liú sa Chuan, published by Coiscéim, won the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award 2008, is from the west Waterford Gaeltacht of Ring. Her poems are concerned with her own place and her own life. She writes about the neglect of our heritage and about being caught between two different cultures, as well as the timelessness of the natural world and the cyclical nature of life. Her poems are also concerned with the difficult road taken by political prisoners, and with the heartbreak that surrounds sudden death and tragedies at home and at sea.

KELLY GOUGH, Actor

Bungee jumping, monkey impersonating, knife throwing - the energetic stage career of Kelly Gough has not been short of high points. For all the apparent stunt work, Gough's roles have been more impressive for their comedy and precision. From her gravity-defying turn (admittedly aided by bungee harness) in Falling Out of Love to the meticulous mad-capery of All in the Timing, Gough belongs to a smart, playful generation that asks its performers to be part-tragedian, part-comedian, part-acrobat.

Her current role, channelling Posh Spice for the football musical Macbecks, is unlikely to be a stretch (unless it requires fire-eating), but Gough is always worth watching.

MARTIN KAJUITER, Chef

34-year-old Martijn Kajuiter exchanged the glamorous position of head chef at Amsterdam's fashionable De Kas restaurant to head up the kitchen at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford, last year.

He brought with him a commitment to fresh, local produce and a rather á la carte approach to what has been dubbed "molecular gastronomy" as championed by the likes of Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck.

Locally caught seafood, vegetables from Youghal and game from the nearby Ballynatray Estate get a creative but respectfullly high-tech treatment in this ultra-cool modern restaurant perched above Ardmore Bay.

SEÁN KELLY, GAA ex-president

One of the best-known former GAA presidents, Kelly has thrown his hat into the ring to win a European Parliament seat in the Ireland South constituency, though he faces competition from sitting MEP, Colm Burke. However, Kelly enjoys the backing of the Fine Gael party leader. A formidable campaigner, Kelly should win the party's nomination, unless Burke manages to rally the type of grassroots support that Fianna Fáil's Seán Ó Neachtain did when he fought off attempts by his party to oust him from the ticket.

If selected, though, Kelly should have a clear run in a constituency with a natural Fine Gael support base, particularly for one with the kind of name recognition that Kelly enjoys for his efforts to open up Croke Park to other sporting codes.

TENDAI MADONDO, New voice

With parties eagerly adding immigrant candidates to their line-ups for June's local elections, a clutch of refreshing new voices will make themselves heard in the political fray this year. Among them will be Tendai Madondo, a bright and articulate Zimbabwean running for the Green Party in Tallaght South, her home for the past six years. Madondo works as a specialist on HIV and gender-based violence for Christian Aid, but her bulging CV - including stints at Tallaght hospital and as a volunteer at Clover Hill Prison - makes her run for the council look like a natural step along a continuum of community work.

LAURA KINSMAN, Model

Tipped as the next to follow in Laragh McCann's footsteps as an international model, 6ft tall schoolgirl Laura Kinsman from Glenageary has been described as like "a ray of light in front of the camera" by her agency First Options.

Discovered by fashion photographer Barry McCall while on work experience with Avoca Handweavers, Kinsman modelled for the Avoca campaign and in September was flown to London by John Rocha for his spring/summer show at London Fashion Week.

Other catwalk appearances at home have been for Brown Thomas, A|wear, Tim Ryan and Harvey Nichols. She has been signed up with New Madison model agency in Paris with strong interest showing from Prada and Miu Miu. Though school comes first, summer 2009 promises to be a busy one for her.

HENRY McKEAN, Broadcaster

Whether the award-winning Henry McKean of Newstalk 106-108's Moncrieff is tracking down EuroMillions jackpot winner Dolores McNamara, living homeless on the streets of Dublin, spending the night with a group of M3 protesters at the Hill of Tara, or rapping with Limerick's Jay-Red about Kilkenny hurling star Henry Shefflin, he is emerging as a versatile, funny and innately likeable broadcaster. The first two traits can be learnt but likeability is something that you have, or you don't. He has it.

McKean is without cynicism, but he still brings a sharp intellect and compassion to his reports. He doesn't have a big head, despite his rising star - so let's hope he doesn't read this.

TADHG McSWEENEY, Artist

For a young artist who came to maturity with the Celtic Tiger, Tadhg McSweeney has been noticeably averse to embracing consumerist values in his paintings, sculptures and installations. A son of the Sligo-based landscape painter Seán McSweeney, he has already made a substantial body of work that is exemplary in its sensitive response to the physical and social fabric of the contemporary environment.

Even before we lurched into economic decline, McSweeney's work seemed to deal with a bruised, damaged world in which there is no place for false pride. He collects old objects, discarded scraps, and incorporates them in aesthetically and often mechanically ingenious constructions that offer a heartfelt though pointedly humorous commentary on human aspirations and constraints.

REBECCA MOYNIHAN, Local election hopeful

The Labour Party has had difficulties in recent years in refreshing its parliamentary party ranks and reducing the average age.

Moynihan is one of those who could, in time, help to counter that problem. Aged 27, she is running for Dublin City Council in the southwest inner-city ward, and could well have a national future in the years ahead if she safely navigates the choppy waters. Highly articulate, she has been steeped in the party's affairs in Labour Youth and Labour Women for a decade.

MATTHEW NOLAN, Wired curator, Kilkenny Arts Festival

When not lecturing in film at Dublin Business School, studying at Trinity College Dublin or playing with musical ensemble 3epkano, Matthew Nolan can usually be found in Kilkenny. In 2008, following several appearances by 3epkano at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, Nolan and the band curated a new music strand called Wired.

This included stellar performances by Mercury Rev, Lisa Hannigan and Spiritualized in the early gothic surroundings of St Canices Cathedral - for many the highlight of the festival and one of the gigs of the year.

He is currently in the planning stages for this year's festival and although he is reluctant to name names ahead of confirmed dates, he is willing to oblige with some none-too-subtle hints. "Already provisionally lined up are Duluth, Minnesotas greatest musical export, a certain instrumental band from Melbourne and we might even persuade a certain Icelandic band to make an appearance - you just never know."

AIDAN O'SHEA, Footballer

Last year's minor football final between Mayo and Tyrone was a fitting prelude to the senior spectacle. Over the years, Mayo has produced many prodigious Gaelic football players and the performance of Aidan O'Shea augured well for the county. The Breaffy man has the cut of a traditional player: he is strong and plays with a laconic style and appears to have mastered the sometimes forgotten arts of accurate kicking and high fielding.

Although he fractured his thumb in Mayo's All-Ireland minor semi-final win against Kerry, he not only turned out in the final but earned the man of the match accolade. The westerners were within seconds of winning the All-Ireland and, in a gripping final 10 minutes, O'Shea twice landed points to put his side in front. They were caught by Tyrone and a week later, in the replay, they were beaten in extra time by 1-20 to 1-15. Afterwards, O'Shea stood outside the Mayo dressing room and, on receiving commiserations from a few Tyrone players, replied: "Thanks lads, I enjoyed that."

AVERIL POWER, Ministerial adviser

Although just 30, Power is already a political veteran having been a leading figure in Ógra Fianna Fáil during her days in Trinity College, Dublin.

Since then, Power has served as a highly effective and often very tough special adviser for Mary Hanafin in each of the latter's ministerial positions. Now she is preparing the way to run in Sutton on Dublin's north side in the local elections - and clearly has ambitions to run for the Dáil in Dublin North East.

Married to Irish IndependentPolitical Editor Fionan Sheehan, the strength of her political ambitions is illustrated by the fact that she moved house from Booterstown to live in the council wards she hopes to represent.

MARTY REA, Actor

A couple of years ago Marty Rea distinguished himself handsomely in some otherwise ugly productions. Sure footed and prepossessing where others foundered, his command offered helpless audiences a lifeline, a performance they could hold onto.

In shows that deserve him, Rea's talents become the main attraction rather than a consolation prize. Rough Magic's Parker double bill - so good they used him twice - provided a platform for his skills as both a character actor and a vaudevillian, matching crystal delivery with physical adventurousness.

Lynne Parker was clearly pleased enough with his singing to bring him to New York as the priapic physicist Schroedinger in Improbable Frequency. That's some range.

SIMONE ROCHA, Fashion designer

22-year-old Simone Rocha graduated this summer with a first-class honours degree in fashion from NCAD with a collection entitled Les Corps inspired by the artist Louise Bourgeois.

Rocha has inherited not only a family interest in fine art, music and design, but also her father, John Rocha's signature love of handcraft in fashion. Fashion is in her blood; she has been working with her parents since the age of 12, helping out at Rocha's catwalk shows in London and Paris.

She did a design internship with Marc Jacobs in New York and is currently studying for an MA in fashion at St Martins in London. She recently launched her website simonerocha.com

SONIA SHIEL, Painter

Fiercely motivated, 23-year-old Sonia Shiel has already garnered several awards in her career to date. A gifted textural painter, she has consistently pushed the boundaries of her talent, never settling for mere facility.

Dublin born, her recent projects have been particularly ambitious, involving elements of virtuoso painting, found objects, constructions, and, on occasion, video. In these works, delivered with great verve, she considers the way contemporary culture revisits and recycles popular myths and narratives at an increasingly frenetic pace, viewing the "now" as a grid-locked intersection of myriad cultural histories and identities.

ELEANOR TIERNAN, Comedian

From the comedy hot-bed of Roscommon, Eleanor Tiernan (yes, she's a cousin of Tommy) is 95 per cent of the way there already thanks to her disarming and pleasantly scatty stage presence. After leaving her job as a civil engineer to join the steady and reliable world of stand-up, Tiernan is making waves in all the right places - not least thanks to some splendid Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows over the last two years.

Her appeal lies in her ability to convey that she is a well-sussed female while being ridiculously naive at the same time. As a child she once sat on a duck and killed it. And she really hasn't been the same since.

VILLAGERS, Band

When the acclaimed Dublin rock band The Immediate broke up prematurely in 2007, there was a sense that their journey hadn't ended there. The band's lead singer, Conor O'Brien, has now formed his own solo project which goes under the name of Villagers. In a live setting, Villagers could be a stripped-down duo or a five-piece band.

O'Brien has a remarkably emotive voice which, if it were a bit more battered, would resemble that of The Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan's. The music is intriguing: very much at odds with what his contemporaries are doing, O'Brien's songs sound like studio out-takes from a Burt Bacharach trying to write for a Nick Cave session. So new that he hasn't got a record deal yet but there will be an EP release later this month or next.

CHLOE WATKINS, Hockey player

Ever since she first emerged in Leinster schools' hockey with St Andrew's, Chloe Watkins has been catching the eye with her prodigious talent, playing and scoring in the 2006 Leinster Senior Cup final when she was just 13. She has looked equally as comfortable in senior club hockey where she plays in the Leinster League with Hermes, helping her team win last season's All-Ireland club title by creating the winning goal in the final.

Now 16, Watkins is a member of the Irish under-18 squad and has already played for the international A team, just one step away from the full senior side.

 * The group photograph was taken in the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. Events programmed for the gallery this year include:

A new installation piece by Yinka Shonibare, opening on February 26th.

Also opening on February 26th is Frequency, an exhibition which features work by three generations of Irish artists: Mark Garry, Pádraig Timoney and Hayley Tompkins.

The Quick and the Dead opens on June 10th. This exhibition will feature old and new work by four major Irish figurative artists - Patrick Graham, Pat Hall, Brian Maguire and Timothy Hawkesworth.

Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane will celebrate Francis Bacon's centenary in 2009 by showcasing a major exhibition of his work entitled From Ritual to Romance. Opening October 28th.