Iftas 2021: Posthumous award for ‘searing’ Nika McGuigan is the moment of the night

The hit TV adaptation Normal People converts nine of its 15 nominations into Iftas

The winners of the 2021 Iftas – the Irish Film and Television Academy awards – in the film and TV drama categories have been announced in a virtual ceremony broadcast on Virgin Media One.

Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart's Wolfwalkers, recently nominated for best animated feature at the Academy Awards, took the prize for best film.

Unsurprisingly, Normal People, the hit adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, dominated the television section, converting nine of its 15 nominations into Iftas.

But the most moving moment of the night was the awarding of best film actress to the late Nika McGuigan for her searing performance in Cathy Brady’s border drama Wildfire. McGuigan, daughter of the former boxer Barry McGuigan, died in 2019 at the age of just 33.


“Nika tirelessly grafted to become the best actor she could be,” Blane McGuigan, her brother, said. “And in Wildfire she found a vehicle that let her express herself artistically like she had never been able to do before.” Barry McGuigan added: “This is a testament to the special and sacred bond Nika had with her mother that transcends all of life’s challenges.”

Nika McGuigan stars opposite Nora-Jane Noone in a drama concerning two sisters discovering secrets in the wake of their mother’s mysterious death.

Paul Mescal, who recently won a Bafta for his performance in Normal People, took best actor in a TV drama at the domestic awards. "I am absolutely thrilled," Mescal said. "It's amazing to be nominated with such fantastic actors. It has been a journey of over a year now that has utterly changed my life."

He went on to describe Rooney as “the most incredible artist and novelist working in the world at the moment”.

Fionn O'Shea and Sarah Greene won the respective supporting acting prizes for the same series.

Lenny Abrahamson accepted the best TV drama director prize from the set of Conversations with Friends, the upcoming adaptation of Rooney's first novel. The Irish production company Element Pictures produced both series.

Amid all the Normal People celebrations, Dervla Kirwan slipped through to win best TV actress for the acclaimed crime series Smother.

Presented by Gráinne Seoige, the broadcast attracted an impressively starry line-up. Colin Farrell beamed in from Los Angeles to present best director to Cathy Brady. "I'm so proud to see such great Irish directing talent nominated here tonight," he said.

Mark Hamill, the Star Wars veteran who fell for Ireland while shooting the most recent films in the west of the country, was there to pass the Rising Star award to Nicola Coughlan, star of Derry Girls and Bridgerton. "I'm really shocked – oh my god I'm so shocked," Coughlan said. "Hearing Luke Skywalker say my name is such a shock! I'm so proud to be an Irish actor, I'm so proud to be so proud of that."

Other honoured films included David Freyne's comedy Dating Amber, with Barry Ward and Sharon Horgan picking up supporting actor and actress, and Phyllida Lloyd's Herself, which earned Clare Dunne, also the film's star, the award for best screenplay.

Gabriel Byrne won best film actor for his turn as a dissolute college lecturer in Death of a Ladies' Man. The Dubliner paid tribute to the musician whose songs inspired the film. "I'd also like to thank Leonard Cohen himself for his beautiful music and his words," Byrne said. "One of the things that has always stuck with me is something he said: 'there's a crack in everything – that's how the light gets in'. Thank you so much everybody."

The array of presenters also took in Olivia Colman, Bob Geldof and Josh Brolin. Presenting best film to Wolfwalkers, Brolin recalled early experiences in the host nation. "My own story with Ireland is that at 20 years old I was in Dublin, and I blindly walked into a theatre on a movie called My Left Foot, and left a changed man," he said.

“With the rest of my very little money that same trip, I saw the Cusacks do The Three Sisters at the Gate Theatre and was again changed. I also read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that same trip.”

With Wolfwalkers, Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon grabbed its second best picture Ifta. Animation is often overlooked by awards juries, but Ifta voted the studio’s Song of the Sea as its favourite film in 2015.

Brendan Gleeson, nominated as best supporting TV actor for his role as Donald Trump in The Comey Rule, did not triumph, but he managed a bit of impressive banter. Asked if there had been any presidential response from the notorious back channels, he replied that he had "no interest whatsoever in "Donald Trump's back channels".

Full list of winners of the IFTA Film & Drama Awards 2021

Best Film: Wolfwalkers

Director Film: Cathy Brady, Wildfire

Script Film: Clare Dunne & Malcolm Campbell, Herself

Actor in a Lead Role – Film: Gabriel Byrne, Death of a Ladies’ Man

Actress in a Lead Role – Film: Nika McGuigan, Wildfire

Actor in a Supporting Role – Film: Barry Ward, Dating Amber

Actress in a Supporting Role – Film: Sharon Horgan, Dating Amber

Rising Star: Nicola Coughlan

George Morrison Feature Documentary: Breaking Out

Drama: Normal People

Director Drama: Lenny Abrahamson, Normal People

Script Drama: Sally Rooney, Normal People

Actor in a Lead Role – Drama: Paul Mescal, Normal People

Actress in a Lead Role – Drama: Dervla Kirwan, Smother

Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama: Fionn O’Shea , Normal People

Actress in a Supporting Role – Drama: Sarah Greene, Normal People

Short Film: Rough

Short Animation: Her Song

Cinematography: Kate McCullough, Normal People

Editing: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Misbehaviour

Production Design: Lucy van Lonkhuyzen, Normal People

Costume: Leonie Prendergast, Gretel & Hansel

Hair & Makeup: Linda Gannon Foster & Liz Byrne, Gretel & Hansel

Original Score: Aza Hand, Son

Sound Design: Steve Fanagan, Niall Brady, & Niall O Sullivan, Normal People

VFX: Ed Bruce & Robert Hartigan, Kidding