Subscriber OnlyPeople

50 people to watch in 2024: From film and music to arts, activism and more

As 2024 kicks into swing, here are the artists, entrepreneurs, activists and musicians who are bound to turn heads

FILM & TV

By Donald Clarke

Charlie Maher

Actor

“You’re putting me on the spot there. What is it actually about?” Charlie Maher, a good-looking Meath man, is pondering his lead role in Paul Duane’s already much buzzed-about horror All You Need is Death. Charlie and Simone Collins play a couple investigating obscure Irish folk songs who, after one inquiry too many, unleash the sort of supernatural chaos you expect from a flick co-starring Olwen Fouéré. “We shot it in three weeks and it was one of the best atmospheres on a set ever,” Maher says. Now a resident in London, he had an unlikely path into acting. He did an accounting degree, got a job in that field and then thought “absolutely not”. After study at the Lir Academy, Maher secured a regular role on the TV series Blue Lights and credits in such high-profile projects as the BBC’s Black Narcissus. The excited chatter around All You Need is Death, due later this year, is sure to hurry him further up the ladder.

Ruby Conway Dunne

Actor

Ruby Conway Dunne – like Michael Gambon, Cabra born – is just 14 years old, but there is every chance you have already seen her on screen. Way back in 2018, she played opposite Moe Dunford and Sarah Greene in Paddy Breathnach’s homelessness drama Rosie. Now she takes a lead role in Claire Francis Byrne’s upcoming feature Ready or Not. From a script by Senator Lynn Ruane, the film follows teenagers in 1990s Dublin. “They come across experiences they’ve never dealt with,” Conway Dunne says intriguingly. “In a challenging way, it has to do with consent.” The 1990s must feel a long time in the past for her. “No phones on set!” she says. “All the clothes were amaaaaazing. All 90s clothes.” How was working with Ruane? “Oh, I love her so much!” she says. “She has been such a great inspiration to everyone.” Conway Dunne seems already enthralled with the process of acting. “I just love asking questions and giving my input into the scene.”

Niamh Moriarty

Actor

Niamh Moriarty has just had a good year. Her performance as a teenager with a potentially fatal medical condition in the heart-rending BBC series Best Interests won rave reviews and may well interest awards voters in the coming months. There is a great deal more to come in 2024. You can already catch her on Prime Video in the recently released feature Silver and the Book of Dreams. “It was my first film and to have it on such a large scale was very interesting,” Moriarty says. “Also in terms of large-scale projects, I worked on a feature for Element Pictures called Sisters, directed by Ariane Labed. Then later on in the year I will be filming a TV show called Show Kids, directed by Hugh O’Conor.” Moriarty, who has cerebral palsy, means to argue on behalf of greater access for disabled professionals. “Yes, completely,” the Killiney teenager says. “The type of work that actors and performers get often comes with a platform. Access and representation in the industry is something I feel really passionately about.”

Cara Loftus

Screenwriter

Cara Loftus, already an experienced film professional, is telling me about her debut feature screenplay. “So the core idea behind Spilt Milk is about a boy called Bobby O’Brien who is obsessed with Kojak,” she says. “He wants to be a detective, and he goes on a journey to find his missing brother. It’s set against the backdrop of Dublin 1984.” Hang on. Loftus is surely not old enough to have been around during that bald copper’s high period? “I grew up watching Columbo,” she says, laughing. “I know it’s not my era.” The Dubliner has an interesting story. Over the last decade, she received production credits on such high-profile Irish-shot productions as The Last Duel and Disenchanted, but “deep down” she always wanted to write. Selected for the inaugural new writing scheme with Screen Ireland, Spilt Milk, directed by Brian Durnin, has just wrapped principal photography in Dublin. “It was amazing we got to make it,” Loftus enthuses.

READ MORE

Maya O’Shea

Actor

Attendees at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh have already had a glimpse of Maya O’Shea’s breakthrough performance in Patricia Kelly’s Verdigris. The Dubliner plays a smart sex worker who befriends a befuddled older lady – the irresistible Geraldine McAlinden – in a drama that skirts with serious comedy. Winner of best independent film at the fleadh, Verdigris will go before general audiences later this year. “It was my first time going into cinema to watch myself,” O’Shea says. “It was so heart-warming to see the response.” An alumnus of Dublin Youth Theatre, O’Shea went on to study theatre performance at Inchicore College of Further Education. Like so many actors of her generation, she emerged to the confusion of the pandemic. Then Verdigris premiered the very week the Hollywood actors strike began. “It was dry for the last couple of months,” she says of the casting market. “But this week it exploded. I am inundated.” We do not doubt it.

ENTERTAINMENT

By Kate Demolder

Leon Diop and Briana Fitzsimons

Black and Irish

Few people made a greater impact in Ireland in 2023 than Leon Diop and Briana Fitzsimons of Black and Irish, the organisation established with a mission to enhance the lives of black and Irish people. Their book, Black & Irish: Legends, Trailblazers and Everyday Heroes – which took home an award at the Irish Book Awards and was featured on the Late Late Toy Show – is the first book about black-Irish identity, profiling the trailblazers who have changed Ireland for the better, including Ruth Negga (by whom the book was officially launched), Emma Dabiri and Phil Lynott. In their roles as leaders, academics, podcasters and now authors, Diop and Fitzsimons educate, lobby, investigate and encourage by way of social media, all in an effort to create an Ireland we are all proud to call home. In 2024, the pair have “lots of plans to keep going”, with another book in the pipeline.

Pea Dinneen

Playwright, theatre maker, performer

The winner of the Next Stage Wild Card award at the 2023 Dublin Fringe Festival was Pea Dinneen, the playwright, theatre maker and performer from Dublin whose name feels suspiciously pleasing to say aloud. For those who did not see her take part in this year’s sensational queer cabaret, EGG: The Proclamation of the Irish Republegg, you might remember her previous work, like her debut play White, which enjoyed a sold-out run at the Dublin Fringe in 2018 and eventually landed her with an awarded place on the Dublin Fringe artist residency programme. Since then, she has been honing her craft working as a dramaturge and playwright mentor around the country, and as programme leader and mentor on the Transforming Stages development programme with Outburst Queer Arts Festival, an initiative nurturing early career trans and non-binary theatre makers. In 2024, she will be putting on a big show opening in September, a loosely autobiographical cabaret play based on her experiences as a trans woman. She is also under commission with Kabosh Theatre for a play to open in November.

Terence Power and Calvin O’Brien

Podcasters

In a podcast-saturated world, it is almost impossible to stand out, especially as two white men. But Calvin O’Brien and Terence Power of Talking Bollox have carved out a genuine voice for young men from Dublin 1, a demographic that has been consistently and painfully overlooked. Speaking to guests from all walks of life – including Tánaiste Micheál Martin, former addicts and sex educator Jenny Keane – O’Brien and Power are a breath of fresh air in their unity, grace and openness to learning. Listeners cannot get enough. Following the success of their 2023 live shows, the lads have another set for February, with other exciting plans for the year that they cannot reveal yet.

Áine Gallagher

Comedian

Self-described as Ireland’s only guerrilla Irish language teacher, Áine Gallagher is taking the panic out of the modh coiníollach by taking her Cup of Focals show on the road, teaching us all to love the cúpla focal again. It all stemmed from a new year’s resolution she made at 26, something that pivoted her to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with her show Grá and Eagla, followed by a TED Talk. Gallagher has just finished as artist in residence at Little Bird Café in Portobello and has big plans for 2024, including bigger gigs, better Gaeilge-learning experiences and creating more welcoming, open spaces where Gaeilge – minus the snobbery – can thrive. She is also writing a new comedy show about her miscellaneous drawer. “It’s a mess. I’ve been trying to organise it for years. It fully represents who I am as a person. I’m hoping to premiere it at festivals in the autumn,” Gallagher says. Catch her Smock Alley show on March 16th, with other dates to be announced.

Amanda Adé

To categorise Amanda Adé as one, singular thing is a fruitless exercise. The career of the young multi-hyphenate spans social media creation, activism, filmmaking, education and humour, all while chipping away at a myriad of other industries (she recently told Micheál Martin that she is coming for his job). Recognised by Meta as a Creator for Tomorrow, Adé engages with audiences on topics such as gender and racial equality through podcasts, events and other means (last year, she contributed to an article in this newspaper about the micro-aggressions people with afro hair feel when attending an Irish hair salon), aiming to provide food for thought for those stuck in one perspective. This year, Adé will launch her own creative agency Off Trance, as well as partaking in a couple of short films and documentaries on social issues.

MUSIC

By Kate Demolder

Aby Coulibaly

Aby Coulibaly has been written about in The Irish Times before, and in the six months since then, her musical presence has only grown stronger. It has been helped of course by her sensational EP At The End Of The Day, It’s Night, featuring the same tone, veracity and smooth voice that loyal fans obsess over. At just 24, Coulibaly already boasts an active role in Chamomile Records, the independent label she and several other brilliant Dublin-based artists centre themselves around. This year looks bright for the Lucan native, whose gigs and new music are set to capture new audiences both in Ireland and further afield – especially having been chosen as the support act for ex-Rudimental artist Olivia Dean in Dublin. Her latest track Big Pharma (Withdrawal) is also receiving big praise.

Offica

Just back from a hugely successful Australian tour and appearance at South by Southwest, Offica (pronounced with a soft c, like office-a), aka Tomas Adedayo Adeyinka, is yet another Louth musical success story, this time in the art of drill. His first track, No Hook, was released in 2018 with a friend, purely because his uncle owned a studio and they thought it would be funny. Fusing his Nigerian heritage with Irish culture, he has created a genre all his own. This year, Offica dropped his highly-anticipated two-part mixtape Hokage (named after a beloved anime series, Naruto, and meaning “king of his village”), an altogether more personal record than fans of the drill artist might have expected. In it, he speaks to the feelings of anxiety, stress and panic that black men face but rarely speak about. Offica is kicking off 2024 with an Irish tour, followed by Australia. He has also been recording new music, so expect a new EP filled with international collaborators.

Niamh Bury

Insightful, talented and invigorating, Niamh Bury is folk’s most interesting new star. Recent performances at the St Patrick’s Festival and Body & Soul were notable, but it was her stint alongside Dermot Kennedy in an exclusive gig at The Long Hall, as part of Guinness’s Live and Rising campaign (Kennedy handpicked Bury by name) that caught the attention of critics. Performances with Ye Vagabonds in Vicar Street caused pin-drop silence. Bury is one of the recent signees to the revived Claddagh Records – who hailed her “one of Ireland’s most exciting new talents” – but she has been recognised in the trad world for some time. Along with Lankum, Bury was one of the chief organisers of The Night Before Larry Got Stretched, the traditional singing session in The Cobblestone on the first Sunday of every month. Her debut album will be released in the spring, and she plays Temple Bar Tradfest on January 28th, with Irish, UK and European tour dates to follow.

KhakiKid

You may have seen Abdu Huss, also known as KhakiKid, on your social media feeds lately, promoting his latest single with Dubliner Bricknasty, “Who’s That Girl?”, the catchy, rip-roaring combo track that sees the pair traipse around the city centre. Its beat and deep understanding of Gen Z culture are symptomatic of Huss’s solo music, wherein he details the anxieties and idiosyncrasies of being a 20-something-year-old with both humour and depth. Just back from the prestigious festivals Pitchfork Paris and London, Huss is setting himself up for a good year, even if he still cannot quite believe how he got here. “I actually cried for the first time on stage recently,” he shares. “I just couldn’t believe people in London were taking time out of their day to come and see me.” The coming months will see Huss working with some exciting artists globally, as well as releasing new music, playing major festivals and touring in the UK and Europe.

Sexy Tadhg

Tadhg Griffin, aka Sexy Tadhg (the provocative, Fenian moniker I think we’ve all been waiting for), is a shining light in Irish music; with a bona fide rock star presence, it is no wonder they are selling out shows left and right. Pianist, songwriter and vocalist, Griffin is one of the most fun acts you could watch, which is probably why Eurovision winner Loreen chose them to support her sold-out Academy gig in November. There is something exhilarating about watching a star be born, again and again, and that is just what happens when you watch Griffin, whose theatricality and talent teeters between Lady Gaga and Elton John at their best. Griffin has brought their show to stages all around Ireland – Electric Picnic, Sea Sessions, The Button Factory, the Róisín Dubh, Whelan’s, The Late Late Show – with much more planned for 2024, including a single Ride the Wave set for release in January, and an EP in April. They will also take part in a documentary with musician Colm O’Snodaigh called Ireland in Music, commissioned by RTÉ, to air in spring.

ARTS

By Gemma Tipton

Teddy Moore

Actor

Teddy Moore initially took acting classes “to escape playing football with my brothers in the Phoenix Park”. Quitting in transition year to focus on the Leaving Certificate, they instead explored the idea of medicine, until “I realised I would make a terrifying doctor”. Following acting courses at Bow Street Academy and then The Lir, Moore won the prestigious UK-based Spotlight Prize in June 2023. “Now that I share an award with Dame Judi Dench I can pretend we have similarities,” Moore says, musing on the idea of being Dame Teddy Moore, tongue firmly in cheek.

From there, it was to the Abbey to work with Wayne Jordan and Nancy Harris as part of the ensemble cast for Somewhere Out There You at the 2023 Dublin Theatre Festival, where they shone. “I love acting,” Moore says “because I get to wear wigs and lie.” Looking forward to 2024, Moore’s streak of seriousness and determination, coupled with their charismatic sparkle of wit should take them far. Theatre being theatre, nothing is officially confirmed, but their name is in the hat for several projects. “It’s just about what works out in the end,” they say with equanimity. Undoubtedly there will be great things.

Christopher McMullan

Artist

Born in the US, of a Co Antrim family, McMullan grew up in Houston, “a melting-pot city with amazing art and food”. Describing a creative childhood of art making and building things, from tree forts to go-karts, he went travelling after school, consciously avoiding art college, telling himself that art did not need to be taught – “but I know now that I just wasn’t ready”. Instead, McMullan became a chef, working in high-end restaurants, but burned out from the “constantly hyper abusive, super toxic environment”. That, combined with the election of Donald Trump, told him it was time to reset: “I fell in love with NCAD (the National College of Art and Design) and moved here with my partner (now wife) to start anew.”

Covid meant college, studio and home become interchangeable, and “it was almost from a sense of desperation that I started considering the materiality of air”. McMullan has already had work at Project Arts Centre and the Douglas Hyde Gallery, and his award-winning Perfume Organ, currently part of the RDS Student Art Awards at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, is extraordinary. A wooden “floor” emits different aromas as you step on each panel, conjuring scents and sensations. “I don’t know if I love what I do. I am very fortunate and grateful for the reception of my work [so] far, but it’s not love or happiness that motivates it. I just make things that don’t exist but probably should.” In 2024, McMullan will be taking up a residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

Aidan Conway

Architect

Drawn to architecture for its creativity, Castlebar-born Aidan Conway found his interests widen to include landscape, history and materials, making his projects ideally suited to their environment. Studying at Bolton Street, and then in Delft, he also spent time working in Slovenia and Spain before returning to Castlebar in 2016 to join Axo Architects. In 2020, he set up his own practice, Marmar. Add in lecturing at the University of Limerick, exhibition design and research for a book – these days Conway is kept busy.

His 2022 Stilt House at Fernwood Farm in Clifden is a gorgeous spot, connected by a rope bridge to a sauna, also designed by Conway (fernwood.eco to book). He is now working on another Fernwood cabin, as well as an exhibition design for The Murmur of Bees, opening at National Museum of Country Life later this month. There is also a house in Castlebar, another in Achill, and research for a new book exploring structures and spaces in Co Mayo, which Conway describes as “more relevant with the growing need to re-evaluate our built heritage and its reuse”. Part of this project was shown at Architecture at the Edge in 2023, and Conway is growing a reputation for his skilled understanding of how buildings work best in their landscapes.

Joy Nesbitt

Writer and director

Originally from Texas, Joy Nesbitt’s love for theatre grew from watching classic movie musicals, even writing to her hero Barbra Streisand at the age of 11. Acting in community theatre, she went to Harvard with the intention of becoming a doctor, but found her way into theatre. Creating shows as a way of cultivating community during Covid, she and her friends raised money for Black Lives Matter and Covid relief in the US. After graduating, Nesbitt came to Ireland to study at The Lir Academy, and from there to the SEEDS programme at Rough Magic as a director, and the Rachel Baptiste Programme at Smock Alley Theatre as a writer.

Already garnering awards for her work, Nesbitt believes in theatre’s transformative power, describing staging the play, Listen, A Black Woman is Speaking in Dublin: “There was an anti-immigration riot right outside the doors of the theatre. Suddenly, the art and the world were in direct conversation with one another […] I could only think about how important it was that this piece happened when it did. I was reminded that even in terrifying times, we should not be silenced.” This year sees Nesbitt bringing Irish work to the US, and directing at Draíocht and the Lir, while working on her own original plays for 2025.

Scott McKendry

Poet

“My upbringing was fairly typical, or maybe stereotypical,” says Scott McKendry of his roots in what he describes as “lower-working-class loyalist north Belfast”. It is easy to reduce people to a type, and talk about “those places,” he says, but “the people who inhabited and inhabit it, are and were much more besides”. Leaving school with no A-levels, McKendry worked as an electrician, but after losing his job, his house and partner, he moved home and started a university access course in Belfast.

All artists channel their experiences, and McKendry’s breadth of understanding of what culture is to different people, coupled with his talent, sensitivity, and what Susan McKay describes as his brutal eloquence, combine to make his poetry powerful. “I think it’s always been crucial to be able to find new emotions in art: like if you see or read something and it hits you like a smell you’ve never smelled before,” McKendry says. After winning the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2019, McKendry’s debut collection, Gub is published by Little Brown in February, and he will be at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature in April.

FASHION AND BEAUTY

By Deirdre McQuillan

Leila Worth

Weaver

Leila Worth, the 26-year-old Donegal weaver, one of the youngest in the country, is already making her mark with blankets and cushions in subtle colours and patterns, but her real ambition is to make coats from her own fabrics. From Churchill near Letterkenny and an academic family, Worth’s interest in art was evident from a young age. Alongside a business degree, she did a course in sustainable fashion at the London College of Fashion, and moved back to Donegal when Covid hit. There, her love of textiles led her to train with weaver John Heena in Ardara, a craftsman with more than 50 years’ experience, and later in Studio Donegal in Kilcar. Worth now works from home near Gartan Lough on a 100-year-old handloom, making fabric and selling blankets from her website

Mihai Mar

Knitwear artist

Though this young Dublin-based knitwear artist only launched his queer-led label a year ago with a collection called Memento, Mihai Mar’s “perennial tiger” jumpers and vibrant scarves already have a cult following. Born in Transylvania in 1997, Mar grew up in Ireland and studied Fine Art Textiles in NCAD having already displayed early skills in animation, graphics and puppetry. Following graduation, Mar moved to work in Seoul for a year travelling throughout South Korea, a huge inspiration for his first collection. He is committed to ethical production using scavenged materials and waste yarns, and wants to develop more artistic sculptural knitwear as well as commercial pieces this year. Mar’s work, he says, is “my protest against fast fashion”. mar-knitwear.com

Emma Rose Higgins

Model

A 21-year-old final-year student of spatial planning in Bolton Street, Emma Rose Higgins was working in a Dublin pub when she was approached by scouts from modelling agencies attracted by her classic Celtic looks. She chose NotAnotherInt and, within a few weeks last April, landed her first booking with Burberry for a shoot in the Giant’s Causeway followed by another for Brown Thomas. From Blessington in Co Wicklow, Higgins loves vintage clothing and accessories. A former Gaelic football player, her experience working last year for Homecare in Naas and Newbridge is informing her graduating thesis on housing for the elderly. In the meantime, she is enjoying modelling. “It’s been a lot of fun and I have grown as a person and feel confident travelling on my own. I love meeting new people. And I’ve stopped wearing fake tan and straightening my hair.”

Lucy Folan

Fashion designer

An NCAD graduate focused on creating sustainable fabrics, Lucy Folan was one of 12 fashion and textile students who collaborated during the pandemic and showcased their work in Om Diva in May 2022. A blue vinyl suit from Folan’s graduate collection last year was sported by CMAT in her music video Have Fun, and in November her first capsule collection of three handsewn occasionwear pieces consisting of a skirt, top and dress in a unique printed satin fabric was launched in Bow & Pearl boutique under her label CyanLucy. During the summer Folan secured a residency at an Italian textile laboratory, where she continued fabric experiments like heat pressing biodegradable plastic bags on to natural materials. She makes everything by hand in her studio in Rathmines. “I wanted to create clothing that feels sophisticated while still having fun with prints and colours. It can be a challenge to get that right in your 20s,” Folan says.

Christiana Aina

Skincare

Based in Co Galway where she grew up in Knocknacarra, the third eldest in her family, Christiana Aina is a 20-year-old final-year student of business information systems in University of Galway who grew interested in skincare, particularly for those with sensitive or darker skin. Aina launched her newcomer brand last July “to uplift women underrepresented in the beauty industry”, she says, with a sampling event held in Galway in October. According to her research, 50 per cent of Irish women have sensitive skin, which can affect their self-esteem. “I want to help them find confidence in their own beauty by being able to find products that work effectively for them,” Aina says. Her website, uncoveree.com, stocks hair and skin care products like Freya+Bailey, Kiya and Root2Tip serums. Aina’s ambition is to open a store in Dublin Airport for those travelling into or out of Ireland, “for those with sensitive skin going to different climates”.

SPORT

By Malachy Clerkin

Sam Curtis

Soccer

The level of talent coming through the League of Ireland academies is particularly eye-catching these days, and Sam Curtis looks set to become the first of the current crop to make the jump to the next level. A virtual ever-present for St Pat’s last season, the full-back who just turned 18 in December is a certainty to move to England in January, with both Manchester United and Liverpool mentioned as possible suitors.

Curtis is assured beyond his years, speedy across the ground and clever in possession. He has moved through the ranks of the Ireland underage teams and generally being the youngest starter for Pat’s throughout the season, he was the right-back on the League of Ireland team of the year. Obviously, the bigger the club he joins, the less chance there may be of first-team football, but his progress will be worth keeping a close eye on, regardless of where he lands.

Aoife O’Rourke

Boxing

The Olympic cycle is unforgiving. Three years after going to Tokyo and getting beaten in her first fight, Aoife O’Rourke will head to Paris in August determined to make amends. The Roscommon boxer has filled her time well since 2021, winning gold at the European Championships in 2022 and following that with another gold at the European Games (different competition, same opponents) in 2023.

That latter gold, won in Poland last July, sealed her qualification for the Olympics and confirmed her as the leading European challenger in the middleweight class. She had no luck with the draw in Tokyo – she came out of the hat to fight Li Qian, the Chinese fighter who ultimately took silver in the competition, to add to her bronze from Rio. It meant O’Rourke’s first Olympics was over pretty much as soon as it began. She will be 27 by the time the games come around in August, right in the middle of her athletic prime. Now is her time.

Daniel Wiffen

Swimming

Ireland have not won an Olympic swimming medal since… ah, never mind. In Tokyo, Mona McSharry from Sligo was the first Irish swimmer in an Olympic final since 1996 and she goes to Paris with an outside chance of a medal. But the big Irish hope in the pool this time around will be Daniel Wiffen, the 22-year-old long-distance swimmer from Armagh.

Wiffen will be a new name to most Irish people, particularly given that long-distance swimming is a pretty niche concern, even among sports fans. But he splashed (sorry) on to the front pages in December by bringing three gold medals home from the European Championships and becoming the first Irishman to break a swimming world record in the process. Prepare for the country to become overnight experts in pacing on the first Sunday in August.

Adam Screeney

Hurling

Few counties need a promising youngster more than Offaly, who have slipped off to the side of the national stage over the past couple of decades. But they are up-and-coming at underage level in both hurling and football and nobody shines brighter in the county than Adam Screeney, the electric young forward from Kilcormac-Killoughey.

Screeney was the All-Ireland minor hurler of the year in 2022 and the top scorer in last year’s All-Ireland under-20 championship, despite still only being 18. He followed that by starring for Kilcormac-Killoughey on their run to the Offaly title and has been called up to the Offaly senior panel by Johnny Kelly. They will be careful not to rush things – Screeney is going to need a fair bit of athletic development before they can load too much responsibility on his shoulders. But he has a seriously promising future.

Róisín Ní Riain

Para-swimming

It feels pretty amazing to be reminded that Róisín Ní Riain is still a teenager. The visually-impaired swimmer from Limerick was the youngest member of the Ireland team that went to the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2021, and will still only be 19 when she goes to Paris in August. Ní Riain has gone from strength to strength ever since, building on the experience she gained when she was only 15 at her first major event.

Ní Riain had a brilliant 2023, winning gold and bronze at the World Para-Swimming Championships in Manchester. After beginning her breakthrough week with a bronze in the 100m butterfly, she rounded it off with gold in the 100m backstroke. That punched her ticket to Paris and also saw her shortlisted for the RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year award in December. With Ellen Keane set to round off her Paralympic career in 2023, Ní Riain is perfectly placed to become the next star of Irish para-swimming.

FOOD AND DRINK

By Corinna Hardgrave

Ngozi Elobuike

Founder of Hi Spirits

Growing up in the Lodi region of California, vineyards were a familiar sight for Ngozi Elobuike. When she moved to London to study for an MSc in global health and development, she worked as a kitchen porter in a wine chain called Vagabond, and her interest in wine grew substantially. While studying for a master’s degree in race, migration and decolonial studies, this time in University College Dublin, Elobuike worked in Note wine bar and noticed that there were not many black people on the wine scene. Having completed her studies, she set about founding a business, Hi Spirits, Ireland’s first black-led wine club. Collaborating with Victory Nwabu-Ekeoma, the editor of Bia! Zine for her first event designed to commemorate Black History Month, Elobuike invited London-based Masterchef semi-finalist Victor Okunowo as a guest chef to showcase Pan-African cuisine. Among the sponsors was London Manya, a drinks producer that makes traditional Nigerian palm wine using the champagne method, substituting palm sap for grapes. Elobuike was subsequently invited to the British embassy in Dublin to host a tasting of palm wine at their panel event to celebrate Black History Month. Elobuike, who works full-time as a consultant in EY in Dublin, plans to build Hi Spirits into a worldwide business.

Adam Nevin

Head chef, The Morrison Room, Carton House

A graduate of Ballymaloe Cookery School, 28-year-old Adam Nevin started out at the Shelbourne in Dublin before heading to London where he worked under Alyn Williams at The Westbury for 18 months, followed by Tom Kerridge at his two-Michelin-star The Hand and Flowers restaurant in Marlow. Nevin moved to The Grill at The Dorchester in 2019, initially as sous chef, taking over the head chef role in November 2022. This put him right on the radar of the London chef scene, and he featured on the Murphia list, which highlights Irish people in the London food scene, for 2023. He is now back in his hometown, Maynooth in Co Kildare, and has already attracted the attention of inspectors from the Michelin Guide since he took up the reins as head chef of The Morrison Room at Fairmont Carton House. Tweeting photos of their meal and adding The Morrison Room to the Michelin Guide listing of restaurants in Ireland, the inspectors described Nevin’s approach to cooking as showcasing “fine Irish produce in well-judged and original combinations with a confident classical base”. Scallops, lobster, sweetbreads, ceps and luxury ingredients dominate the menu.

Shauna Murphy

Chef, Terre, Castlemartyr Resort

Born and raised in Cappamore, a small Limerick village, 26-year-old Shauna Murphy describes herself as “a big culchie” who loves the quiet life and the countryside. With a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts, she spent a year and a half working in Plassey House and four years training under Mike Tweedie at the one-Michelin-star restaurant The Oak Room in Adare Manor, starting as a commis chef and working up to a chef de partie. In April this year, Murphy moved to Terre in Castlemartyr Resort, the one-Michelin-star restaurant headed up by chef Vincent Crepel. Under Crepel’s guidance and chef Angelo Vagiotis’ mentorship, she won the prestigious Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2023. Murphy plans to continue cooking under Crepel, where she is relishing the opportunity to learn new skills, adding nuance and Asian influences to classical dishes on a produce-led menu. Her long-term plans are to open her own restaurant, but at a more accessible Michelin Bib Gourmand rather than Michelin-star level.

Jonathan Farrell

Head chef, Gregans Castle

When a chef of Jonathan Farrell’s calibre moves to Gregans Castle, it is news. The restaurant was where Mickael Viljanen, the chef/patron of Michelin-two-star Chapter One, started to make his mark, and Farrell’s background is compelling. A graduate in TV and film, the 38-year-old took a slightly longer route into the restaurant industry, finding it was something he loved after doing a one-month course at Lynda Booth’s Dublin Cookery School. Working his way up through restaurants in Ireland and overseas, stints at some of Copenhagen’s top restaurants including Michelin-starred Amass and Relae, had considerable influence on his career. Farrell was second in command to chef/patron Barry Fitzgerald when Bastible landed a Michelin star in 2022. He took a break for a few months this year, travelling in the Far East, before taking over in Gregans Castle in September. Farrell’s approach to cooking is flavour-led and classic, but there is always something to spark intrigue. With access to an incredible kitchen garden, it will be very exciting to see what emanates from this kitchen when Gregans Castle reopens from its winter break in February.

Sinéad Smyth

Chairperson of Wine Spirit Woman

Wine Spirit Woman is a non-profit organisation supporting women in the wine industry, founded in 2019 by Lynne Coyle, master of wine and wine director of O’Briens Wine, and Justine McGovern, joint trade director for the California Wine Institute. Thirty-three-year-old Sinéad Smyth, a graduate in culinary arts with an MSc in insights and innovation from the Bord Bia graduate programme, was one of the first members, and volunteered to manage the social media account. In November 2021, the founders asked Smyth to take over as chairperson. Since then, she has grown the community significantly through a WhatsApp group, a monthly newsletter, Q&A sessions with notable people in the wine industry, and tasting events and meet-ups. Smyth has put a huge focus on education for women, with scholarship bursaries for studies on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and Spanish Wine Specialist programmes, and a new Ayala Champagne bursary soon to be announced. Smyth, who holds the level three WSET certificate, works as a consultant for the wine industry. She was invited to speak at the Women in Wine Expo in London earlier this year and her plans for the future include the development of a mentorship programme with Diageo.

ACTIVISM

By Una Mullally

Irish Artists for Palestine

This loose collective of Irish artists has been hosting gigs, writer events and fundraisers around Ireland, as well as designing posters and merchandise in solidarity with Palestine. The all-island programme included a massive show at the 3Arena, readings featuring Sally Rooney and Kevin Barry, a circus event with funds going to the Gaza Women’s Yoga and Circus Hub, traditional music concerts, art raffles and film screenings. The capacity for the artistic community to come together and pull off events at short notice demonstrates not just cohesion and a willingness to help, but also the impact of the role of artists organising around housing, marriage equality, and reproductive rights activism in Ireland.

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union

Housing remains the primary election issue in Ireland, and what has been noticeable is an increasing wave of activism and protests by student groups. We could focus on many, as well as CATU (Community Action Tenants Union), but the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union has been particularly active and impactful. Towards the end of 2023, students blocked access to the Book of Kells in protest at a proposed raise in the cost of student accommodation. The outcome of this minor disruption, but vocal protest, was a rent freeze. In November, students blocked the entrance of the college in a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) action calling on the university to cut ties with Israel. Trinity has historically been a hotbed of activism, and lately, it seems that at least some of the current batch of students are continuing that legacy.

Seán McCabe

Climate justice officer for Bohemians FC

Seán McCabe is the climate justice officer for Bohemians FC in Dublin 7, the first in the world in a football club. McCabe began volunteering for Bohs, and now the club occupies a global leadership role in climate justice in sport. New projects are planned, including exploring co-operative structures for owning climate-related businesses. In 2024, a “library of things” for borrowing and exchanging goods will be launched, as well as a bike library. “Bohs is a co-operative. If you can cooperatively own a football club, you can cooperatively own retrofitting businesses,” says McCabe, who wrote the Bigger than the Game strategy on fan engagement in collaboration with the Sports for Climate Action programme launched at Cop28 in December. “Fans come to sport to be part of something bigger than themselves, so give them a movement bigger than themselves to be a part of.”

Saoirse Exton

Climate activist

At 18, Saoirse Exton is the youngest member of the United Nations’ (UN) Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, making her the youngest-ever adviser to the UN secretary general. In 2019, she founded her local Fridays For Future chapter, and has spoken at Cambridge University, The Phil at Trinity College, the Mary Robinson Climate Conference in Ballina, and elsewhere. Exton is the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from An Taisce’s Climate Ambassador Programme, and says she is particularly interested in the intersection between the climate crisis and indigenous languages, including Irish. Exton is a strong speaker, part of a new wave of climate activists taking things both to the streets and into the corridors of power.

Dr Umar Al-Qadri

Chairperson of the Irish Muslim Council

Dr Umar Al-Qadri is the chairperson of the Irish Muslim Council and Chief Imam at the Islamic Centre of Ireland. He describes himself as someone who has “a deep-rooted commitment to fostering cohesion and social justice”, striving “to connect with diverse communities and contribute to a broader Irish society”. A powerful speaker, passionate advocate for peace, and noticeable for his outward-looking community work, Dr Al-Qadri is becoming a notable figure in Irish public life, highlighting the perils of anti-migrant sentiment, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia. In 2024 Dr Al-Qadri will continue to focus on “supporting institutions, community engagement, and dialogue to address challenges such as housing, healthcare crises, and integration. Inspired by shared values, I aim to contribute to a harmonious future by advocating for change, supporting institutions, engaging with communities, and fostering equal rights and social change”.

SUSTAINABILITY

By Catherine Cleary

Susan Adams

Education for Sustainability

Nature is Susan Adams’ north star, and she wants every child in Ireland to be climate literate by 2030. That means they will “understand the climate impact and are equipped to live sustainably now and in the future”. Adams studied animal conservation and worked in Dublin Zoo until 2017 when she was prompted by the dearth of climate education in her children’s schools to set up Education for Sustainability. “I just wanted people to care,” Adams says. That means giving people the knowledge and a platform to take actions. The climate and nature crises can seem “very abstract and very cold”, she says. They work to bring it down to the personal level, “so they see themselves in the problem, but most importantly that they can be part of the solution”. Adams’ social enterprise delivers an eight-week climate literacy course, which includes resources for teachers, to 200 schools. The project’s online community pages where students can share their climate-friendly behaviours will help build an ecosystem of schools sharing information, inspiration and actions.

Lucy Alexia Dube

Alexia Press Hub

Lucy Alexia Dube felt that she had come full circle recently when she talked to 32 newly arrived parents in an Irish refugee reception centre. Thirteen years ago when she arrived from South Africa as a single parent with three sons, she would have loved a guide to help her navigate the new parenting norms. Thanks to support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Dube piloted her social enterprise Alexia Press Hub in 2022, helping parents with the transition. “For them to hear that they are not bad parents is important… and also that they have something to give in terms of parenting methods. That’s the kind of ‘this is what worked for us’ collaborative thinking that every parent needs,” Dube says. Alexia Press Hub runs cultural evenings, coffee mornings and training sessions both online and in person. June 1st is Global Parents Day, when she hopes to gather parents together to celebrate the community of wisdom they share.

Danny Alvey

ReWild Wicklow

Over Christmas three years ago, Danny Alvey and his siblings Enya, Simon and Ian started a WhatsApp group to get more nature into the plan for the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The existing plan was heavy on “new roads and new trails”, Alvey explains, and light on the ecological restoration. They started a petition and, 10,000 signatures later, found themselves meeting Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan. That energy and support has grown into ReWild Wicklow and they now have a volunteer army of 1,300 people ready to take on the work of restoring sensitive ecological areas. The group visits fellow Wicklow nature-based enterprise Wildacres once a season, and has been on 25 different sites carrying out work. Plans for the coming year include a native tree nursery and helping people in other counties set up their own “ReWild” organisations. Going from having “no land, no wealth, no experience, just a passion”, they have grown a charity that gets people out restoring nature, where “everybody goes home with a smile on their face”.

Maeve Stone

Climate artist

Maeve Stone is an artist who brings a climate lens to writing, filmmaking and community artwork. Orchard Songlines is a project with her partner Alex Gill and their company Cracking Light Productions. It builds on work last year with Limerick Civic Trust where the city’s history of apple growing led to the planting of urban orchards. Orchard Songlines will see a community in Ballymun work with poet Jessica Traynor and composer Tom Lane to create songs for each tree planted. “It will be an album in the form of an orchard,” Stone explains. She founded the Green Arts Department at Axis Ballymun who are hosting it along with Rising Tide, a cross-Border project with Axis and East Belfast Mission where teenagers will look at intersecting challenges of the future “with an environmental heartbeat to it”. Another project will see Stone and Gill work with artists Lisa and Brandon Lomax to build a time machine called A Room With a View, “traditions and what people want future traditions to look like are at the heart of it”. The Spark Creative Climate Action Fund will bring this to life in August in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. Stone’s second short film, The Last Harvest, tells a story of mothering in 2112 and will – she hopes – find a home at festivals this year. She will also develop a Climate Art Assembly with artists Sinéad Curran, Rosie O’Reilly, Vanya Lambrecht-Ward, Eileen Hutton and Wexford Arts Office along the lines of the Citizens’ Assembly, presenting the idea at Project Arts Centre at the end of the year.

Avadhoot Potdar

Greenacre Sustainability Hub, UCD

Avadhoot Potdar went to work for an oil company as an analyst when he graduated with a biotechnology degree in India. After two years he decided to study film. Making wildlife documentaries sparked his interest in the environment. A master’s degree in environmental and educational management in the Netherlands brought him to UCD, where is now heading up a fascinating experiment in experiential learning. Greenacre is a small area of the UCD campus where students will be able to get their hands dirty, farming mushrooms with used coffee grounds, recycling plastic into usable products and growing their own food. The Greenacre Sustainability Hub is the brainchild of UCD’s Innovation Academy who first welcomed Paddy Arnold and James Egan’s Revolution Farm on to the campus with their coffee grounds mushroom farm. Potdar is excited about the potential of having it all in one area and bringing different disciplines together in very practical ways. Greenacre will be given a digital twin on a website where people will be able to play with the projects like a game. An open-source operating system will be shared so anyone can green their own acre.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND TECH

By Ciara O’Brien

Brian Kelleher

Microdoc

The idea for Microdoc came from the first-hand experience of its founder. At his summer job working with a spinal care consultancy in Dublin, Brian Kelleher saw the amount of paperwork medical practices are dealing with. The 20-year-old Trinity College student has created a digital assistant to help manage administrative load of medical practices. Although Microdoc initially focused on paperwork, it has since pivoted to an AI-based dictation tool that can create letters in seconds, picking up potential errors and highlighting terminology to be checked. It also has a review tool for incoming documents, and the ability to deliver medical insights based on the patient’s history. Crucially, it can integrate with existing patient management systems. Faster, cheaper and more efficient than dealing with the documents by hand, Microdoc already has paying customers, and is poised for further growth.

Jennie Haire and Lisa Hughes

Gigi Supplements

This is not the first successful business for Jennie Haire. Her first company was Your Wellness Collective, a corporate-focused platform for health and lifestyle. But there was still a gap in the market, namely for premium health supplements aimed at women. Haire teamed up with cofounder Lisa Hughes, and Gigi Supplements was born. The company is tapping into a market that has become increasingly important in recent years, with the goal of making symptom-free menstrual cycles the norm. The two founders’ requirements were first that the supplements were evidence-based, and second that they tasted nice. Gigi started with a lemonade flavour premenstrual syndrome and hormone balancing blend, but the plan is for a range of supplements targeted at all stages of women’s reproductive lives.

Maebh Reynolds

GoPlugable

Electric cars are becoming an increasingly popular sight on Irish roads, but while the charging network has made some ground, there is still a bit to go before the country is adequately covered. In the meantime, there are plenty of home chargers sitting idle much of the time. Enter GoPlugable, a Belfast-based business founded by Maebh Reynolds. The mechanical engineer is focused on innovation and sustainability, racking up awards for her work, including the Queen’s University Belfast Dragon’s Den and a high-achieving merit from Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur Awards. Now the Queen’s graduate is aiming to build the largest network of electric vehicle chargers yet, allowing users to locate, reserve and share chargers in their local neighbourhoods. In effect, it will be an Airbnb for EV charging, with drivers booking sessions through the app and owners making money from their home chargers. The company is currently signing up beta users for the service.

Oisín Devoy, Phillip McKenna and Zac Dair

SimpleStudy

SimpleStudy brings the benefit of private tuition to secondary school students. Founded by Oisín Devoy, Phillip McKenna and Zac Dair, the company was originally set up to cater to Irish Junior and Leaving Certificate students, with revision tools and exam preparation for a range of subjects across both cycles. Now SimpleStudy is looking further afield, recently launching in Scotland, and has plans to keep growing throughout Europe. France is a likely target, as are other areas of the UK. The modular nature of the e-learning platform has been a key factor in supporting this growth. SimpleStudy has also recently been on the fundraising trail, with a growing number of paying customers.

Mihael Melnic

Snappie

Digital platform Snappie has a mission: to eliminate the repetitive work website designers have to carry out every time they are creating a new site. Mihael Melnic, who cofounded Snappie with Ivan Cardillo and Robel Abraham, says the platform is an engineering solution for creative and marketing agencies. Using proprietary algorithms and artificial intelligence, Snappie can produce user interfaces and layouts for websites, informed by basic details such as the website’s audience or branding, suited to different companies and their needs. The trio have a mixture of technical and marketing backgrounds, working with companies such as IBM and PatchAI. Since teaming up to form Snappie last year, the team have raised more than €200,00 in funding, including angel investment and support from Enterprise Ireland.