40 Inspirational Irish Women Under 40

40 under 40
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Allow us to introduce you to a list of incredible women from a variety of industries who we know will inspire you today. From Technology and business to fashion, food, sport and the performing arts, we meet the women who are changing the world you live in.

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1. Jenny Taafe, Founder and CEO of digital marketing group iZest Marketing and Izest Influence

Taaffe’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is simple: “Just do it.” Beyond that, the 37-year-old mother of two explains the key to achieving success in business is to “under promise and over deliver – then tell everyone about the work you are doing”. iZest’s incredible growth (in the past 18 months, Taaffe has grown her team from just four to twelve and secured new projects in places as diverse as Dubai and New York) has been driven entirely by referrals from existing clients. But this is just the beginning for this irrepressible CEO, who envisions iZest growing tenfold in the next ten years. Taaffe was nominated as a Power 100 Top Retail Marketing Executive and was a finalist in the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards in 2014. She is also a keynote speaker on marketing and digital marketing in retail and tourism – a proper power CEO.

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Courtesy of Alex Sheridan
2. Lynnette Moran, Founder of live art festival Live Collision

With a programming instinct and artistic sensibility, the founder of Live Collison, an international festival of live art, Lynnette Moran is one of Ireland’s most renowned festival directors and creative producers. Having worked with London International Festival of Theatre directors Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal after graduation, the 37-year-old has since directed more than 25 works for theatre and gallery spaces. Her advice to those looking for a foothold in the industry? “Only associate yourself with ideas and people that excite you, and commit to the opportunities that present the biggest challenge and even frighten you a little.”

3. Zoë Rocha, Founder of LittleRock Pictures

“Having the opportunity to develop projects that I adore and creatively steer them from a kernel of an idea all the way through to screen is a privilege I never thought I’d have,” says 32-year-old Rocha. In 2014, the young entrepreneur set up London-based TV and film production company LittleRock Pictures with actor and writer Ralf Little. Previously, she spent five years as COO and comedy and drama executive producer of Stephen Fry’s production company, Sprout Pictures. Rocha was also involved in the development of the Emmy Award-winning television series Moone Boy. “I’m continually inspired by the plethora of strong women I have around me,” says Rocha.

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4. Annie Atkins, Oscar-winning graphic designer and founder of Think & Son

Atkins specialises in producing authentic graphics for film, games and real life. Essentially, this means that she has to be as convincing in her graphic design as an actor is in their portrayal of a character. The Irish designer has never been short of work, but in her own words: “Before I worked on The Grand Budapest Hotel [the Wes Anderson Oscar-winning box-office whopper], the only emails I ever got were reminders about outstanding invoices. Now my inbox is swamped with questions about working in art departments. I read every lovely mail and I try to answer each individually, but my invoices still need paying!” Annie has worked on films as varied as The Boxtrolls and Steven Spielberg’s latest Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies.

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5. Karen Sheridan, Singer/songwritter

Twenty-eight-year-old Sheridan loves Kate Bush, Björk and Feist. The turning point in her career was when her music started to be used in TV shows. “I think once people outside of your group of friends and family start liking your music, you realise you could be onto something!” Karen fronts the music project Slow Skies, in collaboration with producer Conal Herron. After releasing a string of critically-acclaimed EPs, Karen has taken time out in 2015 to write songs and take stock of where she’s at. We’re hoping new songs are imminent. “I always want to be writing and playing shows.”

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6. Nikki Lannen, Founder of game development studio WarDucks

Ex of this parish, Lannen left IMAGE Publications in 2010 to pursue a career in sales at Facebook. The 35-year-old soon got stuck into the gaming end of things at the social media behemoth and credits her formative time there with giving her the skills, and confidence, to strike out on her own. Nikki founded WarDucks in 2014 to cater to the “women [who] play 52 per cent of all games, but [are] quite an under- served market” and her company recently received a €450,000 investment from Enterprise Ireland. A sure vote of confidence.

7. Zoë Ashe-Browne, Award-winning ballet dancer

“I think by 36, I will either be retired or close to it. I would love to return to Ireland to give back to the next generation of dancers. But being honest, my path has surprised me so much so far, I can’t really plan ahead anymore!” Twenty-six-year-old ballet dancer Ashe-Browne won the Imperial Ballet Awards in London when she was just 14. Since then, she has trained with the English National Ballet and has worked in London and Denmark, having a principal role created for her when she was 21.

8. Jane-Ann McKenna, Director of Médecins Sans Frontières Ireland

Since 2008, McKenna has been on missions to far-flung, often war-torn, places like Sri Lanka, Iraq and Darfur. All in a day’s work as director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Ireland. McKenna leads fundraising and advocacy initiatives, and the recruitment of new volunteers, and helps raise the profile of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation.

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Courtesy of  Trevor Hart
9. Indy Power, Food Writer and blogger at The Little Green Spoon

Power graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in Business, yet her real gráth is for “real, honest-to-goodness, healthy food”. Having recently secured a book deal with Ebury in the UK, 2016 looks like the year this 23-year-old cook will make a real impact. Power’s cooking is about embracing natural, nourishing foods, and she feels her home country is the perfect springboard for her talents. “There’s such a vibrant scene of start-ups and new businesses that make Ireland a lot more interesting and diverse. I think there’s much more room now for people to make careers out of doing what they love.” Discover more about this rising star, including her obsession with a French bulldog called Arnold, at

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10. Ellen Keane, Paralympian bronze medalist

Paralympian Keane is a double world bronze medallist and not yet 21. She began swimming at two, was competing at nice, and represented Ireland in Beijing at 13. Meanwhile, she is also studying culinary entrepreneurship, while in training to compete in the Rio Paralympics next year. Where does she see herself in ten years? “Retired from my sport, hopefully with a paralympic medal around my neck.”

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11. Roisin Agnew, Publisher of Guts magazine

The girl’s got guts. Roisin left last year to set up her own publication, Guts – a bi-monthly confessional of sorts for the city of Dublin’s least bashful and brilliant writers. As editor and publisher, the half-Italian/half- Irish Roisin oversees the magazine and collaborates with partner Steve McCarthy on other publications and zines. Most recently, the two also worked on a horror zine for the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin. Roisin also collaborates with Lonely Planet and The Irish Times, where she writes on travel, as well as feminist and youth cultural issues.

12. Zara Flynn, Managing Director, Guns or Knives

Flynn is the go-to girl when you need a brand injected with a little bit of online oomph. Helping clients like AIB, Hailo, Jameson and many more get their message across online, Flynn says business is growing, as more and more international clients seek to tap into Ireland’s reputation as a creative space. The 34-year-old set up Guns or Knives three years ago, having worked in a similar role for the company’s sister agency, Rothco, for several years. “While I loved it,” she says, “I needed a new challenge.” Guns or Knives and its sister agency have hired more than 30 people in the past year. Armed with the company motto, all you have to do is “choose your weapons”, this hard- working, focused managing director is a force to be reckoned with.

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13. Sinéad O’SullivanCostume Designer

Sinéad O’Sullivan set her sights on the breathtaking art of costume design at the tender age of seven. “My grandparents were extras on the film All Things Bright and Beautiful, which was filming in their hometown in Laois. I remember being so excited when I saw the costumes lined up.” Fast forward a few years, and Sinéad is living her dream, having worked with Jacqueline Durran on The Dark Knight Rises among other big flicks. Sister of actress and comedian Aisling Bea, O’Sullivan’s currently compiling a directory for costume departments of ethical and sustainable fabric suppliers.

14. Aoife ScottVisual Artist

Visual artist Aoife Scott, 24, graduated from the National College of Art and Design in 2013. Her thought-provoking prints saw her win the Graphic Studio Dublin Graduate Award 2013 and the Printmakers Award 2013. Getting into the Royal Hibernian Academy’s annual exhibition two years in a row was a big accomplishment for such a young artist. Most recently, she was invited to take part in an exhibition celebrating 150 years of WB Yeats in SO Fine Art Editions. “The wealth of creativity in this country in all areas of the arts makes it an inspiring and artistically nurturing place to live. I think it is really important that young people get involved and continue to contribute to this.”

15. Niamh Briggs, Irish women’s rugby captain

Being both captain of the Irish women’s rugby team and a full-time garda is something that superwoman Niamh Briggs seems to take in her stride. The Irish full-back is a true example of strength, determination and female power. Briggs, 31, attended Waterford Institute of Technology and played for Dungarvan RFC, Clonmel RFC, and UL Bohemians RFC. The – literally – strong woman led Ireland to victory earlier this year as winners of the Triple Crown and Six Nations Championship. Captain Briggs scored the first try of the day on her 50th international cap.

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16. Elva TrillTelevision and film actress

Sligo-born actress Elva Trill, 25, is a study in setting your sights on a goal and not losing focus. The former waitress, who is now appearing in major features and TV series (she appeared in TV3’s Red Rock, and you’ll next spot her in Jim Sheridan’s film adaptation of Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture), is one to watch, turning heads and acquiring column inches all over the place. Yet, she is still wowed by the casting process. “Once you get cast in anything, it helps put you at ease. The little voices that tell you that you’re not good enough shush for a bit. As for having a defining moment, I think it was when the casting agents in Ireland started calling me in for auditions. Auditions for leading roles. That still excites me.” And long may it.

17. Lan Nguyen-GrealisInternational make-up artist

The youngest Golden Mask Award-winner in 2013 for make-up art, Irish-born Nguyen-Grealis is a highly-respected name in the beauty world. Having studied fashion at Central Saint Martins, the mostly self-taught make-up artist caused ripples of excitement at London Fashion Week before collaborating with Russian Vogue, Vanity Fair, and several other titles. She is also an in-demand public speaker.

18. Claire-Anne O’BrienAward-winning textile designer

Central Saint Martins graduate O’Brien specialises in constructed textiles, from which she produces sculptural furniture. The Cork native also lectures at Bath Spa University and has exhibited at Irish Design 2015, The London Design Festival, and Milan Furniture Fair, and was winner of this year’s Cockpit Arts/Haberdashers’ Award.

19. Sorcha O’RaghallaighFashion designer dressing the A-list

Lady Gaga, Kate Moss, Beyoncé … Just a few of the icons who’ve worn Offaly native O’Raghallaigh’s creations. London-based, she was snapped up by Selfridges for its Bright Young Things initiative in 2012, which showcases and sells the work of rising stars. Sorcha is still sanguine about the scene back home. “We are in a powerful age where the internet dominates, so location is not as important as it once was. I think as long as you work hard and put yourself out there, you can accomplish anything, regardless of where you are.”

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20. Pamela QuinnManaging director of Kuehne + Nagel Ireland

When Pamela Quinn was 30, she was promoted to the role of branch director at the logistics giant Kuehne + Nagel. “The key areas of working with people, making positive change and providing solutions for customers, are what I love to do, and this role encompassed all these areas and more. I knew then it was about building my career from there.” Quinn assumed the role of managing director at the tender age of 36, and is succeeding stupendously in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.

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Courtesy of Clare Keogh
21. Louise O’NeillAcclaimed author

Louise worked for Elle magazine in New York before returning home to write a novel. The author, who is barely 30, has received huge kudos for her first two books: the Young Adult-themed Only Ever Yours, and her most recent, Asking for It, a harrowing account of a sexual assault set in rural Ireland. “I wanted the reader to finish this book and be absolutely furious. Furious about what happened to Emma, furious about our low rate of [rape] conviction, furious at the fact that the victim is blamed. That rage is the only way change will be enacted.” The immensely talented writer is a novelist hoping to change the world one book at a time. Whether dealing with patriarchal hegemony, body image or public shaming, she elicits a reaction from her readers that is at once visceral and moving. She writes in her “pyjamas, bed socks, and dad’s old fleece …” There’s hope for us all.

22. Katie WalshIrish Grand National-winning jockey
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Walsh began her career as a jockey in 2003. Daughter of trainer and TV pundit Ted Walsh, and sister of jump jockey Ruby, Katie has great pedigree for sure, but she is also a bona fide star in her own right, having ridden two winners at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010, finishing third in the English Grand National and, this year, becoming one of only three women ever to win the Irish Grand National.

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Courtesy of Ailbhe O’Donnell
23. Aisling FranciosiTelevision and film actress

Franciosi’s turn in The Fall was at once endearing and disturbing, which is perhaps why the actress has been catching the attention of casting agents in the US over the past year. That vulnerable duality has also been a defining aspect of her role in TNT’s Legends, in which she plays troubled Kate Crawford alongside Sean Bean’s smouldering Martin Odum. In a capricious industry, this young woman has made an indelible mark.

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Courtesy of Andy Hollingsworth
24. Aisling BeaStand-up, actress and writer

Kildare-born Bea has worked hard to climb the slippery pole of British comedy. The London-based stand-up, writer and actor has appeared as a panellist on BBC stalwarts like QI, and Channel 4 favourite 8 Out of 10 Cats, and her turns in 2014’s Trollied and this year’s The Delivery Man have earned her a solid fanbase here and in the UK. Bea is currently working with the wondrous Sharon Horgan – she behind the brilliant Catastrophe – on a script for a new Channel 4 series.

25. Simone RochaAward-winning fashion designer

Coming from such a luminous fashion background, Simone Rocha was never going to sit around letting the grass grow under her. Since leaving her hometown of Dublin for the bright lights of London, her star has risen stratospherically. Described by Vogue as getting “the emotional life of romance, its skipping heartbeat,” Rocha has garnered international headlines for her unique runway vocabulary. Her romantic but rebellious collections are on every fashion editor’s hitlist.

26. Saoirse RonanAcademy Award-nominated actress

The prima donna of the Irish acting fraternity is embarrassingly accomplished for one still so flushed with the bloom of youth. One of the youngest actors (13) ever to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Atonement, 2007), Saoirse has since worked with the film industry’s greatest talents. The Bronx- born, Carlow-raised woman also continues to make the fickle movie industry meet her on her – rather than its – terms, carving out a distinctly controlled career path within this male-dominated realm. We can’t think of a better role model for young, ambitious Irish actors.

27. Sarah GreeneTheatre and film actress

A leading light of stage and screen – and a possible future Mrs Aidan Turner – Sarah Greene, the thirtysomething actor from Co Cork, is a graduate of the Gaiety School of Acting and known for her role in The Cripple of Inishmaan, but more popularly for her dark turn in HBO’s acclaimed Penny Dreadful, in which she plays the creepy Hecate with aplomb. Discussing her transition from the boards to the screen, she revealed, “I just wanted to make some money to look after my family, basically. I got to a point where I thought, now I have a choice. I can stay in theatre, or I can challenge myself and give this a go. And I want to challenge myself. I like to scare myself.”

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Courtesy of Nick West
28. Amy HubermanActress and author

“The Hubes” barely needs an introduction. The actress with the finely honed funny bone, killer acting skills, and adorable family life is the ultimate high achiever. “I was afraid I’d jinx myself if I started calling myself an actor, like it was all some sort of tenuous accident (it kind of was). But taking ownership of what I was doing; and not apologising for it was a real turning point. It coincided with the realisation that I wasn’t going to be a gymnastic astronaut heart surgeon.”

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29. Sinéad BurkeBlogger, journalist and all-round wonder

Also well-known under the name of Minnie Mélange, Sinéad Burke is a striking example of not acquiescing to society’s, or anyone else’s, expectations. Academic, journalist, blogger … Sinéad has earned a dizzying number of plaudits for someone who’s still in her twenties. Her success, in her own words, is partly down to “surround[ing] yourself with people who want you to succeed, who challenge you, who trust you, who celebrate your major and minor accomplishments, and who encourage you to keep chasing your dreams – especially when you feel like giving up.”

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Courtesy of Kieran Harnett
30. Katie TsourosCurator and founder of Artfetch

In 2012, Katie Tsouros co-founded, an online store and hang-out worth visiting if you want to discover the rising artists of tomorrow. “I’m lucky in that my ‘industry’ spans creative, business and technology and encompasses so much, so there are a lot of inspiring people doing really varied things that I draw motivation from.” With a background in fashion, which was complemented by art, the curator has always been commercially aware. Her best piece of advice? “Building relationships is key, no matter what you do – if you’re looking for advice, direction, inspiration, the people you surround yourself with will be the ones that help you get to where you want to go.”

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31. Clodagh EdwardsCEO of IMAGE Publications

You can bet Clodagh Edwards has had at least seven Americanos and made at least as many phone calls before she’s even begun her morning commute. “I’ve always loved publishing, and now that the industry is redefining itself, I love the challenge that this presents. I want to play my part in defining its future.” Her advice for succeeding in publishing? “Learn new skills and be curious about everything around you. Immerse yourself in your role, whatever it may be.” On the odd occasion Edwards, 37, escapes IMAGE HQ, you will find her in Verona, or Milan, with her Italian other half.

32. Julianna GroganInternational make-up artist

With clients as diverse and prestigious as Elle, Hugo Boss and VH1, 29-year-old Grogan is at the top of her game. Speaking from New York, she shares her professional journey. “I had been doing make-up on a bit of a rollercoaster of paid and unpaid jobs for over eight years when I started working as a first assistant to a major make-up
artist in London. I saw every aspect of her business, from building a media profile to client relationships and, of course, how she transformed faces with make-up and charm. I was so inspired, I literally reset everything I thought I knew, and I just decided I had to live in New York. So I put every ounce of my energy into making it happen. I moved there in 2012 and started from scratch.” Since then, Grogan has worked at the Chanel show in Paris under Tom Pecheux and showcased her work in some of the world’s most prestigious fashion and beauty magazines.

33. Emma CahillJewellery designer

Award-winning jeweller Emma Cahill works with unusual forms, 3D-printing and hand-dyeing. The NCAD and Central Saint Martins graduate thinks “it is very important to have strong women as role models”. Cahill’s was Angela O’Kelly, her supportive tutor from college. Being part of ID 2015’s Liminal exhibition in Eindhoven was a huge accomplishment, as was supermodel Naomi Campbell choosing to wear her design for Newbridge Silverware on a recent Late Late Show appearance.

34. Petria Lenchan,  New York-based fashion designer

Petria moved to New York in 2014 with her husband, photographer Richard Gilligan, and their daughter, Robyn. Lenehan is a fashion designer whose pared- back collection is inspired by the “simple beauty found in craft, people and places, and driven by a love for necessary things.” In 2014, Petria was a recipient of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland Future Makers Awards & Supports programme.

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Courtesy of Electric Ireland
35. Katie TaylorOlympic boxing champion

The reigning champion of Irish sports personalities, Katie Taylor is a fascinating study in what a girl can do with a lot of self-belief and no small amount of courage. The athlete best known for her pugilistic achievements (she has also represented Ireland in women’s soccer and played Gaelic football) is currently the Irish, European, world and Olympic champion in the 60kg boxing division. The 29-year- old from Bray has done more to change the perception of women’s boxing than anyone else in the sport. “There were no women in the sport when I started,” Taylor explains. “Every club in the country has female boxers now. That’s probably the most satisfying part of all of this.” However, this accomplishment comes with a flip side: “Now they’re all out to compete against me!”

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36. Rachel Conlan KavanaghManaging director of luxury brand consultancy Havas LuxHub

Working at business and brand consultancy Havas LuxHub sounds like the kind of gig you’d have to be on your toes for. And it is. In the words of Conlan Kavanagh, “Our clients’ businesses, and in turn the communications [industry], have undergone dramatic transformations in the last ten years. Classic marketing structures are being disrupted, and everything about how messages are developed and media is purchased is in flux.” Luckily, the business is in good hands with this on-point female MD, who once upon a time did a work placement at IMAGE HQ.

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37. Emma MartinDancer and choreographer

“Be fearless and believe in yourself and your work.” Choreographer, director, and Carlow native Emma Martin has come a long way since entering the wonderfully emotive world of dance with her first show, Listowel Syndrome. Since graduating from the John Cranko School of ballet in Germany in 2000, she has glided between Ballet Ireland, Wexford Festival Opera, Opera Ireland and the Muse Dance Theatre in New York City. Now, having won the Best Production and Best Design award for Dogs at the Absolut Fringe Awards, it comes as no surprise that she is running her own highly-praised Irish dance theatre company, Emma Martin Dance.

38. Diane Henderson-Ferris, Creative director at Miller & Lamb Events & Design

Diane Henderson-Ferris has worked in Canada, Italy and the UK, but is now back in Ireland with her successful event and management company, Miller & Lamb. In 2012, she was awarded Wedding Planner of the Year by and most recently was shortlisted for the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2014. When did she realise she could make a career out of doing something she loved? “I was about 17 when I organised my first event. It was in a local rugby club in Stepaside, Dublin, and I had the lovely Mark McCabe from 2FM as DJ. It was then that I realised you can do something you enjoy and make a living from it.”

39. Eve Hewson, Hollywood actress

A perfect blend of the best bits of beautiful mum (Ali Hewson) and creative dad (Bono), Memphis Eve Sunny Day Hewson was always destined for elevation. Professionally known simply as Eve Hewson, the actress is already making loud noises, and more importantly, being heard, in the world of the blockbuster movie. Her 2015 role, alongside Tom Hanks in the Steven Spielberg-directed Bridge of Spies, was a coup in terms of exposure, and 2016 looks ripe for Ms Hewson to make an even bigger name for herself.

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40. Maria Lola RocheAward-winning fashion designer

Winner of the 2012 UCD Young Designer of the Year award and the first Irish designer to be nominated in the top five for the prestigious Designer for Tomorrow award, Roche’s haute couture is handmade and produced in Ireland, and her luxury ready-to-wear line is handcrafted in Italy. The plaudits are not just homegrown, however. Harper’s Bazaar said of the talented young woman’s oeuvre, “A very avant-garde collection … abstract shapes and historical quotes …” Maria’s signature ruffles, cages and corsetry are things of beauty.

This article was originally published in the December issue of IMAGE Magazine.

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