14th Dec 2018
This year has been momentous for women. From #MeToo to the US midterms, women stood up and demanded change. In Ireland, we repealed the Eighth Amendment and news stories such as the Belfast Rape Trial demonstrated how Irish women would no longer sit in silence.
2018 has been dubbed by some “The Year of the Woman”. And while this year’s crescendos were certainly historic for the female sex, they are far from worthy of celebration. The pivotal changes of the last year were simply a ship, long off-course, finally beginning to right itself.
The last time a year was dubbed “The Year of the Woman” it was 1992. During that year, 26 years ago, a remarkably large quantity of women ran for office in the US, and the country was grappling with a series of high-profile sexual assault allegations. Feels uncomfortably familiar, doesn’t it?
After 26 years, we’re back here again, still pushing for equality, respect and a level playing field. The women below are the ones who are making those changes happen. They are brave. They are determined. They are not always popular. But we will always stand behind them.
Introducing IMAGE’s Women of the Year…
Mary Robinson, activist
Overall winner — IMAGE Woman of the Year
Mary Robinson added Chair of The Elders this year to a CV that already included first female President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson’s impact on the world has been deep and far-reaching, covering topics such as climate change and championing those whose voices are not heard. Long before activism was the trendy descriptor that it is today, Robinson was fighting for what she knew was right. For IMAGE readers and staff alike, Robinson is a shining light and a woman to whom each one of us can only hope to emulate.
On winning IMAGE Woman of the Year, Robinson discussed with us her achievements to date. What is she most proud of this year? “This year, through the great work of my colleagues at the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, we have achieved our objectives two years early and can bow out with pride. I am incredibly proud of that. The Foundation is a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. I will continue on a personal level and as Chair of The Elders.”
Robinson has been fighting for climate change justice for years, how does she remain motivated? “That is not difficult. I have a huge sense of urgency in getting the world on course for staying at or below 1.5°C of warming – otherwise, our children and grandchildren may not have a liveable world. There isn’t much more of a motivation than that.”
Robinson’s advice for all the women looking to her? “I have made lots of mistakes and done many stupid things, so don’t be afraid and don’t believe all you read!”
Laura Harmon, LGBTQ and women’s rights activist
Reader-Nominated Woman of the Year
The reader-nominated category for the IMAGE Woman of the Year is a special one. We asked you, the IMAGE reader, to let us know what woman you thought should be included in our list. One woman received far more votes than any other and stood out to us here in IMAGE HQ.
Laura Harmon was instrumental in the Together For Yes campaign, and her impact was so far-reaching in the organisation that she now works for the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), which has seen an influx of younger women participating in their events as a result.
The former Union of Students in Ireland President, Laura narrowly missed out on getting elected to the Seanad as a first-time candidate at the last election. And in October, she delivered the keynote address at the Speak Up, Speak Out conference in America, organised by women’s equality groups.
“There are women in Ireland who do incredible work year in, year out and never get the credit they deserve. They are the women that you don’t see in the media or speaking on stage, but are behind the scenes doing Trojan work in the name of their cause. Laura Harmon is one of these women. There is nobody more deserving of this recognition. I have seen first-hand the activism that makes her worthy. Laura has always shown what true ‘women in leadership’ means and has been an ally to other women, myself included, all through her career. But it is her genuine commitment that makes her most deserving of this award. As long as I have known Laura, she has fought consistently for equality and a fairer future, from her time leading the student campaign for Marriage Equality to just this year on the Together For Yes national campaign. It is her dedication to improving the lives of others and the empathy she demonstrates in the process that has, without doubt, been the driving force in her incredible success. ” – Aoife Ní Shúilleabháin
“Laura Harmon is one of Ireland’s most notable social equality campaigners. The 32-year-old is known to many as a tireless advocate for advancing the rights of women in our society. She is now responsible for encouraging and supporting more women to contest the upcoming local and European elections. This vital work will help ensure more women get elected to deliver policies that promote women’s issues. Laura is an inspiration to many. She is a formidable campaigner who at a young age, has already been at the forefront of some of the major social equality wins of our time. She would be a worthy winner of the IMAGE Woman of the Year award.” – Ciarán Garrett
Emilie Pine, author of Notes to Self and academic
Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self is the kind of book that stays with you for a lifetime. This deeply personal series of essays was passed around the IMAGE office and touched every person through whose hands it passed. With topics like miscarriage and addiction, Pine’s academic intelligence mixes with a deep, vulnerable understanding of the female experience. The book’s significance cannot be understated in this, a year of such extreme change for Irish women.
Pine filled us in on her year to date. “Publishing Notes to Self has been extraordinary – and most of all, I have loved hearing from readers and friends and family, who have shared their own stories with me. There are many valid reasons why we are quiet about difficult experiences, but I believe we are at last starting to break the silence of shame.”
What motivated Pine this year? “Tramp Press took a risk by commissioning the book when it was only an idea, and I wanted to live up to their belief in me. Trusting them with my story was the best decision I’ve made in years.”
Any advice for other aspiring authors out there? “Don’t be afraid to try!”
Sinéad Burke, activist and academic
Sinéad Burke started off her career in academia, but it was her fascination with fashion and passion for good design that has catapulted her into a different stratosphere of late. She is currently a contributing editor with British Vogue and has a Business of Fashion cover, as well as a viral TED Talk, to her name.
We sat down with Sinéad and asked her what advice she would give to young women today. “Turn off the monologue that permeates your own mind. Often, the cruellest people in the world would not say the unkind things that we say to ourselves. Liberate yourself from feeling like you are not good enough, and revel in your virtues.”
Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght, co-authors of Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling and The Importance of Being Aisling
Every Irish person knows an Aisling, and there is nothing more delightful than recognising something familiar being projected back at you through a novel. Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, co-authors of Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling and The Importance of Being Aisling, have successfully written two books that do just that. While the books are both extremely funny, they also reflect a period in Irish culture and centre around a heart-warming story for Aislings of the ages.
McLysaght and Breen told us about the achievement they are most proud of this year: “It’s hard to pin it down to just one! OMGWACA being optioned by Element Pictures and subsequently signing on to adapt it for the big screen, seeing both books released in the UK, and winning Best Popular Fiction at the Irish Book Awards were definite professional highlights. On a personal level, seeing the Irish electorate repeal the Eighth Amendment by a landslide vote will stay with us forever.”
That’s a lot going on, so how do these two writers stay motivated? “Deadlines. There were many. And again, the energy behind the Repeal campaign was immense and humbling. So many women pulling together for a common goal was a sight to behold, and we were absolutely thrilled to be a small part of it. We also saw Hamilton (the musical) together this year on a work trip to London, and have taken to reading each other little inspirational quotes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book Gmorning, Gnight. His work ethic is truly a force to be reckoned with.”
Any advice for those who might look up to you? “Take a leap of faith. This year, we were able to turn a passion project with a best friend into a career. Being self-employed isn’t always easy (you’re never off the clock), but it’s rewarding in ways we never thought possible, as well as being great craic. If you’re looking for something to create, think about the things you would love to read or watch or listen to, and try to create them yourself.”
Sorcha Pollak, journalist and author
Sorcha Pollak is a journalist with The Irish Times through which she publishes her column, New to the Parish. In these complicated and politicised times, Pollak’s column tells the real-life stories of people who have moved to Ireland, often in extreme difficulty, in order to start a new life. Pollak, through her work, has tirelessly advocated for immigrants both in Ireland and abroad.
What was her proudest achievement this year? “Publishing my book, New to the Parish: Stories of Love, War and Adventure from Ireland’s Immigrants, last April. Writing a book while holding down a full-time job as a journalist can be an exhausting undertaking, but also hugely fulfilling and a real honour to tell all these people’s stories.”
What motivated Pollak this year? “Deadlines! Seriously though, writing other people’s stories in a clear, fair and unbiased way is a never-ending motivator and one of the real joys of being a journalist.”
Pollak’s advice for those looking up to her is, “Take the initiative to make sure the things that you want from life actually happen. Don’t wait around for other people to make the changes – you’ll be waiting a long time. Also, listen to others. Everyone has a story to tell.”
Dr Norah Patten, scientist and astronaut candidate
Amy Huberman, actor and writer
Dr Sabina Brennan, psychologist and author
Dr Sabina Brennan wears many hats; she is a psychologist, speaker, writer and filmmaker, as well as an advocate for brain health. This year, Sabina was motivated by her desire to make a difference.
The Dublin native believes science is for sharing, and she has made more than 30 short films offering practical advice on brain health, while also addressing people’s fears about memory loss.
It’s this goal to share practical advice that led Sabina to write her first book, which she says is the achievement she’s most proud of this year. 100 Days to a Younger Brain will be published by Orion Spring in March and is filled with tips to maximise your memory. Sabina’s research found some simple lifestyle changes, when incorporated into our daily routines, can boost our brain health within 100 days and even defy dementia.
When asked what advice she’d share with those looking up to her, Sabina humbly says, “I am uncomfortable with the idea that anyone would look up to me because it implies a hierarchy. I am more comfortable thinking that my work or my words might inspire others.
“My advice would be to do what you love, work hard, believe in yourself, and be ready to act on opportunity when it comes your way.”
Katie Taylor, WBA and IBF world lightweight champion
Katie Taylor’s professional boxing career has continued to excel this year, upholding her position as one of Ireland’s greatest sportspeople.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, the Bray native says she’s most proud of unifying the lightweight titles by beating Victoria Bustos in New York in April. “It was a big night for me,” she tells us. “It gave me the IBF belt to add to the WBA one. Next year, I want to add the remaining two belts to become the undisputed champion at lightweight.”
Since moving from amateur to professional boxing, Katie’s focus and determination have never wavered. “I’m always motivated regardless of where, when or who I’m fighting. Since I first laced up the gloves, I’ve always wanted to do great things in my sport, and that ambition has only become stronger through the years.
“I always say that the best is still to come, and that’s my motivation, really – to keep improving and keep winning.”
When asked what advice she’d give to other young women in sport, Katie says, “Enjoy your sport and always believe in yourself. Every journey has peaks and valleys, but the main thing is to never give up.”
Flossie Donnelly, mini marine environmentalist
At the age of 11, Flossie Donnelly became a role model for environmentalists everywhere. Having seen the high level of pollution on Irish beaches, the Dublin native decided enough was enough.
With the help of her mum and a local councillor, Flossie set up a Facebook group to organise beach clean-ups. Since launching the initiative, Flossie and friends have removed thousands of plastic bottles, socks, plastic bags, tin cans, multiple pairs of men’s pants, and microwaves from the Irish coastline.
What’s more, Flossie spent months fundraising (through a table quiz, GoFundMe account, and charity disco) to have Ireland’s first ever sea bin installed in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. The €4,000 device can collect up to two tonnes of waste from Irish waters every year, making our environment cleaner and greener.
While this was a huge achievement, Flossie tells us she’s most proud of receiving the Pakman award this year, “because it was an honour knowing that people appreciated my work.”
Flossie will continue doing her best for the environment, but can’t do it alone. “Please keep picking up the rubbish,” she asks. “Reduce, re-use, recycle. With our time and effort (and with children leading it!) we can win this war against plastic.”
Ruth Coppinger, Solidarity TD for Dublin West
Ruth Coppinger was a powerful voice during the Repeal the Eighth campaign. Reflecting on the year gone by, the Solidarity TD says she’s “proud of playing an active role in the victorious Repeal campaign and the winning of abortion rights up to 12 weeks on request.”
It was the momentum of the campaign that motivated her, with Ruth saying, “This was such a historic and energising campaign. It shows what can be done when you build a movement to shift a conservative establishment, and it has now encouraged a movement on the housing crisis too.”
What’s more, Ruth was heavily involved in organising the “We Stand With Her” march with ROSA, in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault following the Ulster rugby rape trial.
Ruth is passionate about supporting the 99 per cent of the population; not the millionaire one per cent. Her goal is to create a more equal society; that includes abortion rights, equal pay, and a zero-tolerance policy on sexism and discrimination.
Going forward, Ruth asks that we don’t just look up to people, but be inspired by them to make a change. “Please make a commitment to get actively involved in the fight to change society,” she says.
Saoirse Ronan, actress
Lady Bird, Scott Rudin Productions
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan has had another tremendous year in Hollywood. 2018 saw her win a Golden Globe for her leading role in Lady Bird, as well as her third Oscar nomination and fourth BAFTA nomination.
The New York native, who moved to Co Carlow as a child, first rose to fame following her role in Atonement. Since then, Saoirse has gone on to rub shoulders with some of the world’s biggest names in pop culture (including Ellen DeGeneres, Ed Sheeran and Ryan Gosling, to name but a few).
Despite going global, Saoirse keeps her Irishness close to her heart. Just last week, the star joined Jimmy Fallon in singing “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. They sipped on pints of Guinness and spoke of traditional Irish pub lock-ins. What’s more, Saoirse frequently speaks fondly of home and of the pride she feels about her country.
While 2018 is coming to an end, the 24-year-old is not slowing down. Saoirse is currently promoting her new film, Mary Queen of Scots, which hits Irish cinemas January 18. What’s more, she’s in the process of filming a Little Women remake, in which she plays Jo March alongside Meryl Streep and Emma Watson.
Samantha Barry, editor in chief of Glamour
Samantha Barry, originally from Ballincollig, Co Cork, holds one of the most prestigious titles in women’s publishing; and does so with grace, humour, future-focus and integrity. Barry is the first person with an exclusively digital and TV background to lead a Condé Nast magazine and represent a new age in publishing, an age that embraces change and equality in all its forms.
Caitríona Perry, broadcaster and journalist
After almost 20 years at the helm of national and international journalism, Caitríona Perry took her seat as news anchor at the country’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, earlier in the year, offering a refreshingly balanced view on current affairs. Perry left her position as Washington Correspondent for RTÉ to front the Six One news in January 2018, further solidifying her status as information gate-keeper and a symbol of trust for some 433,000 daily viewers.
“This year was a most unusual year for me, because I was faced with uprooting my life in the US and moving back across the Atlantic and settling back into a life in Ireland, and all the logistics that involves, while also I was starting what was essentially a totally new job,” she tells us.
This is Caitríona’s first time to present five hours of live television every week. Speaking about what motivated her this year – arguably the biggest year for her career to date – Caitríona says she is motivated by making sure she did a good job and “not letting down the tremendous team of colleagues, editorial and production, who work on the programme.”
Having written to broadcaster Bryan Dobson at the age of 14 to ask for advice on becoming a journalist, Caitríona now receives similar emails and letters. The advice she offers is similar to anyone who wants to get to the top of their chosen profession, be it journalism or anything else: “There really is no substitution for hard work! Always strive to be the best you can, and be prepared to work harder and longer than everyone else to get to where you need to go. You cannot be responsible for what other people do, only for what you do, so you have to make sure you have the education, the skillset and the experience to get to where you want to go.”
The former DCU student has worked as a journalist in RTÉ since 2007 and, just like the 6 o’clock news, has become a part of the Irish psyche on the forefront of breaking news.
Helen Concannon, Irish Girl Guides chief commissioner
If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. You won’t find little girls in sweet uniforms singing campfire songs. Instead, you’ll find young, intelligent women changing the face of science, technology, engineering and maths. Traditionally seen as an organisation to help develop leadership skills as well as camping skills and adventure sports, the identity of the Girl Guides is rapidly changing.
Earlier in the year, 200 members of the Irish Girl Guides showcased a range of innovative water-conservation solutions, redefining conventional beliefs. Led by Irish Girl Guides chief commissioner Helen Concannon, the Brownies, all aged between seven and 10, researched the issue of water sustainability and exploring innovative ways to preserve water. The project, titled “IGGIES”, took place over five weeks and each team designed, built and programmed an autonomous motorised LEGO model, incorporating a range of sensors and motors.
As a result, Concannon believes that, despite their young age, these girls were extremely capable of building these futuristic solutions to solve our environmental issues and were impressive in how they articulated their research and rationale. She stressed that “the future is safe in the hands of these inspiring young girls – tomorrow’s women!”
Former Fingal teacher Helen Concannon was appointed as chief commissioner in 2013, after serving as a leader in her local Guide unit of River Valley, Swords, since she moved to the area almost 20 years ago. Concannon took her first steps on the Guiding way at the age of eight, when she joined the Brownies. In her time, she has inspired countless numbers of young girls and women to reach their goals and be kind.
Speaking about what motivates her, Concannon says her youth members are her number one motivators. “Seeing them develop and speak out at events encapsulates what we are about. In particular, seeing a girl putting herself forward for an award, or to advocate for others, or to sell cookies to raise funds, or to design a model of how we can improve the world… Those are the magical moments that motivate us to keep going,” she says.
Una Mullally, journalist, author, screenwriter, broadcaster
Lynn Ruane, senator, author and activist
Lynn Ruane became a senator after her time in Trinity College Dublin, where she served as the President of the Student Union. Now, she actively campaigns as an independent politician on social issues from the Repeal movement to addiction. Ruane, a single mother who became pregnant and left school at the age of 15 before returning to further education, is a symbol of inspiration for countless women around Ireland in similar circumstances.
She has many achievements this year that she’s proud of, but says that, politically, her work towards the decriminalisation of drug possession has been very rewarding. “There have been over 20,000 submissions to the Department of Health. I have been committed to driving this for many years now, and am proud to see people in addiction being spoke about in a much more compassionate and understanding way.”
A personal achievement? “Writing my book, People Like Me,” Ruane says. “I put all of me into it, and my community got behind me and championed me all the way. It cemented my friendships and relationships more than I thought possible.”
Ruane’s motivations lie with her own lived experience and that of those around her. “I was born with a sense of injustice, and that keeps me pushing for change.” Her advice for other young women? Just to believe in your own abilities. “Every time I feel like giving up, every time I feel unworthy or like an imposter, those closest to me tell me, ‘Just be Lynn Ruane.’ This has allowed me to embrace who I am and be truthful to who I am. So just be you, because you are good enough.”
Catherine Corless, historian and activist
Widely regarded as a national hero, Catherine Corless made the transition from amateur historian to a figurehead for a new Ireland last year, for her tireless work in uncovering a mass infant grave at a mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Inspired by her own memories of the Bon Secours home, Corless worked relentlessly to compile information about the site. She eventually came across death records for almost 800 children who were born and lived in the home but, confusingly, no burial records. Her solo investigation, done over months of meticulous questioning, revealed that a considerable number of these children had been buried in a mass grave in what had been a septic tank on the site.
Her work received national recognition, both from government and media, and inspired an international conversation about Ireland’s history of human rights failings against women and children, and how our country can move forward from such atrocities as the Tuam baby home. Throughout the media attention, including some backlash from people in the Tuam area, Corless remained humble and dedicated to her cause, and simply encouraged the conversation to continue so that future generations of women and children would not have to suffer in the same way.
Since her investigation, Corless’s work has led to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, and to her being named in the Rehab People of the Year Awards this year, where she called for a full exhumation of the Tuam site.
Vanessa Power, sign painter and founder of Signs of Power
Vanessa Power, the street artist and sign painter behind the tag Signs of Power, is the woman behind some of Dublin city’s most-loved artworks. Her work features everywhere from side streets to national campaigns, and her distinctively clean, old-school style means that her incredible signs are instantly recognisable.
This year, her work on the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon campaign was a major highlight. “I was asked to paint a piece in response to a runner’s incredible story of strength and recovery. This piece was then turned into billboard ads, which were put up around the city,” she says. “It was exciting to see my work on such a large scale and to be part of a project so positively celebrating women’s perseverance.”
Power’s motivation stems from constantly being creative. She says, “Trying out different styles and ensuring I had more creative control over client work was my motivation. Learning something new always keeps me inspired!”
Her advice for budding artists (or anyone else, for that matter)? “Find something you love doing, and give it your all.”
Andrea Horan, CEO of Tropical Popical
Andrea Horan owns Tropical Popical nail salon on South William Street in Dublin, but this year it was her personal style and no-nonsense attitude that brought her to our attention. Horan is not afraid to stand out and uses her voice to highlight issues that she truly cares about. This year, her contributions to the Repeal campaign were significant, reaching people that may not have been otherwise reached. As a fashion publication, we must also salute Horan for her style, both in interiors and fashion. In a world of fashionable grey, Horan is Technicolor, and we can’t get enough.
Horan shares the achievement she is most proud of this year: “The most obvious one is seeing the Yes vote come back for Repeal, and to think HunReal Issues and the Don’t Stop Repealin’ podcast with Una Mullally even contributed a teensy amount to that… So many people have been working for years and years to get us to this point, so I’m always cognisant of the fact that as a blow-in to the campaign, we stand on the shoulders of giants who’ve been doing the heavy lifting on this issue for so many years. People like Ailbhe Smyth, Ivana Bacik, Clare Daly, Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, Ruth Coppinger, who were all fighting the fight when it wasn’t an easy thing to do. So many people put everything into getting that Yes over the line, and whilst there are loads of people who put their faces forward in the hope it would help the campaign, it’s so important to think of all the unsung heroes over the years. The ones who shared their painful stories when it was the last thing they wanted to do, the people who were working behind the scenes, the people who were organising, revolting and fighting without the shine of the spotlight on them.
“Another thing that stands out for me was kicking off Tropical Popical’s yearlong partnership with the National Gallery of Ireland. We’re in such a privileged position to be able to utilise our platform to democratise art in even a small way by opening it up to a bigger audience. Art is for everyone, and I hate when anything, be it politics or art, is segregated by elitism. Both make up the foundations of civilisation, and every single person is entitled to be part of them.”
We asked Horan what motivated her this year. “The first half of the year, my whole focus was thinking, ‘What else can I do to have an impact on the result of the May referendum?’ I couldn’t bear the thought of getting to the day of the result and it not going through and thinking, I should have done X, Y or Z. That was a pretty strong driver.
“And if I’m honest, it was really difficult to get motivated for the second half of the year. I spent a lot of time partying and holidaying, trying to shake off the effects of the referendum and trying to get back in the zone. I don’t know how full-time activists do it. I tip my (Margaret O’Connor) hat to them.”
Does she have any advice for those who might look up to her? “The advice I live by and keep referring back to all the time is, ‘Create the life you want to live.’ It seems like such a simple concept, but I constantly meditate on it and try to dig down on the meaning behind it. There’s no point following the path you think you should be following because of the influx of influence from society. You have to listen to your heart and what works for you. And that’s not to say you don’t have to make sacrifices to live your best life, you just have to figure out what your priorities are that will mean you wake up every day as joyous as possible and let go of all the rest.”
Ciara Kelly, doctor and broadcaster
Dr Ciara Kelly is a GP, broadcaster and columnist. Through her radio show on Newstalk, she reaches women all over the country and is never scared to voice her opinion. Her courage and her expert handling of some of the most contentious topics of the day make her a must-listen for IMAGE staff and readers alike.
Mary Heffernan, co-founder of The Saoirse Foundation and BUMBLEance: The Children’s National Ambulance Service
When Mary Heffernan’s two children, Saoirse and Liam, were diagnosed with Batten disease – a fatal disease of the nervous system that typically begins in childhood – Mary devoted her life to caring for her sick children and volunteering with what would later become The Saoirse Foundation. Saoirse passed away on January 11, aged five, and Liam in May 2014, also aged five.
BUMBLEance, The Children’s National Ambulance Service, was born through the pain and sacrifice Mary and her family suffered toward the end of her children’s lives. A series of traumatic transport episodes to and from hospital led to Mary’s, alongside co-founder and husband Tony Heffernan’s, desire to help other parents and children on similar journeys. Today, BUMBLEance offers help and assistance to hundreds of families around Ireland, offering vital medical care, specialist transportation and end-of-life care.
What started as one ambulance in 2014 is now a fleet of six, and Mary hopes to add a fleet of air ambulances to the books, too.
BUMBLEance also provides an invaluable service through its Angel Trips. An Angel Trip is designed for a terminally ill child who is making his or her final journey on earth before he or she grows their Angel Wings. BUMBLEance ensures that parents can make this final journey together with their loved one in a safe, compassionate, sensitive and caring environment.
Mary and Tony Heffernan were awarded the Pride of Ireland Award in 2014, as well as RTÉ’s People of the Year Award for their selfless dedication and commitment to helping the families of sick children. This year, though, Mary says her biggest achievement is “simply being able to get up every day. After my children died, there really seemed to be no purpose to life for me anymore,” Mary says. “I couldn’t see a future. However, with the help of my husband Tony, I slowly but surely realised that life is so precious and it is my duty to make the most of mine.”
On what motivates her, Mary says her motivation will always be her children: “When I find myself in a situation where I’m very stressed or overwhelmed, I think of what they went through, all the cruelties Batten disease threw at them, and still they managed to smile, no matter how bad things got. That’s all the motivation I need.”
Cora Staunton, GAA & AFLW player
Cora Staunton is a sporting powerhouse. The Mayo footballer has been at the top of her game in a career that has spanned nearly two decades. She made her debut for the Mayo senior ladies football team at the age of 13, and since then has gone on to win four All-Ireland titles and three National League titles with her native county.
However, soon her success at home was noticed on Australian shores, in particular by the Greater Western Sydney Giants, and in 2017, she became the first ever international player to be signed by a women’s Aussie Rules side. In June of this year, Staunton signed a contract for a second year with the club that will see her link up with the club in November of next year.
Cora is an inspiration to young girls across the country who live for sports like the GAA but feel the men’s equivalent will always be superior. Having a homegrown female sporting star making waves across the globe can only do positives for women’s sport here in Ireland.
This year, Cora believes her favourite achievement on the field was “winning my 20th county title with my club Carnacon and to be the first international draft in AFLW playing with a brilliant club, the GWS Giants, and from that to see four other Irish girls join the league for next season.” Off the field, writing the first female GAA autobiography titled, Game Changer, was a particular highlight and “winning the An Post Sportsbook of the Year, and also my documentary called Cora, which followed my journey to Australia and my first season with the Giants.”
On staying motivated, Cora says, “I am motivated every year to try and improve myself on and off the field. I like to challenge myself every day to get better and try and make small improvements. This is done through hard work.”
And finally, what advice would Cora give to young girls in the sporting world? “Be whoever you want to be. Follow your dreams, work hard, and the rewards will come.”
Ailbhe and Izzy Keane, founders and creative director of Izzy Wheels
Izzy Wheels first started as a college project in 2015 for founder Ailbhe Keane as she completed her final year in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). The idea was inspired by Ailbhe’s sister Izzy, who was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down. Ailbhe had noticed that when people met Izzy, the first thing they always noticed was her wheelchair, which was all black. Ailbhe felt this didn’t represent the colourful personality of Izzy, and so she was inspired to create a range of wheels that were stylish and colourful and allowed a wheelchair user to express their personal style and personality.
Since its inception, Izzy Wheels has collaborated with artists such as Maser, Supermundane and Camille Walala. This year, both Ailbhe and her sister Izzy were named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and they have also found viral success with a video of the company on INSIDER, reaching 16 million views. They were the first Irish people ever to be asked to take over the official Instagram account and have been featured in world-famous media outlets such as Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan.
Ailbhe is an advocate for diversity in fashion and has allowed a legion of people to express themselves and not be defined by their disability. On her proudest moment of this year, Ailbhe says, “A huge goal for us is to see more people with disabilities and people of diversity in mainstream media and fashion publications. This year, we were invited to the Vogue head office in New York to meet with their team and discuss diversity in fashion. It was a huge dream of ours, and they then wrote about us in British Vogue and Teen Vogue.”
Ailbhe believes her motivation and drive comes from the Izzy Wheels “Spokes People” who are a community of wheelchair users who are empowering others and showing people the positivity that wheelchair devices can bring to people’s lives. “Through Izzy Wheels, we have created a community of people who share a positive relationship with their wheelchairs, and it’s really rewarding seeing it grow. The support from the community has been incredible, and seeing so many artists and fashion designers getting behind us is wonderful. We now have a waiting list of more than 800 people who want to design for Izzy Wheels. It shines a very positive light on disability representation and inclusion.”
On the advice that Ailbhe would give to those who look up to her, she says, “Believe in yourself! A few years ago, Izzy Wheels was just a college project, and we have grown it into a global brand. We learned to not be afraid to ask for help.”
Joanne O’Riordan, disability rights campaigner
Joanne O’Riordan is a disability rights campaigner, motivational speaker and sports journalist with The Irish Times who hails from Millstreet, Co Cork. Joanne was born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare condition which means she lives without arms or legs. She is one of seven people in the world with the condition.
However, Joanne has never let her disability define her, which became clear in 2012, when she gained worldwide attention after addressing the United Nations. In her address, Joanne spoke of the important role technology has played in her life and asked those present to be “thinking outside of the box” and making technology that will aid disabilities. Her speech received a standing ovation.
Since then, Joanne has gone on to become a motivational speaker, urging individuals to not let anything in life hold them back. In October of this year, Joanne graduated from University College Cork with a degree in criminology and has become a contributing sports journalist with The Irish Times, which she sees as her true passion.
Her motto in life is “no limbs, no limits” and she is a testament to the idea that nothing in life should hold you back. She continues to pioneer and galvanise as she spreads her positive message and proves there is nothing you can’t do without determination and self-belief.
Sally Rooney, author
(Photograph by Jonny L Davies, courtesy of Penguin Random House)
Sally Rooney has quickly become one of the most exciting female Irish writers on the literary scene. Her first novel, Conversations with Friends, was released in 2017 to universal critical acclaim, but it has been her second novel, Normal People, which has captured the imagination of readers.
The book was longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, was named Irish Novel of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards, was awarded Book of the Year by Waterstones, and Rooney herself has been awarded International Author of the Year 2018 at the Specsavers National Book Awards.
In both novels, Rooney has managed to understand the thoughts of a certain segment of a generation and successfully describe their most intricate feelings on a page and has been described as the “Salinger of the Snapchat generation”.
At 27, Rooney has accomplished more than most writers would dream of and her career seems only to be continuing on a stratospheric rise.
Dawn Russell, head of services, Ana Liffey Drug Project
Ana Liffey is a charity focused on providing frontline harm reduction addiction services to people affected by substance use and marginalisation. The organisation also takes an active role in lobbying for innovative service providers to address the unmet needs of people who use drugs. At the forefront of the organisation is head of services, Dawn Russell. She works with active drug users to reduce the harm to them and the society they live in. Having spent one-third of her life working at the service, Dawn has seen first-hand the tragic results of substance abuse and is dedicated to helping reduce the impact of drugs on the user as well as the people around them.
Dawn says she’s motivated because she “cares deeply about people who are marginalised, who are judged and left out of our society”, and she is “driven to work for them to improve their lives”.
“Over the last two years, I have watched with pride as Ireland proved to the world and to ourselves that we are a compassionate, inclusive and caring society through the marriage equality and abortion rights referenda. Now in Ireland, it’s time for people who are battling with addictions to be understood and to be brought into our society, from the shadows and alleyways where they are forced to live. People with drug and alcohol addictions have value, they have rights, and we have to work for them to be recognised. This is what motivates me every day,” says Russell.
What does it take to devote your life to addiction services? “You need to be brave, and you need to be determined,” she says. “You need to know what your core values are, what you believe in, and let those values drive you on when times get tough. The ethos and the team in Ana Liffey have taught me so much: try and find an organisation whose values match yours, and you’ll find it so much easier to do your best work.”
Orla Tinsley, cystic fibrosis activist and author
Orla Tinsley is a modern warrior on a mission. The young Kildare native struck the hearts of the nation earlier this year following the debut of her harrowing, traumatic and very real documentary on RTÉ on the reality of living with cystic fibrosis. CF is an inherited chronic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system of about 1,300 children and adults in Ireland. The average life expectancy for someone with CF in this country is 30-35.
Filmed over 14 months, the documentary showed the trials, grief and heartache of living on a transplant list, and the nation watched as Orla struggled and coughed until she physically could not any more.
Orla has been one of Ireland’s leading campaigners for improved services for people with cystic fibrosis, all the while making sure to carry on with her life and for that, she will always be championed. In the hours following the documentary, the public’s interest in organ donation dramatically spiked, resulting in more than 5,000 people requesting organ donor cards.
Orla spent nine months on the lung transplant waiting list, with six devastating setbacks leaving her on life support. Finally, just before Christmas 2017, she and her family got the news they’d been waiting for. Tinsley received a double lung transplant in New York on December 21 and one year on, she is recovering well and still campaigning for her cause.