50 Incredible People Who Are Shaping Modern Ireland

By mariemadden

July 16, 2017 at 9:22pm


For all of our faults, we're a wonderful little country.

Whether it's business or sport, we're constantly punching above our weight and doing ourselves proud across the globe.

Each year seems to unearth a new collection of creative and dynamic people who are ready to forge a path and show us something new.

This list could have run into the hundreds but here's a snapshot of the names that should definitely be on your radar right now...

50. Colm O'Rourke

The Cabra man went viral after sharing his story of overcoming crippling shyness to go on to speak in front of the United Nations. He is currently working as a UN Youth Delegate for Ireland and is doing a lot to address the problem of youth poverty in Ireland.

49. Leo Varadkar

He may be a divisive figure but there's no denying that our new Taoiseach is already putting his stamp on the office. From his diverse background to his bromance with Trudeau, it's certainly a change from Enda Kenny but time will tell whether he lives up to his election promises.

48. The Rubberbandits

In a world of PR-spin and endless debate, these guys cut straight through the bullshit to address some of the most relevant issues facing modern Ireland - and all with their trademark Limerick humour. The role they've played in encouraging younger generations to engage with social issues is immeasurable. And they're gas craic, follow them on Twitter immediately.

47. Sinéad Burke

Aka Minnie Mélange, Sinéad is one of Ireland's most popular influencers and living proof that great things come in small packages. Standing at 3ft 5in, Sinead has campaigned for inclusivity within the fashion industry and even delivered a TED Talk on the subject recently. Impressive!

46. John Connors

Since he burst on to the Irish entertainment scene in Love/Hate, Connors has used his profile to shine a light on discrimination against the Travelling Community in Ireland. His documentaries have been compelling viewing and have offered a real insight into one of the country's long-standing issues.

45. Jack Kavanagh

The word inspirational is thrown around a lot but it is well deserved in Jack Kavanagh's case. The Trinity student was left paralysed by a windsurfing accident but rather than let it dictate his life, he took off on a road trip around America and made a documentary about it - showing that, in his own words, "nothing in insurmountable".

44. Martin O'Neill

It's fair to say that O'Neill's impact on our national soccer team has been transformative, reviving the country's love for the game. There's still a long way to go but he's definitely breathed new life into football in Ireland and attracted a lot of new supporters.

43. Oisin and Howard Kim

The brothers are the brains behind WebDoctor.ie, which allows patients to receive prescriptions without attending a doctor. As well as making medical services more accessible for those on low incomes (consultations cost €25), the site has also been praised for enabling those who are embarrassed about their symptoms to seek medical help.

42. Stephen Kavanagh

Our national airline may have gone through some tough times in previous years but Aer Lingus is definitely back on track with Kavanagh at the helm. Traffic is up almost 14% in the last six months and with steady expansion to new destinations, the sky's the limit.

41. Conor McGregor

You either love him or hate him but you can't argue with the fact that McGregor is one of the most famous athletes to emerge from the country for decades. From signing on the Dole to fighting Mayweather for millions, it's a pretty impressive trajectory.

40. Lee Chin

Lee Chin is one of Ireland's best hurlers, nearly single-handedly dragging Wexford hurling back to contention for major honours - with a little help from Davy Fitz, of course. With Chinese heritage, he is breaking down stereotypes and proving that our national game is to be enjoyed by all and that anyone can make it in the sport if they work hard enough.

39. Adam Harris

Up to 50,000 people in Ireland are currently living with autism, yet there is still a lack of understanding about the condition among the general public. One man who is making great strides in changing that is Adam Harris, whose interview on The Saturday Night Show and Autism & Me doc have given a voice to those with autism.

38. Vera Twomey

When it comes to sheer bottle and determination, you'll go a long way to find a better example than Vera Twomey. She has twice walked across Ireland in a desperate attempt to access cannabis treatment for her daughter Ava, who suffers from multiple seizures a day as a result of Dravit's Syndrome. 

Unfortunately, Ava has since had to travel to the Netherlands for the life-saving treatment but Vera's campaign has brought the issue into the national conversation.

37. Rusangano Family

If you've seen Limerick trio Rusangano Family live, you probably don't need an explanation as to why they're on this list. If not, then you're missing out.

These guys are the perfect example of the dynamic Irish music scene right now - socially conscious, pushing boundaries, boldly confident and super talented. They walked away with the Choice Music Album Of The Year and you'll be hearing a lot more about them - trust us.

36. Louise Bruton

Louise should be included on this list solely on the basis of the hilarious name of her blog Legless In Dublin, which looks at accessibility for wheelchair users in Dublin. Her posts are refreshingly honest, useful and give an eye-opening insight into the issues facing wheelchair users on a daily basis. She's also a kickass music writer and pretty funny on Twitter too.

35. Philly McMahon

One of the legends behind THISISPOPBABY (with Jenny Jennings), Philly has had a huge influence on Dublin's theatre scene over the years and RIOT is one of the best productions yet. Social commentary meets art meets madness – we've yet to see anything but rave reviews. 

34. Osgur Ó Ciardha and Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh

Is there anything better than hearing
someone speaking the Irish language? These guys are at the forefront
of the Gaeilge revival, taking over the entire Dame District with a
Pop-Up Gaeltacht back in April. Don't mistake this for activism
though, the lads are adamant that it's a “debaucherous piss-up”

33. Louise O'Neill

The issue of sexual consent is one that
has been absent from our conversations for far too long but with the
release of her novel Asking For It and subsequent documentary for
RTÉ, author O'Neill has dragged the country kicking and screaming
into a healthy debate and much-needed education.

32. Al Porter

From a controversial comedian to king of the airwaves, Al's ascension through the ranks of Irish broadcasting has been stratospheric – all thanks to his warm personality, no-holds-barred honesty and chronic oversharing. He always seems like an absolute gent and someone you'd love to have a pint with.

31. O'Donovan Brothers

That distinctive West Cork brogue may
have gone viral but more importantly, Gary and Paul are part of a
band of incredibly dedicated and talented Irish athletes who are
doing Ireland proud on the world stage.

30. Donal Skehan

This former boyband member has had a unique career trajectory. The polar opposite of Gordon Ramsey, Skehan is probably the nicest person in the foodie world. Having made a big splash in Ireland, he's also worked on Masterchef Junior and is currently taking on Hollywood.  

29. Joanne O'Riordan

A truly inspiring individual who was
born with the extremely rare condition of Tetra-Amelia Syndrome. A
wonderful orator who has been outspoken on the importance of
disability funding in Ireland, Joanne has appeared everywhere from
MIT to the United Nations - winning everyone over with infectious
positivity and drive.

28. Séamus Coleman

The Irish captain is widely recognised as one of soccer's good guys and the nation's heart broke when he suffered a horrific injury during the Ireland v Wales game in March. Thankfully, he's on the road to recovery and will hopefully be back to spearhead Ireland's chances before the end of the year.

27. Aodhán O'Riordán

Politicians may get a hard time in the press but there's no denying the stellar work that O'Riordán has done in making supervised injection facilities a reality in Dublin. The statistics in other countries have shown that this is a move that will save lives and hopefully kickstart a sea-change in Ireland's approach to drug policy. 

26. Paddy McKillen Jnr

The best cities are constantly
reinventing themselves in an effort to stay vibrant and with Press-Up
Entertainment Company, Paddy is playing a key role in making sure
Dublin is top of its game when it comes to food and hospitality. The
newly opened Roberta's in Temple Bar is a great example.

25. Anna Cosgrave

Ask any woman what the biggest social
issue in Ireland is right now and you'll likely be told about the
Eighth Amendment. Cosgrave created the REPEAL project to raise money
for the campaign against the law and has been a frontrunner in
bringing its implications into the public eye ahead of next year's

24. Ellen Coyne

In just a few short years, Ellen has become one of Ireland's most important journalists and is a constant source of agenda-setting exclusives, including a recent exposé on the incorrect and scaremongering advice on abortion being given to vulnerable women at medical centres in Ireland.  

23. Chanelle McCoy

After years of being known to many as the wife of top jockey AP McCoy, Chanelle finally stepped into the spotlight with her role on RTÉ's Dragon's Den earlier this year and quickly impressed with her sharp business instincts and no-nonsense negotiating skills. She has played a key role in developing Chanelle Pharmaceuticals into a multimillion euro business and recently revealed plans for even more aggressive growth into the US market. 

22. Peter Varga

Behind the lens of the hugely popular
Humans Of Dublin blog, Varga gives us a regular insight into the
lives of those living in our capital city and showcases what a
diverse and interesting bunch we are. His first book was released
last year and he totally melted our hearts by using the publication
to spring a surprise proposal on girlfriend Maria!

21. Stephen-James Smith

Spoken word is an art form that is
underappreciated in Ireland but if you're looking for the perfect
introduction, this is the guy to give it to you. I stumbled across
Stephen for the first time in an ice-cream shop in Dingle and his
rendition of Dublin You Are absolutely floored me. A singular talent.

20. Barry Keoghan

The Love/Hate star is making major waves on the international film scene, starring alongside none other than Harry Styles and Cillian Murphy in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. He's got a very exciting career ahead of him.

19. Dr Robert O'Connor

There isn't a single person in Ireland
who hasn't been touched by cancer, so the ongoing research into
treatment options is so important to all of us. As Head Of Research
for the Irish Cancer Society, O'Connor is responsible for
co-ordinating several groundbreaking studies that could save the
lives of all our loved ones in the future.

18. Riyadh Khalif

The Irish YouTube star is currently
making a name for himself in the UK, presenting Queer Britain for the
BBC, and has been creating engaging film across a whole host of
subjects over the last few years. From discussing his father's battle
to deal with his sexuality in Growing Up Gay to addressing the
alienation of immigration in Home, he's definitely one to watch.

17. Maser

Often dubbed Ireland's answer to
Banksy, Maser is quite literally shaping the Ireland we live in with
his stunning street art. He's left his mark everywhere from Denmark
to the United States and most recently collaborated with Arnotts to
create 'The City Is My Garden'.

16. Paddy Cosgrave

The shy and retiring face of the Web
Summit, Cosgrave's success in the tech sphere is unrivalled and he's
making a return to Dublin with spin-off MoneyConf next year. He has
listed Brexit and an improved relationship with the Government as his
motivations behind the return.

15. Mary Gallagher

Roscommon shop owner Mary Gallagher is
probably not someone who would consider herself to be shaping Ireland
but her interview with RTÉ following the arrival of Syrian refugees
to Ballaghdereen was an example to all of us.  

14. Soulé

RnB is becoming stronger and stronger
as an influence for Irish bands, with the likes of Soulé and Wyvern
Lingo producing smooth and soulful sounds that would sit alongside
anything being produced in the US. A really charismatic performer, we
predict big things.

13. Lynn Ruane

Ruane's is an incredible story – having become involved in drugs and crime at a young age, she became pregnant at 15 and later decided to return to education. She went on to study at Trinity College and is now an elected to the Seanad. An outspoken voice on the Repeal campaign and the issues facing those in disadvantaged areas, she's a refreshing change to the status quo.

12. Emmet Kirwan

Even if you think you don't know who Kirwan is, you've probably seen his incredible short film Heartbreak - which told the story of a single mother in Dublin. He's also behind the brilliant Dublin Old School and has an amazing way of channelling his razor-sharp perspective of Dublin into must-see theatre.

11. Tara Flynn

Comedian Tara's brave decision to open up about her own abortion was a seminal point in the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment and she has been relentless in her support of the movement. She's also absolutely hilarious, which is always good.

10. Peter McVerry

While the homeless situation is Dublin seems to be constantly worsening, it has been a problem in our city for a long time. One of those who has been at the coalface helping those in need is The Peter McVerry Trust, most recently launching a €1.4m housing project in the North Inner City.

9. Catríona O'Broin

The Anybody's Brother campaign struck a chord with people across Ireland after Catríona bravely spoke out about her family's battle to access mental health services for her suicidal brother Caoilte. Tragically, Caoilte went on to take his own life - a damning indictment of Ireland's current health system.

8. Gary Gannon

It's long been recognised that people living in inner city areas are underrepresented in the corridors of power but one rep who is trying to change that is Social Democrat Cllr Gary Gannon. He's been a strong voice in highlighting the issues facing young people growing up in Dublin City and particularly the challenges faced by those in areas governed by drugs and crime.

7. Tony Duffin

The use of drugs in our streets is something that most of us are confronted with on a daily basis but the Ana Liffey Drug Project is giving hands-on help to those with addiction issues in Dublin. A key player in the fight for supervised injection centres in the city, Tony wrote an interesting op-ed on the subject for Lovin Dublin earlier this week.

6. Linda & Dan Kiely

The couple's company Voxpro is one of Ireland's leading business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, with clients including Google, Amazon and Facebook. One of the main things that stands out about Voxpro is the company culture, with very cool offices and the ethos 'Quirky Lives Here'.

5. Brendan O'Connor

After his chat show was unceremoniously axed in favour of The Ray D'Arcy Show, we wondered if we'd see Cork man O'Connor back on the box. But instead of fading into obscurity, the journalist came back with a Cutting Edge - a really interesting take on current affairs that has seen plenty of stand-out debates since its launch.

4. Tara McCarthy

If you are what you eat, then Bord Bia CEO Tara is playing a very important role in Ireland's future. She took over the role last year after a successful tenure at Bord Iascaigh Mhara, is the company's first female CEO and has big plans for maximising Ireland's export growth.

3. JP McMahon

Another leading Irish foodie, the Galway chef is behind restaurants including the Michelin-starred Aniar and much loved tapas bar Cava. However, it's his work with the Food On The Edge festival that is particularly innovative - bringing together some of the world's top chefs for a symposium in the city every year.

2. Aoibheann O'Brien

The Galway woman and co-founder Iseult Ward came up with the simple but brilliant concept of FoodCloud, which works with businesses and charities to ensure that food which would otherwise be wasted goes to those who need it. 

1. John Breslin

NUI Galway's Breslin has been involved in a ton of interesting projects but his latest is PorterShed - a "mashup of entrepreneurs, startups, growth companies, educational institutions, state agencies and local government" that aims to encourage collaboration between tech start-ups in the West.

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