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Irish Tatler's 10 Most Inspiring Female Trailblazers Ahead Of IWD 2020

Introducing Irish Tatler’s 2020 line-up of the high-powered and visionary women whose work is shaping Ireland’s future.

What are the most pressing issues of our time?

It’s a question Irish Tatler held firmly in mind when compiling this year’s list of Ireland's most influential women. 

Climate change, sexism, inequality and xenophobia have all remained top of news agendas for some time now, while bigotry, political intolerance and misogyny continue to persist. 

The women mentioned below – drawn from sport, media, food and literature – are fighting on the front line of those battles.

They are not only effecting change within their industries, but their work is changing the very worlds in which others work, too. 

And this International Women's Day, we're here to highlight the sensational women paving the way for the other sensational women keen to follow in their footsteps. 

1. Jess Murphy

Anyone with a slight interest in Irish food will know the name Jess Murphy. 

The New Zealander revolutionising the industry runs the multi-award winning and Michelin Bib Gourmand Kai on Galway's Sea Road with her husband Dave. 

She has transcended the boundaries of what many think a chef’s job is; she has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Beirut and Jordan, has furthered food initiatives for those in direct provision, and much more. 

With an inspiring career under her belt, Jess is a role model for those in the Irish food industry. Perhaps if more follow her lead, the sector may change for good. 

2. Grafton Architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, founders and principals of the Dublin-based Grafton Architects, earlier this year won the 2020 Pritzker Prize – what is regarded internationally as architecture’s highest honour, or the 'Oscars of Architecture'.

The judges’ citation described Farrell and McNamara as “pioneers in a field that has traditionally been and still is a male-dominated profession; they are also beacons to others as they forge their exemplary professional path”.

In practice together since 1978, Farrell and McNamara first hit international headlines in 2008 when they won the inaugural World Building of the Year award for Grafton’s Bocconi University faculty building in Milan and went on to act as joint curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. 

Speaking to the New York Times just this week, both women said that the human experience of what it’s like to move through, walk by and inhabit their buildings is of paramount importance to them.

“There are so many buildings you visit and you really admire but there is something missing,” Ms. McNamara said. “Architecture isn’t just about design and sophistication and accomplishment, but it’s also about how it makes you feel as a stranger.”

“It’s important to remember that the Earth is beautiful and sunlight is liquid gold,” she added.

“A lot of architecture excludes natural phenomena — the rising and setting sun, the power of springtime moving up through the soil.”

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A maior honra da arquitetura, o Prêmio Pritzker, foi concedido às irlandesas Yvonne Farrell e Shelley McNamara, da Grafton Architects. O anúncio foi feito nesta terça (03/03) e esta é a primeira vez, em 42 edições, que a premiação é concedida a uma dupla feminina. . “Sua abordagem à arquitetura é sempre honesta, revelando uma compreensão dos processos de projeto e construção, desde estruturas de grande escala até os mínimos detalhes. É frequentemente nesses detalhes, especialmente em edifícios com orçamentos modestos, que um grande impacto pode ser sentido”, disse a citação do júri. “Pioneiras em um campo profissional que tradicionalmente é dominado por homens, elas também são faróis para outras mulheres à medida que desenvolvem sua trajetória profissional exemplar”, acrescentou a citação. . Uma boa notícia para a semana em que se comemora do Dia da Mulher! . Foto: Alice Clancy . #arquitetura #pritzker @graftonarchitects @pritzkerarchitectureprize

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3. Niamh Algar

Irish actress Niamh Algar has boasted coveted spots on 'one to watch' lists since early 2019. 

As a child, Niamh's creativity shone by entertaining her family with short films and stories, but it was only after working as an intern in a production house that her film and TV education really begun. 

The Westmeath-native – whose CV features an impressive line-up of roles from The Virtues to Raised by Wolves – was nominated (alongside Laurie Nunn (Sex Education) and Coco Jackson (Love Island)) among 20 rising stars for BAFTA's Breakthrough Acts in 2019.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Niamh, who stars alongside Barry Keoghan in the forthcoming Michael Fassbender-produced Calm With Horses, a drama about an enforcer for a drug-dealing family in rural Ireland, due out in 2020.

Her previous work includes a range of short film including the acclaimed indie flick Without Name.

Earlier this year, Niamh was named as one of Elle UK’s 50 Game-Changers of Now, who commended her ability to nail the first audition she went for, as well as asserting her individuality in a household of sports-obsessed triathletes.

4. Emma Dabiri

Dublin-born multi-hyphenate Emma Dabiri is an author, scholar, model, BBC television presenter, visual sociology researcher, and teaching fellow in the Africa department at SOAS. 

Have we missed anything?

Brought up in Rialto, her (impressive) life's work is summated in the marrying of politics and history around African hair, in the wonderfully titled Don’t Touch My Hair.

It heralds back to her days in schoolyards of Dublin, when, after a few happy years in Atlanta, Georgia, she found herself as the only black person within her circle of peers. 

Racism wasn’t the only predicament she faced, as the means to tend to her hair at that time were either unknown or unavailable – meaning that things got a lot worse before they got better. 

In the book she recounts a sleepover where a friend taunted her, saying she had “pubes in my bed... no, hang on, it’s just Emma’s hair.”

Names as one of The Observer's annual list of Rising Stars in the year ahead, Dabiri is poised for a huge 2020.

5. Laura Whitmore 

Laura Whitmore needs no introduction.

But deserves one, given her compassionate take on the consequences of media scrutiny in wake of Caroline Flack's untimely passing. It was a death that shook millennials around the world, none more than Whitmore herself who was a dear friend and colleague of the London-based presenter. 

Tabloids were quick to blame the Bray-native given her takeover of the former Love Island host's job, something Whitmore abhorred. 

Whitmore said that Flack "loved to love" and "that's all she wanted, which is why a show like Love Island was important to her because the show is about finding love, friendship, having a laugh."

Defending the ITV2 programme, she said: "The problem wasn't the show, the show to work on is loving and caring and safe and protected. The problem is, the outside world is not."

"She also had many struggles. I'm not going to pretend she's perfect but is anyone? She lived every mistake publicly under the scrutiny of the media.

"Anyone who’s ever compared one woman against another on Twitter, knocked someone because of their appearance, invaded someone else’s privacy, who’ve made mean, unnecessary comments on an online forum need to look at themselves," she continued.

"To the press, the newspapers, who create clickbait, who demonise and tear down success, we’ve had enough. I’ve seen journalists and Twitter warriors talk of this tragedy and they themselves twisted what the truth is.

"I want to use my platform, this platform, to call people out because it’s gone too far. Your words affect people. To paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard, enough.

She ended by saying: "I’m not sure when, but I’m sure I’ll see you on a dancefloor again. I hope you’re at peace and know that you are loved."

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See you on the dance floor ❤️

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6. Katie McCabe

Katie McCabe is an Irish international footballer who made her debut for the Republic of Ireland women's national football team back in March 2015, at the tender age of 19, then making captain some two years later. 

Her career revolves around a myriad of highs, having been hailed as one of the stars of the Women’s National League here as well as a move to Arsenal — the club that she claims "set the standard for the women’s game.”

She also recently spoke openly, candidly and selflessly about her sexuality and personal relationships as part of her ambassadorship for Aviva’s Pride campaign – something she told The 42 she "didn't think twice about".

"I think as footballers now we’re given this platform to be role models, and if I changed one person’s life and gave them that confidence to maybe come out to their parents or whatever like that, then I’m happy with that."

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Prepped & ready for tomorrow

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7. Mairead McGuinness

We never need a reason to celebrate Mairead McGuinness. 

The Fine Gael MEP – who is currently serving as the Vice-President of the European Parliament – has been the toast of Europe for some time now, as her no-nonsense attitude and shrewd intelligence has outsmarted many an arrogant Brexiteer throughout her tenure. 

McGuinness – who is currently the bookies' favourite to be the next Uachtarán na hÉireann – was recently lauded for promptly cutting off Nigel Farage's microphone in a, quite frankly, arrogant display of flag-waving while in the EU chamber in January, much to Ireland's approval. 

“If you disobey the rules, you get cut off,” McGuinness told him, switching off his microphone privileges. 

“Put your flags away. You’re leaving, and take the flags with you if you are leaving now.”

8. Eímear Noone 

Eímear Noone is an Irish conductor, radio presenter and the first woman to ever conduct the Academy Awards ceremony in Oscar history earlier this year. 

Dubbed the queen of Irish game music, Galway-born Noone is one of the industry’s most celebrated composers, having written the scores for both World of Warcraft and Warlords of Draenor. 

She conducts as many as 50 concerts a year and has worked with orchestras including London's Royal Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony and the Sydney Symphony.

Ahead of her glass-ceiling smashing performance in January, the Trinity College graduate told the press that she just "wanted little Irish girls to see it and just go, 'Yay! I can do that!'".

Her message to any aspiring young female conductors, she told the BBC, is: "Keep on keeping on. Know thyself. And failure is part of it. It's not the fun part, but it's definitely part of it."

9.  Hazel Chu 

Green Party councillor Hazel Chu boasts renaissance woman status like no other. 

The former Diageo head of communications is currently the Green Party’s national coordinator, Chair of the Executive and Spokesperson for Enterprise, the first Irish-born Chinese person to be called to the bar, seeking the nomination to become the next lord mayor of Dublin and a mother-of-one. 

What's disheartening, however, is that when she made headlines earlier this year, it was neither for her talent nor her grace – it was for the racist slurs made by others in her direction. 

Born and raised in Dublin, it is Chu's Hong Kong heritage that has been pushed and prodded of late, with everything from parody Twitter accounts and foul language hurtled her way. 

However, it seems that Chu – who has risen from the waves of abuse more valiant than ever – will have the last laugh, as under the terms of the Dublin Agreement — a deal between Fianna Fáil, the Greens, Labour and the Social Democrats — the position of lord mayor will next go to the Green Party.

Meaning Chu is highly likely to secure it. We look forward to seeing much more of her in 2020. 

10. Aoife McNamara / Aoife Ireland 

And last but certainly not least is that of Aoife McNamara, the founder of luxury womenswear label AOIFE Ireland. 

The brand, which celebrates authenticity, was founded in 2019 on the basis of sustainability. McNamara – who, in her short time as a designer has found herself dressing everyone from Louise Cooney to Roz Purcell – has championed the burgeoning interest in ethical issues, offering the often-berated industry of fashion a glimmer of light. 

In the few short years since she finished school, the Limerick-native has completed a  four-year fashion-design degree at LSAD (Limerick School of Art & Design), taken a job as an intern for Paris Fashion Week, worked with Marc Jacobs and pulled together a successful fashion brand from scratch. 

Next on the list is continuing some passion projects, including a series of triathlons, a course in sustainable design in Central Saint Martins and the Copenhagen Fashion Summit to further her knowledge about sustainable fashion production. 

It seems that life in the fast lane was simply made for some. More power to her. 

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