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International Women’s Day 2022: Celebrating the Irish Women at the Centre of Change

Over 200 women have received an Irish Tatler Woman of the Year award, with winners having led countries, global movements and more.

Irish Tatler has always sought to celebrate female achievement, and today, on International Women's Day 2022, we highlight the women who are at the centre of change and are making a difference in the Irish landscape. 

The Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards were first staged in 2002, and no other forum has recognised Irish women’s achievements so comprehensively, pushing boundaries each year to spotlight remarkable vision and to spark urgent conversations surrounding Irish women's place in society, in the workplace and the wider world. 

Below is a list - albeit far from an exhaustive one - of the women we feel are defining – and re-defining – success in these particularly turbulent times.

Clare Dunne

Irish actor Clare Dunne has become a household name this year as the star of Kin, RTÉ’s crime drama and Herself, the award-winning film she co-wrote. Dunne started life in the Dublin suburb of Ballinteer and found her love of acting through speech and drama classes. An early teacher suggested that she would never make it as an actor because of the distinctive birthmark on her eye. She resolutely stuck to her guns and went on to study acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, carving out a career in theatre working with the likes of Druid and The Abbey and going on to play Prince Hal in an all-female version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV at New York’s Donmar.

Always bold and brave about making her own luck, many of Dunne's big breaks were ones she created for herself, often approaching influential people directly to ask for their help or advice. This can-do approach comes through in her attitude to everything. Like her English contemporary Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag and Killing Eve), Dunne didn’t wait around for things to happen. Instead, she created the works she wanted to star in. At the age of 33, she is now starting to look like a prodigiously talented powerhouse of a multi-disciplinary actor, writer and soon-to-be director. She is currently working on a short film which she wrote and will also direct, and is being mentored by Lenny Abrahamson (Normal People; Room; What Richard Did) as part of a Screen Skills Ireland training course. Clearly, she has no plans to rest on her laurels. 


The winner of our media award for 2021 has enjoyed a long and varied career in journalism. From Listowel in Co Kerry, she studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology before gaining early experience in newspapers including The Herald and the Irish Examiner before going on to join RTÉ. Her career at the national broadcaster has included stints on Drivetime, Prime Time and The Late Debate as well as anchoring Saturday, the weekly show on RTÉ Radio 1. But it was her pioneering work, along with her producer Tom Donnelly, on the RTÉ documentary Women of
Honour, which highlighted three decades of alleged sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault and bullying within the Defence Forces, that really contributed something exceptional and vital this year.

Initially aired in September, it revealed details of rape, sexual assault, discrimination and harassment endured by female soldiers, sailors and air personnel during their time in the Irish Defence Forces. These were stories that were incredibly difficult to share, but that needed to be heard, and the sensitivity and care shown to the women who trusted her with their stories is indicative of Hannon’s commitment to social justice and her drive to give a voice to those who have been left without one.

The documentary resulted in Minister Simon Coveney meeting with survivors, and an agreement to revisit the terms of an independent review into how allegations are handled. Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy said the revelations of sexual assault and gender-based harassment were “abhorrent”. And last month the military launched “Defence Forces Anti-bullying and Harassment Week” in response to the issues raised in Women of Honour. The documentary also prompted President Michael D Higgins to use his address to the Defence Forces’ Values Awards to press for an independent, wide-ranging review, proving the impact of Hannon’s work.


Born in Nigeria and raised in Tullamore, Co Offally, Tolü Makay is one of the brightest stars of the Irish music scene at the moment. Having used music for many years as a medium to speak her truth, Makay is inspired by other soulful singers before her, from Erykah Badu and Nina Simone to Amy Winehouse and Asa. She released Goodbye, her debut single, in 2018 but at the start of 2021, her standout performance of The Saw Doctors' much-loved classic N17, accompanied by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra on the national broadcaster's New Year's Eve show truly marked her out as one to watch. Makay had taken the rollicking singalong tune and turned it into something else entirely. The performance went viral online and even garnered praise from the Doctors themselves.


Since then she has emerged as one of Ireland’s most exciting new talents with standout performances on RTÉ’s The Heart of Saturday Night and The Late Late Show, as well as at the Galway International Arts Festival. In 2020 Makay was part of Irish Women In Harmony, a collective of female artists who recorded a cover of Dreams by The Cranberries and an original Christmas song in support of women’s and children’s charities in Ireland. Most recently, Makay took to the stage for a number of solo gigs around Ireland, including a sold-out three-night stint at Dublin's Grand Social, and earlier this month, she performed a magical set at Other Voices, the renowned music festival in Dingle, Co Kerry. She has collaborated with songwriter and producer delush (Enda Gallery) and in October released The Light, a song with Dublin rapper Malaki. She also cohosts The Tolü & Feli Show podcast with friend and fellow Woman of the Year award winner FeliSpeaks.

Behavin’ Like a Lil B*tch is Makay's latest release and according to her, it’s a song of attitude. “It’s the kind of song you need when you just have to call someone out.” It follows the huge success of Being, her debut EP and marks the third song to be shared from her highly anticipated upcoming album, due for release in early 2022.


“Convoluted, confusing and expensive.” That’s how the three female founders of Hertility Health described their personal search for answers around fertility and hormone health. The winners of this year’s Business Award, Dr Helen O’Neill, Dr Natalie Getreu and Deirdre O’Neill are the trio behind Hertility Health, a new way for women to access information about reproductive health that involves affordable home testing kits paired with virtual health assessments. Tests range from those for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid, Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH is a good indicator of ‘ovarian reserve') and luteinising hormone (the ovulation catalyst), each designed to empower women about their reproductive health and crucially, their reproductive options.

With a team of researchers, clinicians and in-house experts, Hertility offers analysis on every aspect of women’s results with options to speak with trusted professionals, along with direct appointments with partner clinics. Based in London, the femtech business secured €4.8 million in seed funding this year, was named StartUp Entrepreneur of the Year at the Barclays Entrepreneur Awards and has plans for an Irish launch in 2022. Hertility’s Dr Helen O’Neill, a lecturer in reproductive and molecular genetics, accepted the award on behalf of her co-founders from Linda Nolan, Head of Marketing at Boots Ireland, the sponsor of the Business Award.


FeliSpeaks, aka Felicia Olusanya, is a Nigerian-Irish poet, performer, and playwright from Co Longford. Based in Maynooth town this multi-skilled creative has affected change in Irish society in a pivotal way this year which is why she was the perfect choice for our inaugural Catalyst award winner. FeliSpeaks’ poetry and performance pieces introduce her audience to a journey of emotion in every story with her aim to inspire thought, excitement and perspective through her work. She was commissioned by RTÉ in 2020 with the poem Still about Ireland’s response to the Covid pandemic and wrote, directed and performed Dubh, a collaborative piece she describes as a work in progress, at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. Dubh explores the black body using themes of repression, sexuality, grief and joy.

Already having shared stages with the likes of Kate Tempest and Saul Williams, her poem For Our Mothers about the Nigerian culture around womanhood and motherhood has been added to the Leaving Cert English curriculum for 2023, a first for a black Irish woman. In November, she took part in a seminar programme hosted by College Connect and the Irish Refugee Council which explored access and barriers to higher education in Ireland, and in December co-hosted Talkatives, a poetry and rap slam event in Dublin.


FeliSpeaks is a member of WeAreGriot, a poetry collective, and has been a board member of Poetry Ireland since June 2020. She was awarded by the African Professional Network of Ireland (APNI) for her contribution to the art scene in Dublin City in 2017 and in 2018 she was nominated for ‘Best Performer’ by Dublin Fringe Festival for her performance in Boychild, a play co-written by Dagogo Hart and herself. FeliSpeaks has performed at the National Concert Hall’s Notes from a Quiet Land as well as various online live-streamed events and symposiums including Createfest, Maynooth University Social Justice Week, Beatfreeks Poetry Jam, Spotlight: Éire to the World, and Fire Gilders with Poetry Ireland. 


The International Award recognises a woman who has represented Ireland on a global stage, and the voice of our 2021 awardee has been heard – loud and clear – at the very highest levels. Born in Drogheda, Geraldine Byrne Nason attended Maynooth University, graduating with an MA in English in 1981. She joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1982, and in the 1990s served as Director for Governance at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. From there, she served at the United Nations in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Helsinki, and on home soil served as Second Secretary-General of the Department of the Taoiseach from 2011 until 2014, making her the highest-ranking female civil servant in the country. Following this successful tenure, she was appointed Ireland’s Ambassador to France and Monaco, and during this time she co-founded a network of women ambassadors and journalists in Paris. It was in 2017 that our winner’s highest calling came, as she was appointed Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. In her acceptance speech she said, “As an ambassador to the UN, I plan to work tirelessly to see that Ireland’s voice is heard.”

And she has made good on that promise, not only in securing for Ireland a valuable seat on the UN Security Council but in chairing the 62nd and 63rd sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. This year, she has challenged the world to open their eyes and ears to women’s rights, from highlighting the bravery of the women and girls protesting on the streets of Afghanistan, pleading the case for the mothers of Yemen and Ethiopia who are desperate to feed their starving children, and bringing further attention to the peacemaking efforts of the Northern Ireland women’s coalition. While unable to attend the Dublin ceremony due to her commitments in New York, Ambassador Byrne Nason sent a personal video message to the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards. Speaking of the women she has encountered, she said: “I wish for a world in which such depth of courage and such resilience is not called for. But facts speak otherwise. Truth is, women everywhere have always stepped up. It’s what we do. It is high time that such resilience is translated into women taking their rightful place at political tables where peace is forged. At the UN Ireland is deeply committed to raising up the voices of women as real agents of change, and I dedicate this award to all of those courageous women working tirelessly for peace against the tide.”


It was back in 2013 when Ard Bia’s Aoibheann MacNamara first met costume designer Triona Lillis. MacNamara visited a vintage fashion and furniture store that Lillis ran and they “hit it off straight away”, bonding over a shared desire to see traditional Irish fabrics used in a contemporary way. So they decided to do just that, launching a small collection in May 2014 at the Drop Everything festival on the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oírr. Their label has gone from strength to strength, creating handmade, one-off pieces that combine beautiful Irish fabrics with modern tailoring for a truly authentic expression of Irish design.

Operating from a small atelier in Galway, the collection is made entirely in Ireland and each piece is made to last you a lifetime. Committed to slow fashion, where fabric, time and craft take priority over trends and fast consumer culture, this partnership is just one example of how women are banding together to create innovative, progressive partnerships that are a testament to women’s ability to collaborate, share the limelight, and the burden. “The Tweed Project brings together everything that is great about Ireland and fashion right now,” says Aisling Farinella, Irish Tatler consulting fashion editor. “Aoibheann and Triona weave their love of the Irish landscape, community and culture into each beautiful, contemporary designed piece. Slow fashion, sustainable practice, appreciation of Irish fabrics and connection to what we wear is the heart of their brand. This message has resonated far beyond their studio in Galway to an international audience in fashion and the arts. The Tweed Project delivers an authentic and distinctive design aesthetic, embracing equal measures of grace and humour in their collections.”


With only 25 per cent of science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) jobs in Ireland being held by women, this is an area where the phrase “you cannot be what you cannot see” really matters. An engineer, researcher and leader, Professor Linda Doyle is a remarkable advocate for the arts and women in STEM. She has worked across multiple disciplines, raising over €70 million in research funding and has published widely in her field. As the Director of the Centre for Telecommunications Value Chain Research (CTVR), Prof. Doyle built a vibrant national research centre focused on ‘Design for Change’ and the creation of flexible, evolvable and sustainable network architectures. She then founded CONNECT, a national research centre focused on telecommunications and grew it to over 250 researchers across ten Higher Education Institutions and over 35 research partnerships with industry. There she led flagship projects including Pervasive Nation – a nationwide network dedicated to “testing the future of the Internet of Things in Ireland”, a one of its kind globally. Prof. Doyle has always taken a strong role in promoting women in engineering and computer science with numerous initiatives in her quiver including Girls in Tech, Teen Turn and HerStory, while her work in highlighting the links between the arts and engineering sees her sit on the board of the Festival of Curiosity and chair the board of the Douglas Hyde Gallery.


As if all that were not enough, earlier this year Linda Doyle became the first woman to hold the role of Provost in the 429-year history of Trinity College. Today she is taking the lead in promoting the University’s positive way of life and cultural climate, continuing on its active engagement with society and advancing gender equality. “I want Trinity to be a public university that is fearless in its pursuit of a deep-rooted fairness”, she says. 


Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy is the co-founder of ApisProtect which brings groundbreaking technology to the world of commercial beekeeping. Named as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe Class of 2021 she is among the most widely published authors on the Internet of Things and honey bees. Using technology Edwards Murphy developed while completing her award-winning PhD research at University College Cork, ApisProtect is enabling beekeepers to use their labour and resources to maximum effect. It is creating an extra $100 of value per hive annually and is now providing the most accurate, reliable, and beekeeper-friendly technology in this market. ApisProtect is monitoring the health of over twenty million honey bees in hives across Europe and North America, and recently it launched its hive monitoring systems into Britain, enabling amateur beekeepers to monitor their hives. Headquartered in Ireland ApisProtect recently became a member of Guaranteed Irish, which champions and supports indigenous and multinational businesses.

ApisProtect was recently listed as one of the European Start-Ups to Watch in 2021 and also listed on the top 50 Irish Start-Ups to watch in 2021 by Thinkbusiness. Earlier this year it won the Agritech StartUp Award at the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Awards. Dr Edwards Murphy’s work on the topic of hive monitoring has received a number of awards from the likes of the Irish Research Council, The IEEE, IBM, The Irish Laboratory Awards, Google, and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. She has been recognised by the Irish Technology Group as one of its 2020 Silicon Valley 50 Honorees and won the Silicon Valley Forum Women in Tech Pitch Competition 2020. She was recently listed by FoodTank as one of 15 Leading Women at the Intersection of Food and Technology in February 2021 and in 2016 she was the only Irish recipient of a Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship. A passionate advocate from the environment and biodiversity, Dr Edwards Murphy is working behind the scenes to make a fundamental difference in the area of climate change and ecology – something that seems more urgent now than ever. 


A truly gifted stand-up, Joanne McNally is already finishing this year on a high, with sold-out dates and standing ovations for her shows at London’s Leicester Square Theatre. It is the culmination of a continued and steady climb that has seen her taking Ireland’s comedy scene by storm with sell-out tours, hilarious chat show appearances, newspaper columns and a hit documentary.

A Dublin native, McNally’s arrival on the Irish comedy circuit came almost by accident though when in 2014 she was asked by her friend, director Una McKevitt, to join the cast of Singlehood. She was the breakout star, with fellow comedian PJ Gallagher spotting her talents and inviting her to support him on Concussion, his stand-up tour around Ireland in 2015. She was then signed by Irish talent agency Lisa Richards while she and Gallagher teamed up again to write and perform
Separated At Birth, where they explored their shared experience of being adopted. McNally was then cast as the new co-host of RTÉ2’s Republic of Telly in October 2015. In 2017, she returned to the stage for Bite Me, her one-woman show again directed by McKevitt, where she created poignant, gutsy and hilarious art from her severe eating disorder and subsequent recovery. The show sold out its five-night run in Dublin's Project Arts Centre and was nominated for four awards including Best Performance, Best Production and the First Fortnight Award.

Now, having moved to London she’s an exciting presence on a string of high-profile British comedy television programmes. Her lockdown podcast with Vogue Williams, My Therapist Ghosted Me, took off like a rocket – and consistently features in the top three of the Irish podcast charts. And she shows no signs of slowing down as next year will see her performing 20 nights of her show The Prosecco Express in Dublin venue Vicar Street, unprecedented for a female comic here.


This year’s Sport award goes to not one but two outstanding Irish sportswomen. Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal are amongst the most successful Paralympic athletes ever to have represented Ireland, having medalled consistently at World and Paralympic Games since 2014. The tandem dream team of cyclist Dunlevy and her sighted pilot McCrystal won two gold medals and one silver in the space of a week during this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Dunlevy, who was registered as blind in 2012, hails from Crawley in England but competes for Ireland because her father is a Donegal native. Eve, a mum of two, put her career as a garda on hold and she has competed and trained as a sighted pilot with Dunlevy for the past eight years. Like many athletes, they have had a difficult year with disruption to training as a result of Covid-19. In fact, Dunlevy moved over to Ireland during the pandemic and lived with McCrystal and her family in Dundalk, Co Louth so the pair could train together.

A planned stay of a few weeks turned into five months but the hard work and training paid off in style. The duo struck silver in the individual pursuit on the track in Tokyo, following that with gold in the time trial and another gold in the road race. No strangers to medals, the pair also picked up two silvers at the 2021 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships Tandem Time Trial earlier this year and last year took silver at the 2020 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championship Tandem Pursuit.

Prior to their wins in Tokyo, they already had some Paralympic medals to their names, having won gold in the time trial and silver in the road race at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016. In interviews, McCrystal and Dunlevy appear to finish each other’s sentences, with family and coaches saying the relationship they have with one another is key to their success. 

Sarah Grace

Our Special Recognition award highlights someone who, outside of their profession, has pushed the conversation, changed the rules or contributed invaluably to Irish discourse and society this year and Sarah Grace has done just that. In the early hours of Wednesday 17 July 2019 Grace’s attacker broke into the apartment she shared with her two flatmates in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock. The attack began while she was asleep, and continued after she woke, where she managed to fight her attacker off and escape the apartment, but not before she was violently and sexually assaulted, leaving her with internal injuries.

But unfortunately, the trauma of the attack did not end there. In its aftermath, Grace was left with serious post-traumatic stress disorder. She was unable to be touched by anyone including her own parents. She was unable to be alone. She was unable to sleep, checking windows up to 20 and 30 times a night to make sure they were locked. When she did sleep, she was plagued by violent nightmares. She no longer felt safe anywhere. Her life, she said then, was changed forever.

Then, she had to survive the court system in order to bring her offender to justice where she found herself being treated, at best, as a witness, not a victim. It was that re-traumatising experience that led her to go public, to push for structural change so that other women did not have to be brutalised twice too. A trained solicitor, she sacrificed her anonymity, and outlined seven recommendations for specific legal reform, including proper training for barristers, to Justice Helen McEntee. “By the end of the trial I was brought to my knees,” she said at the time. “I don’t wish that on my worst enemy. I don’t wish that on the offender. Even the attack hadn’t done that to me.” She has actively advocated for open and understanding conversations around sexual violence in Ireland and has given up an immeasurable amount so that others’ experiences can be better. She has also recently published a book, Ash + Salt: Sexual Assault - From Survival to Empowerment, Grace's own powerful account of healing and thriving after the assault. 

The Clann Project 

The Clann Project, a collaboration between the Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalenes Research and the international law firm Hogan Lovells was established in 2015. Its purpose is simple: to establish the truth of what happened to unmarried mothers and their children in 20th century Ireland. The Project is led by two brilliant women: Dr Maeve O’Rourke and Claire McGettrick, who accepted the 2021 Irish Tatler Woman of the Year, Public Life Award on behalf of The Clann Project.

This year provided much in the way of a challenge for women who survived Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, and for the children born in these institutions. One such challenge was the January publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The report’s publication left a bitter taste for many, not least with regard to the manner in which it was compiled. As the Project wrote: “We established the Clann Project in response to the fact that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was operating wholly in private without any legal assistance for those affected, and was refusing to give people a copy of their testimony or any opportunity to comment on evidence being gathered from elsewhere. The Final Report of the Commission of Investigation revealed that the Commission destroyed the audio recordings of 550 people’s testimony without creating transcripts.”

The Clann Project delivers words and actions. It provided free legal assistance to anyone who wished to give evidence to the Commission of Investigation. Its ‘Gathering the Data’ project has anonymised shared statements – and gathered documentary and archival materials – to produce a public group report, which has been relayed to the Commission of Investigation, to the government and to international human rights bodies. Today the Project is supporting judicial reviews regarding fair procedures and the rights of people who engaged with the Commission of Investigation. Redress for survivors, say The Clann Project, goes far beyond the financial. Redress means appropriate healthcare provision for survivors. It means full access to records. It means information rights for adopted people, mothers and relatives. Redress means inquests into the disappearance of thousands of children and hundreds of women. Crucially, The Clann Project insist, redress means that the Irish government should officially acknowledge the limitations and the flaws of the report. As they write: “Because the Irish State-supported and failed to prevent these grossly discriminatory and systematic abuses, the State has clear and numerous legal obligations under Irish, European and international law to cease all ongoing abuse and to provide effective remedies.”


Selling more than 300,000 copies to date, October of this year marked the release of Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen’s fourth (and penultimate) book in the Oh My God What a Complete Aisling series. Their much-loved creation celebrates a very specific type of sensible, small-town Irish girl while taking on big, social issues in a relatable way – everything from body issues to domestic violence to a crisis pregnancy. With more than ten years’ experience in broadcasting and journalism, McLysaght, who hails from Co Kildare, found herself fulfilling aspirations to write a book when in 2017 she co-authored the first Aisling novel with long-time friend Sarah Breen. Carlow native Breen began her journalism career in magazines and has since contributed to many Irish publications both in print and online. Co-authors, sometimes housemates, and friends for 18 years, Breen and McLysaght have successfully navigated a time of life that strains many female friendships. Exceptional writers who work individually and together by taking copious notes on their phones and writing consecutive chapters, the pair have put some of their success down to the fact that, after 15 years, they know what Aisling would do in every situation. But it’s also because they approach her with such affection.


Oh My God What a Complete Aisling went on to become an Irish Times bestseller and as of 2020 was the bestselling Irish-published novel of the century in Ireland. The Importance of Being Aisling, the second book in the series, was published in 2018 and the third, Once Twice Three Times an Aisling was published in 2019. Both titles won the Popular Fiction Book of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards. Aisling and the City, the most recent instalment in the series, was published earlier this year. In November, McLysaght and Breen won Popular Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards for the third time. Few will be surprised that Aisling and the City is firmly on track to being Ireland's best-selling book of the year, as Aisling’s devoted fans devour this latest instalment of her adventures. 

Jude Sherry

As our nominating judge rightly stated, Cork-based industrial designer Jude Sherry believes that the answer to many of our environmental problems, global and local, lies in good design. Her motto is ‘Design for Tomorrow, Do it Today’ and she is a solution-based, design activist who is making a real impact. With an undergraduate degree in industrial design and an MA in integrated environmental management, she’s a passionate advocate for the ability of design to solve some of the mounting environmental threats posed to the planet.

The former operations lead at the award-winning Ecodesign Centre, an International Centre of Excellence, she created the first city MakerWalk, piloting the approach in Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester, mapping and recording local makers and manufacturers to provide a unique picture of urban manufacturing.

Then, along with Frank O’Connor, she founded systems design agency Anois, which focuses on creating value through good design, specialising in ethical branding, sustainable product design, responsible value chains and circular business models. Through the Twitter hashtag campaign #DerelictIreland she has started a movement and has documented more than 400 derelict properties to raise awareness and create discussions around derelict buildings. And if that wasn’t enough, along with her husband, Sherry runs marches and walking tours that highlight derelict spaces and speak about their potential. Her work to increase awareness of vacant spaces in a homeless crisis is powerful. Her commitment to sustainable and ethical design is inspirational and will pave the way for further sustainable building projects.


Watching Kellie Harrington’s agility, strength, and talent in the ring it’s hard to believe that for the first part of her life she wasn’t even interested in sport. And up to the age of 15, she’d been more about crimping her hair and the clothes she was wearing than athletic competition. But by her mid-teens she found herself struggling at school, unable to fit in. She began drifting. And things might have gone quite differently at that point except for some timely intervention and local support. The first of which was Youthreach, an educational programme for early school leavers, and there Harrington found a whole new approach towards learning, aided and abated by a curriculum and structure that she could connect with. She completed her Junior Cert, before going to study sport and leisure management in Coláiste Íde in Finglas.

But she also discovered a love of boxing, thanks to the community at Corinthians Boxing Club in Dublin’s Summerhill. While still not even sure about taking up a sport, she watched others in her area come and go to the boxing clubs and was drawn to the camaraderie and purpose they all showed. Harrington befriended local boxing coach Joey O’Brien, who agreed to let her join. Up to then, the club had been almost completely male, with no female facilities at all.

Harrington was not dissuaded and despite being the club’s only female boxer she quickly shone, showing early promise and a natural ability to move that was based on raw talent as much as training and graft. She continued to work hard though, and dedicated herself to the amateur circuit, qualifying for the World Championships in 2016, where she won a silver medal, and finally the confidence to give herself the credit she deserved.

And she kept winning. She followed her 2016 success with bronze and silver medals at the European Championships before winning gold in the 2018 World Championships. It was at the Tokyo Olympics this year that everything aligned, and with standout wins in each stage, on 8 August, she beat Brazilian Beatriz Ferreira 5–0 to win her first Olympic gold, becoming Ireland's third-ever Olympic boxing champion. No one could be in any doubt how much her win meant, when on 10 August this year she returned to Dublin’s Portland Row in an open-top procession as streets were lined with hundreds of wellwishers calling her name. And despite the lure of a professional career (Harrington works part-time as a cleaner in St Vincent’s psychiatric hospital in Fairview), she has made the decision to stay on in amateur boxing, maintaining the goal of completing in the Paris Olympics in 2024. “Greatness”, she says, “breeds greatness”, and she regularly campaigns for better funding for boxing clubs across the country as well as running a women’s boxing retreat once a year. A true gamechanger, her win will inspire and encourage generations of women to come. 

This piece appeared in December's edition of Irish Tatler, free with the Business Post newspaper on the second Sunday of every month.