There are some pretty fantastic, inspirational women out there, but what about fantastic, inspirational Irish women? When was the last time we paid tribute to the heroines of our Emerald Isle, both here and passed? The women who contributed to our society through their art, music, food and more. The role models setting records against all odds and fighting to make the world a better place. Here is a list we’ve compiled of ten Irish women we think you really ought to remind yourself of and, if you haven’t heard of them yet, we’re here to help you get acquainted.
1. Grace O’Malley (c. 1530-1597)
Also known as Gráinne Mhaol, Grace O’Malley was a fearless pirate queen who ruled the 365 islands of Clew Bay for over 30 years. The notorious pirate was known for leading her loyal fleets over the ocean to terrorise the English yet, despite this, she still somehow managed to meet with Queen Elizabeth I. Legend has it that the day after the birth of her fourth child, the boat she was on came under attack – but it was she who won the battle. Despite her defiance, however, Grainne still suffered from misogynist laws, oppressive measures from the English and at the hands of vindictive men who were threatened by her influence. One thing that remained constant till the end, however, was her fierce determination, which is why she is a feminist legend and one of the most inspirational Irish women to date.
2. Dr James Barry (1789-1865).
It gives me the chills just thinking about what women could have achieved throughout history if they had not been shackled down by the patriarchy – or what perhaps they did achieve- and no one will ever know about. Margaret Ann Bulkley was a young Cork woman who assumed the identity of James Barry at the age of twenty to secure a place at Edinburgh University and then in the British Army. Barry had an incredibly successful career as a surgeon and eventually held the second-highest medical office in the British Army. Barry made significant improvements to public health, sanitation, nutrition and performed one of the first C-sections survived by both mother and child. Barry’s secret was only discovered after his/her death when Barry’s instructions to be buried without a body inspection were ignored. Despite Barry having lived life both publicly and privately as a man, Barry is considered the first British woman to practice medicine. Another woman would not practice for nearly 50 years, and a British transgender person would not practice medicine for another 100 years.
3. Veronica Guerin (July 1958 – June 1996)
Gurein was an accountant turned reporter who eventually worked for The Irish Times where she started writing about crime. She was fearless and diligent in her reporting and commitment to the truth, even when it put her personal safety was at risk. She formed close relationships with both criminals and Gardai, both of whom respected and held her in high esteem. However, when she began covering drug crimes in Dublin she started receiving death threats and several attempts were made on her life. In 1996 was fatally shot whilst stopped at a traffic light. The shooting caused national outrage in Ireland and today she is remembered as an inspirational Irish woman who stood by free speech and defended the truth, even in the face of death.
4. Dr Sinead Kane
Sinead Kane is a marathon runner of quite a unique calibre. She has a PhD in law and has completed a succession of impressive runs, including the World Marathon Challenge – an incredible feat where participants run seven marathons within seven days on seven different continents. Talk about attention-seeking much. But that is not what got Kane on this list, even though just hearing about that makes me want to prove my own worth by taking a seven-day nap. No, what makes Kane an inspirational woman is that, as well as being a PhD marathon runner, she is also 95% blind. Imagine doing all that running and not being able to focus on trees in the distance or judge the stupid ways people flap their arms when they run? Now that’s inspiration. Completing the World Marathon Challenge changed her own definition of boundaries, she told The Irish Times. Now I think we can all take a leaf out of this inspirational woman’s book when we’re about shut down an idea because it seems unachievable.
5. Sinead Diver
Well well, there must be something in the water because we’ve got another marathon runner called Sinead. In October 2019, Sinead Diver won the Melbourne Marathon in 2:25:19. Sure, she represents Australia when she runs but she’s still Irish – especially now that she’s set a course record, as well as beating her personal best by a whopping six minutes. It was the second-fastest marathon ever run by an Irish woman.
6. Ellie Kisyombé
Ellie Kisyombe is an incredibly inspirational woman who Ireland should be proud to call their own. She is the co-founder of a non-profit organisation called Our Table, an organisation whose mission is to generate conducive conversation, over food, about Direct Provision in Ireland and bring it to an end. Our Table provide migrants with employable skills, strengthens already existing culinary skills and offers a warm environment to those who may suffer at the hands of isolation. Ellie, an asylum seeker who spent five years in Direct Provision herself, is the first asylum seeker to have run in local elections. Despite some backlash, this inspirational Irish woman stuck to her guns. Keep up the amazing work Ellie – and to everyone else – check out Our Table’s website here. All are welcome.
7. Lisa McGee
She’s only responsible for having created the nation’s most talked-about sit-com this year and most-watched television show in Northern Ireland ever – take that, Father Ted. McGee’s sensational Derry Girls is based loosely on her own experiences growing up during The Troubles in Derry and her portrayal has clearly struck a chord with viewers, especially with her wonderfully dry humour. Responsible also for Golden Globe nominated The White Queen, and BAFTA-nominated Being Human, McGee definitely deserves a spot on this inspiration Irish women list. And as if all that wasn’t enough she was also named by the Radio Times as one of the most powerful people in British television (as well as making our inspirational Irish women list).
8. Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga is one of the inspirational Irish women tearing up the film and TV industry right now with her captivating performances. Starring in banger after banger, she is stealthily rising her way to the top. She has been nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes and for the BAFTA’s Rising Star award. Many know this Ethiopian-Irish girl from her award-winning performance in Loving, but I for one found this Irish gal worming her way into my heart during her portrayal of the fearless and badass Tulip O’Hare in AMC’s Preacher, starring alongside Dominic Cooper and fellow Paddy, Joe Gilgun.
9. Annie Mac
This incredibly talented BBC Radio star, Other Voices presenter and DJ is one of the most significant people in British radio and dance music, so significant in fact, that her name is now a brand. This inspirational Irish woman is the perfect example of how hard work and a positive attitude truly pays off. She is modest about her success and lifestyle too and would rather spend an evening having dinner with friends that she doesn’t get to see enough of than hobnobbing in the “vacuous” world of celebrity culture.
10. Ena Norris
Ena Norris is on our inspirational Irish women list because of her life’s dedication to combatting homelessness and addiction. She has worked for amazing organisations such as Dublin Simon, Merchants Quay Ireland and COPE Galway; she is now the CEO of Daisyhouse, an organisation that is dedicated to supporting women out of homelessness. Any vocation that helps the homeless is an incredible asset, particularly in Dublin these days, but with an increasing number of women facing homelessness each year in Ireland, the need for specialised services makes Daisyhouse even more special.