Ireland: the next generation

Which Irish people will influence Ireland – and the world – in the coming years? These 22 twentysomethings are likely contenders

Saoirse Ronan


Considering what she has achieved already it’s hard to believe that Saoirse Ronan is just 22. Since her brilliantly sinister Oscar-nominated role in Atonement Ronan has avoided the gaze of tabloids and TMZ with a low public profile, emerging only for charming talkshow interviews that often focus on her Irishness. After a fallow period she regained her footing with The Grand Budapest Hotel and, more recently, Brooklyn, for which she received her second Oscar nomination. She has broken from film to take a role on Broadway in The Crucible, where she has been lauded by cast and critics alike.



Bonzai is one of many young musicians making their names abroad and not waiting around to develop a home-grown fan base. The Drumcondra rapper Rejjie Snow is doing big things in the UK and the US; Krystal Klear has quietly become one of Ireland’s most successful DJs and producers; Eden has signed to the company of Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun; and Otherkin and Wyvern Lingo are getting plenty of support outside of Ireland. But Bonzai is an intriguing up-and-coming vocalist whose collaborations with Mura Masa have won serious kudos. The 20-year-old’s set at Glastonbury this summer showed the level of interest that she’s garnering away from our shores.


Patrick and John Collison


Patrick and John Collison are the Limerick entrepreneurs behind Stripe, the online payment company valued at at least $5 billion. Millionaires in their teens following the sale of Auctomatic, they have been even more successful with Stripe, as the Collisons foresaw that mobile payments would become big business. According to Forbes, Stripe is now processing about $20 billion in payments a year.

John Connors

Actor and film-maker

John Connors came to prominence with serious acting chops in the RTÉ television series Love/Hate, but it was an interview on The Late Late Show in which he really showed his intellect and talent for activism. I Am Traveller, Connors’s documentary for RTÉ, was led by his sensitive and insightful presenting skills, and he became a voice of compassion when detailing the horrific tragedy at the Carrickmines halting-site fire in which 10 people died. He has also cowritten the feature film Cardboard Gangsters, set in his home of Darndale, in Dublin.

Anna Cosgrave


The noise around the Repeal the 8th movement is becoming increasingly amplified in the wake of the 2015 marriage-equality referendum, which showed young people that they can change the world. Singling out one person in what is generally a grassroots movement of collectives might be unfair, but Anna Cosgrave’s Repeal Project deserves a special mention. She conceived a simple design and shifted thousands of sweatshirts. Using stark black-and-white imagery, the Repeal Project partnered with the Abortion Rights Campaign - the organisation that receives the proceeds from the jumper sales - and proved that sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

Zach Desmond

Music promoter

For a small country, Ireland is a serious contender when it comes to world-class live music. A packed commercial landscape features the “big two” promoters - MCD and Aiken - but it’s MCD that has the largest arsenal of events and shows, from small-room gigs to stadiums. Zach Desmond, son of Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey, is a smart promoter with increasing influence. He oversaw one of the greatest successes in recent years, the top-class festival Longitude. Desmond shuns press coverage, focusing instead on the graft it takes to put concerts and festivals together.

Kevin Dillon

Political adviser

Kevin Dillon’s presence on the periphery of the Government formation talks in May is unusual for a young party operative, but as a senior research and policy officer with Fianna Fáil he is a behind-the-scenes youngster who can influence the party’s major decisions. With Fianna Fáil’s power and popularity on the up again, it’s as good a position as any to occupy in Irish politics right now.

Grace Dyas

Theatre maker

With THEATREclub Grace Dyas has emerged as an experimental theatre maker strong on social justice. The company - Dyas, Shane Byrne, Doireann Coady, Gemma Collins, Lauren Larkin, Barry O’Connor and Eoin Winning - has become a centre of issue-led theatre. This September their show on sex work, The Game, plays in Australia. A new show, It’s Not Over, is part of Dublin Theatre Festival in October. And in November they make their Abbey debut, on the Peacock stage, with The Ireland Trilogy (The Family, HEROIN and HISTORY). Dyas and THEATREclub’s bold statements are not limited to caps-lock names.

Emma Fraser and Dean Ryan McDaid

Fashion entrepreneurs

Emma Fraser and Dean Ryan McDaid’s agency, Not Another, pulls the Irish model cliche out of the promotions trail and on to the runway. Their keen eye is matched by an entrepreneurial spirit rooted in a love for style over fashion. McDaid and Fraser’s partnership also covers photography and online retail (and they contribute to The Ticket). Their vintage store, Nine Crows, continues to expand, with a new store in Galway and a flagship store shortly returning to Temple Bar, in Dublin

Simon Harris


The surprise appointment of the 29-year-old Fine Gael politician as Minister for Health saw Harris morph from rising star into new establishment overnight. Harris has a reputation for working hard and being on top of his brief; can he do a decent job at Health, a ministry that has proved to be a poisoned chalice for so many politicians? Since becoming the youngest member of the 31st Dáil, in 2011, Harris has impressed in less obvious ways than other Fine Gael new(ish) schoolers, such as Leo Varadkar, Paschal Donohoe and Simon Coveney, but he is now centre stage.

Robbie Henshaw


In the vacuum that followed Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement, everyone wanted some new kid on the block to fill the space left by that giant of Irish rugby. The pressure fell unfairly on the shoulders of the 23-year-old Athlone man Robbie Henshaw. Fans might be less excited by slow development, but Henshaw’s try against England in last year’s RBS 6 Nations signalled his arrival on the international stage, and his performance in the World Cup that followed cemented it. In public life he has wisely kept a low profile, under the guidance of the agency Silver Hatch Sports.



Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s career began with an astonishing video accompanying the brilliant Take Me to Church, in 2013. The Bray 26-year-old then hit the road for a solid two years, and racked up Ivor Novello and Billboard awards, as well as a Grammy nomination in 2015. Hozier’s talent as a singer, songwriter and guitarist is matched by his intelligence and thoughtful demeanour. Even between albums the spotlight finds him. He has a track, Better Love, on the Legend of Tarzan soundtrack, and a modelling campaign with John Varvatos.

Seána Kerslake


A graduate of the Factory, in Dublin, Seána Kerslake was the most compelling thing in Kirsten Sheridan’s chaotic film Dollhouse. Her performance in A Date for Mad Mary has been lauded in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and television audiences will soon see her in Stefanie Preissner’s RTÉ series Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope. Irish male actors often get all the credit, but Kerslake is coming to the fore on the shoulders of Sarah Greene, Ruth Negga, Charlie Murphy and Caitriona Balfe - and a generation of actors that should expect more quality roles for women in Irish cinema and television.

Conor McGregor


Along with Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor is Ultimate Fighting Championship’s main star. Unashamed about his quest to build a brand around himself that is bigger than the organisation he fights in, the 28-year-old has pulled a niche sport into the mainstream. With the sale of the majority stake in the UFC organisation from Zuffa to WME-IMG earlier this year, for $4 billion, McGregor is the most marketable male fighter in UFC, and his desire for a slice of that pie is bolstered as much by his verbal prowess as by his athleticism. His brand and personality now loom as large as his ambition.

Rory McIlroy


It’s four years since Rory McIlroy won the US Open with a record score, blasting him into a stratosphere that few Irish sportspeople have ever reached. The impact that McIlroy has had on golf has as much to do with the expectations put on the 27-year-old Co Down man as anything else. His deal with Nike in 2013 was said to be worth between $100 million and $250 million - one of the biggest in any sport globally. The kerfuffle over the Olympics showed how much the sport needs stars, and McIlroy is one of the brightest.

Sean McLoughlin


Seán McLoughlin, aka JackSepticEye, is a YouTube star who focuses on video games, posting a couple of videos a day. They quickly rack up hundreds of thousands of views. With his high-pitched “top of the mornin’ to ya, laddies” greeting, and dyed green hair, McLoughlin’s frantic and frenetic presenting style has earned him nearly 12 million subscribers and more than five billion views on YouTube. There are plenty of pretenders to the “social-media influencer” crown in Ireland, but McLoughlin’s numbers are astonishing.

Annalise Murphy


The Olympic silver medal that Murphy won in Rio tasted all the sweeter since her lonely fourth-place finish at the London games, four years ago. The medal is the culmination of a strong performance in youth sailing over the past decade - Murphy is the primary role model for young people already in the sport, or seeking to move up to a higher level within it. Along with the O’Donovan brothers, Murphy showed that Irish athletes can excel on water, and in disciplines where victories were previously few. The country is already looking forward to what successes the 26-year-old can achieve in Tokyo, at the summer games of 2020.

Joanne O’Riordan


Joanne O’Riordan’s philosophy of “no limbs, no limits” is a consequence of her being one of seven people in the world living with tetra-amelia syndrome: the absence of all four limbs. Her spirited appearances on The Late Late Show captivated the Irish public, as did her campaigning for disability funding. This year the 20-year-old from Cork became the youngest ever grand marshal at Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parade, cementing her position as an inspirational figure in a world where that tag is bandied around far too much.

Simone Rocha

Fashion designer

Since her debut at London Fashion Week, in 2010, Simone Rocha has traded on both coolness and consistency in terms of quality and on the much-desired ability to surprise with each season. Rocha manages to harness the most elusive of goals in her collections: to be both delicate and edgy. The diversity of her collections shows the pool of ideas that she’s drawing from - the dark textures of autumn-winter 2015 flipped a year later to the whimsical embroidery of autumn-winter 2016. A year after her J Brand collaboration she opened her first shop in London, having also been stocked in some of the most prestigious stores worldwide: Colette, Dover Street Market, and Bergdorf Goodman.

Iseult Ward

Social entrepreneur

Along with Aoibheann O’Brien, Ward’s startup FoodCloud tapped into an ingenious idea: connect the businesses that have too much food to charities that have too little. FoodCloud solves a problem, is community-focused, and crosses several social-entrepreneurial categories: food waste, charity, poverty, and technology-based solutions. The firm has partnered with Opel Ireland to deliver 2.3 million meals to 250 charities in 12 months. FoodCloud now has a network of 500 retail stores and 1,100 charities, including Tesco and Aldi.