Blindboy, Naoise Dolan, Bressie, Ailbhe Smyth and more on what’s giving them hope for the year ahead

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It’s hard to feel hopeful about the world right now, but these writers, broadcasters, entertainers, entrepreneurs, activists and conservationists are reaching for the light

There are many reasons not to feel hopeful about the state of the world right now. But as January draws to a close, in order to search for light in the darkness, we’ve asked a number of people in Ireland what inspires hope in them today, and for the year ahead.

Seán Ronayne

Ornithologist documenting birdsong in Ireland
Magazine Hope feature: Sean Ronayne

Hope is essential to a happy and fulfilled life. Without it, there is nothing to drive us forward when times are tough, no dreams for a better future. This is especially true for those of us who are acutely aware of the severe environmental issues our landscape endures.

I often wish I did not see or understand these issues. It can be hard to switch off, as the reminders are everywhere. After returning home from a three-year stint in Catalunya, the homeland of my partner, it was a shock to see just how little wild space there really is in Ireland.

Seeing the stark lack of native tree cover, the profuse and incessant dousing of herbicides, the vast swathes of conifer plantations, the yearly butchering of hedgerows, the overgrazing and burning of our uplands, and the extensive jigsaw-pattern of intensively managed cow fields, meant that hope for the ecologically healthy future of our country was not a concept which existed in my head. I felt like nobody cared, and I felt alone in my worries. However, I was misguided.


In my journey to document all of Ireland’s bird sounds over the last three years, I discovered that there were many people working tirelessly to make a difference, and, better yet, there were even more people out there who cared. I first came to this realisation when I gave a short talk followed by a guided bird walk at Beyond the Pale, a music festival in Co Wicklow. After my talk, I fully expected just a handful of people to come along for the walk. It’s such a niche topic, and this was a festival where people came to party, not to look at birds – or so I thought.

To my amazement, we had a significant crowd, mostly young and hopeful, friendly faces – the future. I suddenly felt hugely uplifted. People do care. They just need to be engaged in the right way. Nature is so beautiful and so incredibly complex and fascinating. It’s something we ourselves are a part of, and we need to remember this, because we cannot live without it.

If this was communicated to people from a young age, we would see a real difference. Even something as simple as the nature table can make such a positive impact. When I was a child, we were encouraged to bring in an item for the nature table at school, and teach our classmates about that item. It was a direct connection to the education provided by nature.

When the dark cloud of dismay was lifted from my vision, I began to see many other symbols of hope: an increase in Irish corncrakes, a Minister who truly cares, and a book on Irish rewilding – Eoghan Daltun’s An Irish Atlantic Rainforest – that was a roaring national success. Times are tougher than ever for nature in Ireland but, despite it all, there is hope, and with this we can fuel those important positive steps forward in the road to recovery.

Ailbhe Smyth

A feminist and LGBTQ+ activist, codirector of the Together for Yes referendum campaign and a founding member of Marriage Equality
Magazine Hope feature: Ailbhe Smyth

The world is truly in a terrible state. Everywhere we turn there’s the brutality of war and destruction, of vitriol, hatred and violence directed at people and our planet, as well as the growing global reality of despotic and even fascistic rulers.

I live in hope; I’ve always lived in hope, of a kinder, more generous, equal and just world. That’s all the more important as we face into these present dangers and future threats. Hope isn’t a feeling, a dream or a vague aspiration. Having hope, living in hope, is a decision, a way of being and of doing. I have no time for optimism. I don’t believe that everything will somehow magically be all right just because I feel it. I believe, and I know from experience, that hoping is an action. It’s an act of will, a decision that requires you to get up and do something to make change happen.

I look around me and I see people everywhere refusing to do nothing, people who know that the status quo will stay exactly where it is unless they get out there and work and organise and march and fight for a different, better world – a world where profit-driven economies motivated by greed would be banished; where misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, racism, ableism and ageism and all that seeks to diminish, damage and destroy people and our habitat would be outlawed.

I see that hope when I am among the many thousands turning out on the streets week after week to call for an end to the war against Palestinians, and when I see the determination on the faces of the throngs of people – especially young people – rallying to protect our environment and to save our planet. I saw it when 50,000 people marched against racism in Ireland last year, demanding an Ireland for all.

It’s there in the work of organisations tackling far-right extremism, or those fighting for women’s rights, or working and fighting to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ people. I see that hope – although I know it’s tough going – in the work of all those fighting for respect and rights for disabled people, for the Traveller community, for all ethnic minorities, and for those who come to live here from elsewhere. And it’s there in our fight for the right of everyone to have a home, a decent wage, and support and care for all those who need it.

All that marching, working and organising doesn’t drop out of a deep blue sky. It’s because every day people decide, in an act of will, that they do not accept the world as it is. They do it because they believe that a better world is possible, a world more just and more respectful of the human condition. They do it because they have hope. We need a lot of people to be making that decision this minute, right now.

Niall Breslin

Musician, podcaster, mental health advocate, children’s author, TV presenter
Magazine Hope feature: Bressie

I have this blinding belief that Ireland could be a world leader on mental health. The Camhs [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] report came out in 2023. This country, with a population of five million, and a positive international reputation for the most part – why can’t we be the case study to build a systematic approach to proper child mental healthcare? I believe we can do it.

Ireland is very good at change. There are a lot of things we are not good at, but we are good at societal change, which is a really difficult thing to do. Many mechanics have to fall into place. We can call this a wet lava moment. It’s so hard to change when that lava is set and dry. My hope is that Ireland has the power, potential and belief to change, and to develop a proper system of child and adolescent mental health support. That Camhs report has to be a line in the sand.

I look at mental health in two ways: early prevention, and early intervention. It has to be resourced properly and it has to be funded properly. Children who are overwhelmed, and need to be assessed, [should be] assessed in the morning. A two-year waiting list is chronic. If you’re not intervening quickly, it’ll impact them for the rest of their lives. This is not rocket science. The issues are complex, the solutions are not. Ireland has written brilliant mental health policy – it just doesn’t implement it.

I don’t know who’s going to be in power next year, but hopefully for the first time, mental health will be an election issue.

  • Bressie’s podcast Where Is My Mind? goes on tour around Ireland in April. Details and tickets at

Jennifer Jennings

Theatre and festival maker
Magazine Hope: Jennifer Jennings

As a committed pessimist, this provocation made me realise there are plenty of things, big and small, that I am finding both hope and joy in. There’s the current extraordinary Irish/Celtic/pre-Celtic revival, with significant and growing passion for all things land, language, culture and custom. There’s Dublin City Council’s parks team quietly but radically transforming urban spaces. There’s the children’s winter concert in my 10-year-old son’s multicultural Educate Together school a few days after the Dublin riots.

But I’m mainly thinking about the hope and power embedded in the act of gathering. One of the legacies of the pandemic is that we are less inclined to gather. But this exacerbated atomisation, isolation and loneliness can lead us as a society to dark places. The lack of meaningful, in-real-life human connection is leaving us vulnerable to fear, lack of empathy, anger and all that can follow.

I’ve dedicated my entire working life to the idea of gathering. Specifically gathering through art and music. Our [Thisispopbaby’s] work – like all theatre, but perhaps a bit more than a lot of theatre – is very much in the business of gathering. The work only lives and breathes with hundreds of people in the room, hearts beating in time together, in an exhilarating act of co-creation between the audience and the performers.

You only have to come to a dress rehearsal of ours (for the large-scale cabaret-style work in particular), and be horrified at what might seem like a complete and utter flop, then return when it’s in front of an audience and witness the roof being blown off, to see how essential the gathering part is.

It’s a simple but powerful leveller. Having fun together. Being silly together. Grieving together. Moving through a night together. There is room for everybody at the party. And every time I am part of that, I think that this – simply gathering through art and music – is at the very root of changing the world.

Naoise Dolan

Magazine Hope feature: Naoise Dolan

My new-year hopes tend to be either dauntingly abstract or microscopically tiny. I am starting this year in a happy state of general uncertainty that I’ve never been able to enjoy in the past. It used to make me uneasy not knowing which country I’ll live in or what I’ll be doing there in five, 10, 20 years, but I’ve accepted now that the kind of life I want is one I’ll keep making up as I go along. (Maybe this isn’t particular to me – maybe all lives feel improvised to the person living them – but I’ll stick to speaking for myself.) So I am looking forward to playing my existence by ear in 2024. That’s the big, high, wispy cirrus cloud of optimism.

A few lower-floating, better-defined cumulus clouds: the stray cat who lives on my street in Berlin has been surviving the famously brutal winter quite admirably and I think will brave it out in to the spring. I’m writing my third novel and having a lot of fun with it. I’ve finally recovered the energy to maintain consistent contact with my friends (I went a bit feral in this respect during Covid). I’m becoming more comfortable politically with contributing spontaneously to causes I care about in the here and now rather than needing everything to offer a grand narrative for the future. And I am hopeful that at some point in the year I will learn how to use a bottle-opener. A bullish state of affairs, all in all.

  • The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan is out now in trade paperback

Blindboy Boatclub

Podcaster and author
Magazine Hope feature: Blindboy

In Greek mythology, Zeus and Prometheus were bored. They argued about whether or not they should create humans, as a sort of video game to entertain themselves. Prometheus was enthusiastic about the idea, but Zeus was very afraid that the humans might become more intelligent than their creators, the gods – a bit like ourselves today, when we worry about artificial intelligence becoming smarter than us and eventually destroying us.

Regardless, Zeus and Prometheus agreed to create humans. They were just too bored, they needed a plaything, so they made our world. But there was a catch. Zeus gifted a fancy-looking box to an early human called Pandora and told her never to open it. Her human curiosity and intelligence got the better of her, so she opened the box, and it released pain, self-doubt, anger, jealousy, anxiety, revenge and sadness into the world. These emotions would forever prevent the humans from becoming more powerful than the gods. Their world was filled with suffering as an inevitable facet of being alive.

But if life was so miserable, why did the humans keep striving to survive? Why didn’t they all self-destruct? Because the last item that Zeus put in Pandora’s box was “hope”. Hope kept the humans going in the face of it all. Zeus and Prometheus found this f**king hilarious. I think about that a lot.

  • Blindboy’s latest collection of short stories, Topographia Hibernica, is out now

Fatin Al Tamimi

Vice-chair of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Magazine Hope feature: Fatin Al Tamimi

More difficult than sadness, anger and oppression is our feeling of complete helplessness towards those we love, in offering anything that will stop this nightmare, or even wipe a tear from a loved one’s face. With Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, it’s incredibly scary times, but incredibly inspiring times also, of what we are capable of doing together.

What is inspiring me is the solidarity being shown from the ground up. People are coming together around the world, in millions, making generational change, demanding morality and an ending to the silence of leaders. From large marches to smaller vigils and poetry readings, more and more people are finding their voice for change.

Our continued and growing efforts show our Government the extent of the people of Ireland’s passion for Palestinian liberation. For the first time, so many more people can see the injustice being done to the Palestinian people. We can only end this injustice my people face daily in the occupied West Bank and in besieged Gaza – for the past 75 years – if we stand up and fight for a free Palestine, and an end to occupation. People can help that to happen by boycotting Israeli goods as consumers, and insisting our Government bans illegal settlement goods from our trade.

As Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza in December, said, “If I must die, let it bring hope, let it be a tale.” Hope is now carving its way to reality. South Africa, a nation that survived apartheid, is saving another nation that is being torn by it, being a beacon of hope and light for all humanity. South Africa’s genocide case against Israel may have revealed the light at the end of the tunnel. As Nelson Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Ireland helped to end apartheid in South Africa. We can do so again [in Israel].

Andrea Horan

Co-owner of Tropical Popical nail salon in Dublin, campaigns against commercial overdevelopment in Dublin city
Magazine Hope feature: Andrea Horan

My hope for Dublin is so underwhelming, it’s disheartening. It is upsetting that my hopes stretch to the mere basics of what a capital city should be, that the space for bigger hopes and dreams have to be put back in a filing cabinet of ambition until the very, very basics – all the boring stuff that make a city nice to be in such as seating, public toilets, cohesive rubbish disposal, fixing potholes with the matching materials of the street – are even considered.

However, if I had to really push through those feelings, my biggest hope is that a universal acceptance and understanding of the importance of aesthetics in a city would finally be reached and that we don’t regard it with such disdain. The way a city looks impacts how we feel in it, as well as affecting social cohesion, tourism, and the desire to live, shop and visit a place. Nobody – and I mean nobody – thinks yellow tarmac looks good.

Manchán Magan

Writer, broadcaster and board member of, a land regeneration charity, and Common Knowledge, a non-profit social enterprise
Magazine Hope feature: Manchan Mangan

I’m hopeful about the future of farming. Over the last few decades, I’ve felt that the beef and dairy industries (in cahoots with the Department of Agriculture) have kidnapped the landscape of this country, polluting our rivers with nitrate run-offs, transforming our lush meadowed landscape into a barren expanse of slurry-fed, fertiliser-enriched Italian rye grass that is devoid of wildlife and bulldozing the vital ecosystems of our hedgerows.

And so, it’s a matter of enormous hope for me to see the first signs of this annihilation of Ireland’s traditional environment begin to wane, with more enlightened, less financially rapacious policies being trialled by the EU and the Irish Government. Innovative new schemes are aimed at empowering small farmers to produce food and manage the land in more sustainable ways, to stop over-grazing the uplands, draining the lowlands, and cladding every remaining piece of semi-wilderness in spruce forests. Our ancestors have farmed sustainably on this island for millenniums. We know how to do it and, thank god, it seems we may no longer be in the thrall of the profit-obsessed schemers who have wiped out so much of the natural world on this island.

Conner Habib

Magazine Hope feature: Conor Habib

It is encouraging to see how many people, all over the world, are unfazed by propaganda, by arguing, by shallow both-sides arguments, and are uniting in the name of truth. By truth, I don’t mean the truth that is provided by mere information or punditry or analysis. I mean the true truth, the truth of peace. This is the truth that connects us to the moral fact that people everywhere deserve to live, to thrive, to fall in and out of love, to experience the challenges of life and encounter open visions of their futures. Another way of saying this is, people deserve to be fully human.

That is the truth. State violence is the antithesis of that. State violence against people is always a lie. And I am heartened not just by the hundreds of thousands of people everywhere marching and speaking up and setting up events and creating in the name of that truth, and against the lie, but that this committed proximity to truth is making us harder to sway, harder to fool, harder to turn us against our brothers and sisters and others in the name of the lie.

  • Conner Habib presents the podcast Against Everyone with Conner Habib, available on all podcasting platforms. His debut novel, Hawk Mountain, is out now

Brendan Courtney

Presenter and designer
Magazine Hope feature: Brendan Courtney

I’m hoping that 2024 is the year that I find my purpose. In the last five months, I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing and where I’m going. I’m very content, I’m very happy, but I feel there’s more I could do.

My mother is in a nursing home now. I’ve hosted bingo there, and it’s a lovely way to connect to people. They have dementia but they remember these old-school patterns that were drilled into us. The bingo was more fulfilling than anything I’ve done in years. I don’t know if I have the patience to be a carer, but, without navel-gazing, I want to do a load of self-reflection. What can I do that will fulfil me and make the world a bit better in some way, one bingo game at a time? I can create things, I know that, so I want to use that as a force.

Alison Curtis

Presenter of Saturday Breakfast on Today FM
Magazine Hope feature: Alison Curtis

Many people were left in shock over global and national events that happened last year. Ireland was moved to be vocal about the war in Ukraine and in Gaza. The very tragic and horrifying byproduct was the reaction here by a minority group who in vain are trying to “reclaim Ireland for the Irish”. But the bigger outcome is that more and more people are motivated to do more for the betterment of their own communities. I hear online and in person people talking about the importance of being kind, and I can only hope if that turns into action, things will be better for all.

Hazel Chu

Magazine Hope feature: Hazel Chu

On a bitter night two weeks ago, I knocked on a door and braced myself. It had just been confirmed that a local facility would be accommodating up to 220 asylum seekers, a decision many welcomed, but came on the back of the riots in the city and more recently an arson attack in Ringsend. Everyone was apprehensive as to the reaction. There was a lot of misinformation being pushed around, and the only way to counter that was to ensure people knew the facts.

What greeted me was totally unexpected. The person on the other side of the door not only had no issue with the centre but offered to help with anything the new residents would need. It brought me back to last summer, when a group protesting against a new singles centre in Ranelagh pedalled lies that it was full of “unvetted and illegal” males. Local residents came together to volunteer at the centre, and ensure the new residents were welcomed and became part of the community.

There are stories like this from Drimnagh to Ballymun, Westport to Newbridge. Where insidious groups have tried to infiltrate the community and failed, where new residents are welcomed, where those seeking refuge are not dehumanised, where we show the best of humanity and what it really means to be Irish.

  • Hazel Chu is a Dublin City Councillor for the Green Party and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin
Una Mullally

Una Mullally

Una Mullally, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column