50 people to watch in 2023: Ireland's brightest young talent

Published date07 January 2023
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
by Donald Clarke

Tara O'Callaghan


Like a lot of resourceful filmmakers, Tara O'Callaghan, a chatty woman from Phibsborough, made the most of lockdown. Fascinated by how public online sex work had become at that time, she set out to make a documentary on the subject. O'Callaghan ended up focusing her short film on a charismatic, unapologetic woman named Sinead O'Connell. "I've never heard a story like hers," O'Callaghan says. "Starting her online sex work career in her 40s after four kids." Eventually titled Call Me Mommy, the film – winner of best short documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh – ended the year as a selection for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. There is no better place to launch a career in independent film than the Utah event. "Oh, my God, it's everything!" she agrees. "It's something that I'm still trying to process. I feel like I'm dreaming and I still haven't woken up." A force for the future.

Orén Kinlan


When I ask John Carney, director of Once and Sing Street, if there is any fresh talent worth watching in his new film, he does not pause. "Absolutely! Orén Kinlan. Absolutely terrific," he enthuses. Son of the busy actor Laurence Kinlan, the 15-year-old appears opposite Eve Hewson, Jack Reynor and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Carney's eagerly anticipated "sort of musical" Flora and Son. "It follows the relationship between a mother and her son, and the many other people within Flora's life," Kinlan says. He goes on to tell me he had done a few auditions in the past but he'd been "quite unlucky with them". Kinlan was emerging from an exam when his dad told him he had a shot at Flora and Son. "Before I knew it, I'd got the part." How does Carney draw such strong performances from young actors? "There is a lot of coming up with it on the spot," he says. "He has so much information to share."

Faoileann Cunningham


"I can honestly say that when I was auditioning for Rada I think I had seen one professional play," Faoileann Cunningham tells me. "And I don't think I had ever met a professional actor in my life." She goes on to clarify that she had great support at home in Co Cork, but she motored to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London with limited experience. Rada knew what it was at. Cunningham subsequently toured with the musical version of Amélie, directed by Michael Fentiman, and landed a significant role in The Witcher: Blood Origin on Netflix. In 2023, she kicks up to the premier league as a core cast member on the HBO Max series Dune: The Sisterhood, prequel to Frank Herbert's epic science fiction yarn. Speaking to me from the shoot in Budapest, Cunningham acknowledges she is not allowed to reveal much about the plot. "Oh, very, very little," she says. We shan't press her.

Desmond Eastwood


We may already be at a stage where we can refer to a wave of Irish actors as the "Normal People generation". Desmond Eastwood, who played Connell's flatmate in that series, is the latest to edge towards the big time. "It was such an incredible project to be a part of, to be part of such a young cast. Yeah, it was just a really exciting time for everyone," he says. The Lisburn man, who studied law at Queen's University Belfast, will, in 2023, appear opposite Irish acting royalty in two major films. The Last Rifleman features Pierce Brosnan. In the Land of Saints and Sinners features (deep breath) Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Ciarán Hinds, Sarah Greene and Colm Meaney. "Rubbing shoulders with these guys was just an unforgettable experience," he says. "One that motivates you and inspires you to keep working hard and to get to their level."

Niamh McCormack


I catch Niamh McCormack, suddenly ubiquitous Dublin actor, shortly after she touches down on home turf for a brief visit from her base in London. "I am from inner-city Dublin. I have lived here my whole life," she says. McCormack studied at the Bow Street Academy but only a few months after she left, COVID hit. She found she still worked "a lot" during lockdown and ended up on The Witcher for Netflix and Willow for Disney+. Her big gig in 2023 is a series currently called The F**k It Bucket, also on Netflix (we're betting the title may change). The show, set in London, centres on the travails of a young woman emerging from an eating-disorder clinic. "It's about her introduction back into society, how her peers are reacting and all the complexities of growing up," McCormack says. "Most of my work has been in international waters, but I'll always come back home."


by Andrea Cleary

Michael Fry & Killian Sundermann

Internet comedians

Ireland's favourite internet comedians Michael Fry and Killian Sundermann have been busy over the past few years. Anybody with a Twitter, Instagram or TikTok account is sure to have come across the pair's character sketches, which include anything from reviews of local hedges to musical covers of iconic pop culture moments (Fry has two albums available on Spotify – Viral Bangers and Internet Mash, Volumes One and Two). He has also appeared in the television series Derry Girls and the adaptation of Graham Norton's best-seller Holding. It's rare to find a couple of comedians who broke out without ever having performed a live set, but Fry and Sundermann have already translated brilliantly to the stage. If you can't wait for their live shows in 2023, they feature in the comedy sketch series No Worries If Not on the RTÉ Player.

Fearghal Curtis

Opera singer, podcast producer and host of The Curtis Cabaret

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Fearghal Curtis, opera singer, podcast producer and host (Let's Talk About The Arts) and now Ireland's very own Mein Herr quietly launched a cabaret evening in Dublin's Sugar Club in late 2022. The Curtis Cabaret is a celebration of Dublin's queer culture, of the joy of difference, and of building community. Tenor Ross Scanlon, drag artist Wren Dennehy (AKA Avoca Reaction) and Before Brunch podcast hosts Cassie Delaney and Megan Cassidy are among those who have appeared at the cabaret so far, and the plan for 2023 is to continue building this community alongside Dublin's vibrant queer scene. Expect glamorous costumes, exceptional vocals and, most importantly, a bit of fun.

Katja Mia

Presenter, Ireland AM

Ireland's early birds will soon meet a new host of Virgin Media's long-running morning show, Ireland AM. Model, influencer and entertainment reporter Katja Mia is getting ready to take on the weekend shows after a long-standing dream of television presenting – her Twitter bio describes her as an "aspiring presenter". After leaving her job in finance during the COVID-19 pandemic to focus on building a career where her passions lie, she signed with a modelling agency and started presenting fashion and entertainment news on Ireland AM as well as working as a brand ambassador for Penneys and H&M. Black Irish women are vastly underrepresented both on Irish TV and in the Irish beauty industry, and Mia will be a welcome change for those who rarely see people who look like them on screen.

Andy Gaffney

Promenade podcast

Short, sweet and evocative audio production doesn't come better than Promenade, the brainchild of Andy Gaffney, host and founder of The Shift podcast network. The show's first season brought home awards from Irish, British and New York podcast festivals. The premise is simple: a guest is asked to explore a memory from their life that is triggered by a "thing"; it could be the sound of the sea, the wicked witch of the west from The Wizard of Oz, or a bar of Imperial Leather soap. Each episode is short (between four and 16 minutes) and hones in on the fleeting stir of a memory evoked in passing. These are beautifully produced stories that will burrow their way into your heart. The second season is due in 2023.

Fionnuala Jay

Presenter, comedian and Flop Culture podcast host

Presenter, podcast host and comedian Fionnuala Jay is one of the funniest people on this island. Her previous podcast, Bandwagons, fostered a devoted following with chaotic, brilliant live shows across the country, while her Instagram stories breaking down the scenes on reality TV series including Love Island and Love is Blind are unmissable (even if you don't watch the shows). Flop Culture is Jay's latest project, in which she and a guest delve into pop culture's biggest flops – think Lindsay Lohan's B-movies, Fade Street and Madonna's American Life album – to reassess their place in pop culture history. The podcast is due to return for season two in late January.


by Andrea Cleary

Lucy Rice

Last Apollo

Dublin-based artist Lucy Rice embarked on her first solo venture in the depths of the COVID-19 lockdown. After years spent playing in bands, feeling as though she was losing her identity in the music of others, she decided to undergo a period of reflection and self-reclamation in order to find her own sound. Good thing she did – the Last Apollo project is vibrant with the anxieties of youth passed through a lens of interstellar travel. Singles Reservoir and Moon Boots blend reflective pop with her background in classical music and she has since played a sold-out headline show at Whelan's as well as appearing at the Trinity Ball. With a couple of EPs on the way in 2023, as well as plenty of live shows, Last Apollo is a young artist with her sights set on the stars.

Ailbhe Reddy

After releasing her debut album, Personal History, in 2020 Ailbhe Reddy has played a headline show at Dublin's Button Factory, appeared on The Late Late Show and been a draw for festivals across the country. In 2022 she released an EP of upcoming tracks from...

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