Mná-inspiring: The trailblazing women who led way in 2021

It was a year filled with female achievements, writes Kathriona Devereux
Mná-inspiring: The trailblazing women who led way in 2021

BLAZING A TRAIL: Professor Linda Doyle became Trinity College’s first female Provost this year

IN the midst of all the lows of 2021, there were plenty of moments to celebrate too. It was a year with plenty of recognition of female achievement.

Here are some of the mná, both nationally and internationally, who impressed me this year.

Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns, from Cork. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns, from Cork. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Holly Cairns TD

The only woman representing the county of Cork, Cairns impressed in the Dáil throughout the year.

She regularly highlighted the inconsistencies with the Covid-19 restrictions in maternity hospitals that meant at one point mothers could birth a baby in the middle of Croke Park during the All-Ireland Final with their partner beside them but couldn’t have their partner with them in a maternity hospital until the final stages of labour.

Cairns’ pairing agreement with Minister Helen McEntee, to refrain from Dáil votes during McEntee’s maternity leave, showed up one of the major obstacles for women entering politics and also emphasised the female solidarity needed to change the system.

More recently, Cairns spoke strongly against attempts to start tinkering with Ireland’s abortion laws, saying: “The days of middle-aged men trying to control the bodies of young women are over.”

I look forward to seeing what Cairns does in her political career and hope there will be more women like her to vote for in upcoming elections.

Maria Ressa - Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa shared the 2021 Nobel Peace prize for “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Ressa co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism which has focused critical attention on Philippines President Duterte’s “war on drugs”, which has seen thousands of people killed for their supposed involvement in the drugs trade.

According to the Nobel Prize Committee: “The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population.”

Ressa has been arrested multiple times and her international legal counsel team is led by yet more impressive women, Irish-born QC Caoilfhoinn Gallagher and Amal Clooney. Women as brave as Maria Ressa deserve to be household names for all that they do.

Jockey Rachael Blackmore, The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2021. Picture: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Jockey Rachael Blackmore, The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2021. Picture: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Rachael Blackmore

Even though my knowledge of horse racing doesn’t extend much beyond watching Elizabeth Taylor in the 1944 classic film National Velvet, where Taylor’s character wins the Grand National only to be disqualified for dismounting too early, I watched Blackmore really winning the Grand National with a big smile on my face.

There’s nothing like seeing the glass ceiling shattering.

A documentary about Blackmore’s many achievements this year airs on RTÉ1 tomorrow night and promises to be an uplifting and inspiring watch. By all accounts, she is as lovely a person as she is a brilliant jockey and celebrating her achievements will be an hour well spent.

Professor Linda Doyle

Professor Doyle has smashed another glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to hold the post of Provost in Trinity College Dublin’s 429 year history.

From Togher Girls National School (my alma mater!) to St Angela’s secondary school to UCC and on to a successful academic career,

Doyle has been trailblazing a path her whole professional life and now has a ten year term to shape the direction of one of Ireland’s most prestigious institutions.

She’s not the only woman leading a university in Ireland. Professor Maggie Cusack is the first female President of Munster Technology University and Professor Kerstin Mey is the first female President of University of Limerick.

There’s smashed glass all over the place!

Olympic Gold Medallist Kellie Harrington. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile 
Olympic Gold Medallist Kellie Harrington. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile 

Kellie Harrington

“Hakuna Matata”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a motto”

“What’s a motto?”

“I don’t know, what’s the motto with you?!”

This humdinger of a joke is on constant repeat in my house thanks, in no small part, to Kellie Harrington. My children knew the Hakuna Matata song from The Lion King movie but it was Harrington’s winning philosophy that caught the attention of Irish children and adults alike during the Tokyo Olympics.

Harrington’s gold medal propelled her to national treasure status where she is likely to stay for the generation who got up early and watched and admired her sporting brilliance coupled with her positive outlook on life.

Aisling Bea - Actor, Writer, Comedian

Bea’s Channel 4 series This Way Up was an enjoyable mix of fun and humanity and with two Irish women as central characters, it felt like a series that was entirely believable.

Bea is immensely talented - a great writer and actor - and is destined for great things. What I really love about her is that she uses her profile for good, pointing her sizable 650,000 Instagram followers to charities, not for profit social enterprises and eco conscious brands.

She advocates wearing vintage, borrowed and second hand clothes and cruelty free make-up products and appears to be a thoroughly sound girl from Kildare.

Emily Hegarty, bronze medal winner in rowing at the Tokyo Olympics at Skibbereen rowing club on the bank of the River Ilen. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Emily Hegarty, bronze medal winner in rowing at the Tokyo Olympics at Skibbereen rowing club on the bank of the River Ilen. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Women’s Rowing 4

Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty are the first Irish female rowers to secure Olympic medals - and only the second ever Irish female crew to compete in an Olympic final, pipping Britain for the bronze medal prize. Skibbereen woman Emily Hegarty took the final seat on the boat to make up the winning combination.

The Women’s Four course is a 2,000m race which takes about 225 strokes to complete. Three of the four rowers studied science at university and after the Olympics they calculated they did about 27 hours of training for each stroke in the Olympic final. For sheer hard physical work, these women impressed me.

Much of women’s work in society is unseen and unacknowledged so it is good to salute the breakthrough performances or noteworthy contributions, but I also salute all the women who work hard with little recognition or fanfare.

I hope that 2022 brings all women health, happiness and equality.

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