This year is the 110th anniversary since International Women’s Day was first observed and this year’s campaign theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ gives us the chance to remind ourselves of the contribution so many Galway women have made to our lives from politics and business to music, from sport and theatre to fashion and from TV and film to literature. Strong, successful women who chose to challenge and with that challenge brought about change.
We think of musical icons like Dolores Keane from Caherlistrane, whose unique voice and extraordinary talent earned her the admiration of music lovers all around the world. Known as the ‘Voice of Ireland’, Dolores was the first vocalist with De Dannan, while her solo recordings of Caledonia and Never be the Sun endure to this day. She was also part of the record breaking Woman’s Heart collection.
Mary Coughlan is another such icon who burst onto the scene when her first record ‘Tired and Emotional’ became a huge success in 1985. Renowned for her Jazz and Blues sound, Mary was also versatile and three years later she made her acting debut in Neil Jordan’s High Spirits. Despite many setbacks in her personal and professional life, Mary’s determination shone through and her latest album Life Stories was released last year to critical acclaim.
Eimear Noone from Kilconnell made international headlines in 2020 when she became the first female orchestral conductor to perform during an Oscar’s awards ceremony. Having received a degree in music from Trinity college, Eimear moved to Los Angeles in 2004 where she has written music for 26 film and video game titles.
Aoife Mulholland became a West End musical star after her star turn on the BBC TV show ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ Her performances greatly impressed Andrew Lloyd Webber and led to Aoife being cast as Roxy in the West End production of Chicago at the end of 2006. The following year she took on the role of Maria in the Sound of Music and was also cast in Legally Blonde up to the end of 2010.
In the highly competitive world of fashion, Galway milliner Edel Ramberg has forged quite a reputation in less than a decade in business. Her hats and head pieces have adorned guests heads at royal weddings and regularly feature at best dressed events at race meetings all over the world.
Galway women have blazed a trail in radio and television broadcasting for decades, but perhaps the arrival of TG4 in 1996 opened the door for many to showcase their talent who otherwise might not have been given the opportunity. The Seoighe sisters from Spiddalare household names, with older sister Grainne forging a career that included stints in RTE, Sky, BBC and ITV and younger sibling Sile progressing from TG4 weather girl to several presenter roles in RTE.
One of the hottest properties on TV at the moment is Oranmoreactress Nicola Coughlan. Her performances as Clare Devlin in the Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls earned her instant popularity in 2018 and her stellar rise to fame continued when she was cast as Penelope in the Netflix period drama Bridgerton which premiered last December.
Renmore native Cathy Belton is a familiar face to fans of the TV show Red Rock, in which she has played Patricia Hennessy since 2015. A graduate of Trinity college, Cathy has appeared in a wide range of stage productions at the Abbey and Gate theatres, while her film credits include The Tigers Tail and Intermission.
Pauline McLynn will forever be associated with the iconic character Mrs Doyle from Fr Ted, but there are many more strings to this talented ladies’ bow. Educated at the Mercy Convent in Galway, Pauline went on to graduate from Trinity collegewhere she joined the student drama society. Apart from the extensive work on TV, film and stage, Pauline has published 8 best selling novels.
Nora Jane Noone rose to prominence for her debut role as Bernadette in the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, a performance that earned her a British Independent Film Award. She also co-starred in The Descent and Savage and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at both the 2005 and 2010 Irish Film and Television Awards. Her TV credits include season 1 of the Jack Taylor series.
Women’s rugby in Ireland got a huge shot in the arm in 2013 when Claire Molloy was part of the team that won a first ever Grand Slam. A year later they famously beat New Zealand at the World Cup and went on to repeat their Grand Slam heroics in 2015. Claire had the honour of captaining Ireland at the 2017 World Cup and is a qualified doctor, having studied in Cardiff University.
In terms of sporting trailblazers, few Galway women can match Killannin’s Niamh Fahey. A key ladies footballer for the Galway senior team in 2004, Niamh’s talent at soccer led to a move to Arsenal in 2008 and in her first season she won the domestic treble. Capped 92 times by the Republic of Ireland, Niamh is currently the Liverpool captain.
Galway has produced many brilliant ladies footballers over the years, but in terms of leadership, longevity and excellence Annette Clarke has few peers. The Kilkerrin Clonberne midfielder captained Galway to their only All Ireland senior success in 2004 and is still a major influence for her all conquering club. The TG4 series Laochra Gael featured Annette on an episode in 2016.
One of the most memorable sporting photographs of 2013 was that of Galway camogie star Thérèse Maher on her knees, head in hands as she wept with joy at the final whistle of the All Ireland camogie final against Kilkenny. Galway’s victory ended 16 years of Therese trying to win an elusive All Ireland medal and her story was also captured brilliantly in the most recent series of Laochra Gael.
Olive Loughnane has appeared as a race Walker at an incredible four Olympic Games and the Loughrea Athletic Club star won a gold medal at the 2009 world championships after the later disqualification of a Russian athlete. After her retirement in 2013, Olive became a member of the board of Sport Ireland.
Galway women have left their mark on the national political stage as well. Only last year Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly became the first woman to be elected Leas Ceann Comhairle of the Dail. Sinn Fein’s Mairead Farrell, Fianna Fail’s Anne Rabbitte and Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton are also part of the 36 female TDs in the current Dail.
Marie Geoghegan Quinn is a former Fianna Fail politician and Carna native who held three senior cabinet posts and three junior ministries in a 22 year career as a TD which almost ended up with her becoming Taoiseach. She subsequently went on to become a European Commissioner and only last week was appointed as chairperson of NUI Galway’s governing authority Udaras na hOllscoile.
Milltown native Mary Mitchell O’Connor was elected a Fine Gael TD for the Dun Laoighaire constituency from 2011 to 2020 and served as cabinet minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation as well as Minister of State for Higher Education.
Ahascragh native Mary Harney moved to Dublin when she was a child and she would go on to become Ireland’s first female Tainiste in 1997, the first woman to lead a party in Dail Eireann as leader of the Progressive Democrats from 1993 and is the longest ever serving female TD. She is also a former Minister for Health and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Catherine Corless from Brownesgrove, just outside Tuam, has become renowned for her work in compiling the information concerning the deaths of children at the Tuam Mother and Baby home. Her work as a historian saw her receive many awards in recent years, including an honorary doctorate from NUIG in 2018.
In the world of business, few Galway women have done more in the past six decades to promote their city and county than Mary Bennett of the Treasure Chest. In 2019, Mary became only the fifth person ever to receive honorary life membership of Galway Chamber, having already received the freedom of Galway in 2011 and a Rehab Person of the Year award.
Loughrea woman Chanelle McCoy is best known as an investor from the TV series Dragons Den. Married to well-known jockey Tony McCoy, Chanelle co-founded Chanelle Medical which is part of the global pharmaceutical group founded by her father Michael Burke and then started her own healthcare company Pure is in 2015.
Siobhan McKenna is acknowledged as one of Ireland’s greatest actresses and leading cultural figures. Although born in Belfast, Siobhan moved to Galway as a young child and began her acting career in the Taibhdhearc, before moving on to the Abbey and then international acclaim. She was the first Irish actor to win a Tony Award in 1956. Her career is archived on display in NUIG and she has a road named in her honour in the Westside of the city.
Isabella Augusta Persse, or Lady Gregory, was an Irish dramatist and theatre manager who was born at Roxborough, near Kilchreest, in March 1852. She became a lifelong friend of WB Yeats and co-founded the Abbey Theatre with the intention of writing, producing and performing plays about Irish life for Irish people. She is widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures in the Irish literary revival of the early 20th century.
Garry Hynes is one of the co-founders of the Druid Theatre company alongside the late Mick Lally and Marie Mullen. The trio had met and worked together in the UCG drama society and by 1979 had acquired a theatre building in the city centre. Garry has been the artistic director of Druid from its formation until 1991 and from 1995 to the present day. In between, she spent four years as artistic director of the Abbey. In 1998, Garry became the first woman to win a Tony Award for Best Director for her work on The Beauty Queen of Leenane. In 2006 she was awarded the Freedom of Galway City.
There’s an outstanding wealth of female talent in our city and county today, so, our list here will never be definitive, but it’s not bad for a start!
Let’s hear it for Mná na Gaillmhe – Maith Thú!!!
- Alice Perry, Engineer, the first woman in Ireland to be awarded an degree in engineering
- Siobhan McKenna, renowned Irish stage and screen actress
- Olive Loughnane – 4 time Olympian, world gold medalist racewalker
- Rita Ann Higgins – Poet
- Lady Augusta Gregory, Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager.
- Maureen Kenny, Book collector and seller
- Michelene Sheehy Skeffington, Botanist and equality campaigner
- Margaret Athy, founder of Galway’s Augustine Friary
- Nicola Coughlan, Actress
- Garry Hynes, Tony award winning theatre director
- Suzanne McClean, Counselling psychologist and founder of Rosabel’s Rooms
- Dolores Keane, Irish folk singer and occasional actress
- Nora Barnacle, muse and wife of James Joyce
- Marie Mullen, Tony award winning actress, co-founder of Druid Theatre
- Marie Rita Whelan, first woman to hold the office of Attorney General in Ireland
- Chanelle McCoy, Pharma expert and Dragon’s Den judge
- Mother Mary Bonaventure Brown, Poor Clare nun, abbess, and Irish historian.
- Aoife Mulholland, West End musical star
- Catherine Corless, local historian and campaigner
- Grainne Seoige, Irish journalist, news anchor and documentary and entertainment television presenter
- Ger Treacy, TV presenter, Irish sports journalist
- Evelyn O’Toole, founder and chief executive of Complete Laboratory Solutions
- Eimear Noone, first female orchestral conductor to perform during an Oscar’s awards ceremony
- Claire Molloy, Rubgy star
- Sile Seoige, documentary and entertainment television presenter
- Catherine Connolly – Independent TD and Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
- Sinead Cassidy, Award winning Marketing Manger at Galway Races
- Máire Geoghegan Quinn, politician, European Commissioner, Member of the European Court of Auditors
- Niamh Fahey, Footballer now with Liverpool FC
- Pauline McLynn, Irish Actress and Author
- Sabina Higgins, First Lady of Ireland
- Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Politician
- Cathy Belton, Actress
- Mary Coughlan, renowned Jazz and Blues artist
- Mary Bennett, Business woman and a true Ambassador of Galway
- Mary Harney, first female Taniste, Minister for Health and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
- Catherine Connolly, first female Leas Ceann Comhairle of the Dail.
- Therese Maher, Camogie star
- Nora Jane Noone, TV and Film Actress
- Annette Clarke, Gaelic Football star