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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
20 under 20

20 Under 20: Ireland's brightest and most inspirational rising stars

The entrepreneurs, inventors, entertainers and leaders of the future.

IMAGINE TRYING TO run a company, write a book, or act in a film with only a handful of years on your shoulders. Now add that to the stress of doing the Leaving or Junior Cert at the same time and you will have some idea of how hard the following young people had to work.

We here at have compiled a list of the most extraordinary young people under the age of 20 in Ireland to highlight amazing achievements and success stories from those still in their formative years.

They range from writers, activists and entrepreneurs to actors, musicians and sport stars. This list is not exhaustive though, so if you feel we’ve left anybody out, let us know in the comments.

So, in alphabetical order, here is’s list of the 20 under 20.

1. Eilís Barrett

Eilis barrett Mark Nixon Mark Nixon

17 year-old Eilís Barrett from rural Galway published her first novel in 2016 which she had been working on since she was 14.

Published by Gill Books, Oasis is a young adult novel about a teenager who lives in the dystopian future world which was created after a virus drove mankind to the brink of extinction. Not content to rest on her laurels, Eilís has already written the follow-up, which is due to be published in March.

2. Edel Browne

Edel Browne is the 19-year-old founder of Free Feet Medical, a medical device company aimed at developing technology to help people with Parkinson’s disease.

Edel’s company is currently developing a device which reduces gait freezing, a very common symptom of the disease.

Edel herself is a third-year biotechnology student at NUI Galway. She previously won the Best Individual Award at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in 2013, and late last year she came second in Accenture’s innovation challenge.

3. Luke Byrne 

NO FEE 1 Student Enterprise SENIOR WINNER Mark Stedman / Luke Byrne with his Headphone Helpers Mark Stedman / /

17-year-old Luke Byrne came up with a solution to a tedious problem everybody has had at some point: tangled headphones.

His idea, which is called the Headphone Helper, arose from his own frustration of his headphones getting tangled when he was out running. He came up with a silicone band which is worn around the neck and which has loops to thread the earphone wire through to prevent them from getting tangled or falling to the ground when running or walking.

For his invention, Luke won the senior category at the National Student Enterprise Awards of 2015/2016 which is run by Local Enterprise Offices and he is currently negotiating with a major Irish retailer to stock his invention.

4. Rosie Carney

Rosie Carney / YouTube

Rosie Carney is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter living in Downings in Donegal.

Rosie, who is originally from Hampshire in the UK, burst onto the scene after performing at Other Voices and gone from strength to strength, performing in venues in Belfast, Dublin, London, New York and Los Angeles.

She released her debut single in March of this year entitled What You’ve Been Waiting For and she also performed at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas earlier this year.

5. Jordan Casey

Jordan Casey appeared on this list two years ago, but back then he was simply the 14-year-old who founded Casey Games, an app development company that released games such as the hugely popular Alien Ball vs Human.

However, Jordan is now changing his approach ever so slightly. Late last year, the now 17-year-old won €5,000 from the Accenture innovation challenge for his idea for KidsCode, an online resource to teach coding to kids.

According to its website, KidsCode “combines a fun, multiplayer virtual world experience with a visual programming language to inspire and teach the next generation of coders”.

The application was in beta testing over the summer and has yet to be rolled out, but it’s one of many new frontiers for the teenager.

6. Sean Collins, Úna McNicholas, Craig McSweeney, and Seunfunmi Solanke

COTY2016YoungCarers Mark Stedman Craig, Una, Sean and Seunfunmi with Marty Whelan and Mary Kennedy Mark Stedman

This year’s winners of the Irish Young Carers of the Year Awards were Sean Collins (13), Úna McNicholas (17), Craig McSweeney, (16) and Seunfunmi Solanke (17), each representing a different region. Sean won the award for Ulster/Connaught, Úna won the award for Dublin, Craig won the award for Munster and Seunfunmi won the award for Leinster.

These four exceptional young people, who appeared on The Late Late Show to talk about their work, were all chosen as winners because of the help and care they provide to their siblings.

7. James Corneille

James Corneille James Corneille James Corneille

18-year-old James Corneille is an entrepreneur who came up with the idea of Positivity Packs – little monthly packages filled with goodies which are designed to give people a much-needed mood boost.

Corneille said that he mixed his two passions to come up the positivity packs: making a difference and entrepreneurship.

In addition to the positivity packs Corneille has also won many awards and developed Skizzie, a platform for young children to learn languages through animation.

8. Emily Duffy / YouTube

A regular entrant in the BT Young Scientist exhibition, Limerick teenager Emily Duffy picked up headlines in January of this year for her latest idea – a nappy that can tell if babies are sick.

The Desmond College student’s entry in the competition the previous year – a sleeping bag for people who are sleeping rough – generated plenty of coverage too. The specially-designed bag is fireproof and waterproof, with reflective strips for increased visibility.

Dublin inner-city charity the Mendicity Institution picked up the idea and started producing the sleeping bags on a larger scale as part of a work project, with Emily’s support.

News of Emily’s sleeping bag went viral worldwide after a story in and the Medicity Institution has since received enquiries from as far away as the US and Australia.

The 17-year-old also went to the refugee camp in Calais at the start of this year to distribute 68 of the bags, and capped off a busy year by becoming an ambassador for the organisation Narrative 4.

9. Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Buru

maria-louise-fufezan-390x285 Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Buru of Loreto Balbriggan

After winning the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition Maria Louise Fufezan (17) and Diana Buru (16) took their project to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Brussels finishing in an impressive 3rd place.

The two girls who are fifth year students in Loreto secondary school in Balbriggan represented Ireland in the EUCYS with their project entitled “An investigation into the effects of enzymes used in animal feed additives on the lifespan of caenorhabditis elegans”, which is a mouthful even if you can pronounce half of those words.

The 3rd place finish netted the two girls a €3,500 reward and a trip to the DuPont’s science and engineering plant in Denmark.

10. Jane Hayes Nally

Last April, Jane Hayes Nally was elected president of the Irish Second Level Student Union, becoming the first female president of the ISSU since it was founded in 2008.

The sixth-year student in St Mary’s High School in Midleton Co. Cork has been working in the ISSU for a few years, previously serving as Education Officer.

Since she was elected, Hayes Nally has been a strong voice for the interests of second-level students across the country, especially during the strike action by teachers in October and November.

On 8 December Hayes Nally  spoke before the Oireachtas committee on Education and Skills, outlining the issues with student loans and the impact they will have on people going into college and university.

11. Jordanne Jones

Jordanne Jones Patrick Redmond Rebellion Jordanne Jones as Minnie Mahon with baby Mahon RTÉ One Episode 4 - Sunday January 24th 2016 Patrick Redmond

Last year, at the age of just 14, Jordanne Jones received her first IFTA nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in the Frank Berry-directed film I Used to Live Here.

Since then, the promising young actress has gone on to appear in RTE’s 1916 Rising drama Rebellion, playing the character of Minnie Mahon, a poor child who is forced into a life of prostitution after her father joins the British army.

12. Leanne Kiernan

Leanne Kiernan Ryan Byrne / INPHO Shelbourne Ladies' Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

17-year-old Leanne Kiernan came out as the star of the Women’s FAI Cup Final in November scoring a hat-trick against Wexford Youths. Kiernan’s three goals added to the two scored by her teammates Gloria Douglas and Noelle Murray and made Shelbourne the decisive winners – and kickstarted a conversation about how she could be the next star of women’s football in this country.

The victory was made all the sweeter as it was Wexford Youths who handed Shelbourne a defeat in last year’s final during a penalty shootout.

13. Annie and Kate Madden


In 2014, Kate Madden set out to test the theory that giving a Mars bar to ponies made them run faster. She had entered the project into the 2014 BT Young Scientist competition in a bid to debunk the theory – and it turns out she was right.

The following year, Kate, now with her sister Annie, entered the competition again with a product named Fenugreek, a supplement designed to get horses to eat their food. After the competition, the supplements took off. Both sisters are still in secondary school but now they run their own company called FenuHealth through which they provide a number of animal supplements to 12 different countries.

14. Aoife Kearins 

Like many on this list, Aoife Kearins got her start in programming and coding with CoderDojo in Sligo at just 15. From there Kearins has gone from strength to strength.

Kearins, now 17, developed an app to tackle drowsy drivers called Eye Opener, which won the top award at SciFest at ITSligo earlier this year. The app works with a device which takes in data, detects when the user is getting tired and notifies them when it is time to take a rest.

Kearins is also the senior maths editor for the Young Scientists Journal as well as being a writer for Echoing STEM, a YouTube channel and website aimed at inspiring young women to have an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths as well as promoting music.

15. Harry McCann 

Here’s another young man who has made this list twice in a row.  Last time Harry McCann was on this list he was the founder and managing director of KidTech, a company which teaches young people to code.

Building on his work with KidTech, the now 18-year-old established a new coding group called Let’s Teach Code, which aims to have coding established as part of school curriculums across 196 countries.

He is also the editor-in-chief of Trendster, a website aimed at students billed as the ‘Home of the views, opinions, reactions and stories of teenagers/students all around the world’.

On top of all this McCann is also the founder and director of the Digital Youth Council for which he and the rest of his team won the Eir Junior Spider Award for best group project.

16. Ellis O’Reilly

O'reilly Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

This summer 18-year-old Ellis O’Reilly made history by becoming the first female gymnast to represent Ireland in the Olympics, having made it to Rio through her performance in the Aquece Rio Test event in April.

Ellis’s Olympics ended in disappointment after a nasty fall during the beam exercise but despite this she made an encouraging finish on the uneven bars and the vault. Ellis’s display in the Olympics shows plenty of promise for the future.

17. Jack O’Sullivan 

IrishStartUpTV / YouTube

Two years ago, at the age of 17, Jack O’Sullivan became the founder of Vital Fixies,  a bicycle company that imports fixed gear bikes from Taiwan. Spending his time in class emailing suppliers brought dividends as he was eventually able to negotiate a price with a Taiwanese supplier to manufacture the bikes.

The average cost of a fixed bike is between €400 and €500, but the cheaper costs has meant Jack has been able to undercut his competitors and sell the bikes for less.

Since then Vital Fixies has taken off with over 300 bikes sold as of April of this year.

Jack is now 19 and a student at IADT, looking abroad for the future of Vital Fixies having already sold bikes in Spain, France, Portugal and even Brazil.

18. Niamh Scanlon

Inspirefest HQ / YouTube

Niamh is one of the brightest talents to come out of CoderDojo in recent years.

Niamh joined CoderDojo at age 9 and went on to to develop two apps, one of which earned her an award in the CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2014.  The app was called reCharge my eCar which showed Ireland’s public car charging points and if they were in use or not.

Last year, she was named the EU Digital Girl of the Year at the European Ada Awards.

19. Olamide Shodipo

Olamide Donall Farmer / INPHO Shodipo started Ireland's last 2017 Euro U21 qualifier against Serbia Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

19-year-old winger Olamide Shodipo has impressed this season with QPR –  so much so that QPR recently signed a new deal with him, keeping him with the championship side until 2019.

Olamide has been a regular and highly-rated player with Ireland’s U21 team for a while now, and could be one to watch as a player for the Irish squad.

20. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo

9/4/2016. Irish Film and Television Awards Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Not a household name just yet but 17-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is on the cusp of something big. Ferdia played the main character Conor in the John Carney-directed Sing Street, a film that wowed audiences at Sundance and the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, as well as being nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Ferdia received widespread recognition for his role in the film, scooping the seventh Michael Dwyer Discovery Award at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016 in the process. 

Read: Sports Person of the Year 2016: Why Paul O’Donovan deserves his place on the shortlist. 

Read: Facebook launches advice site with tips on how to keep children safe online

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