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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
6 brilliant Irish people who overcame the odds
Prepare to be wowed.

EVERY DAY, THERE are people who take things to the next level and achieve things we often can’t believe are possible.

People climb the world’s highest mountains, sail around the world single-handedly and perform life-saving surgeries. And Irish people are no slackers in this regard – there are plenty of Irish people making history every single day. Often these people are facing struggles that would make day-to-day life difficult, let alone climbing Everest.

So, let’s take a look at six brilliant Irish people who overcame or are overcoming great odds to live the lives of their dreams.

1. Mark Pollock

Facebook / Mark Pollock Facebook / Mark Pollock / Mark Pollock

Mark, an adventurer and professional inspirational speaker, went blind at 22. That didn’t stop him competing in ultra-endurance races across terrain most of us will probably not see in our lives though, including the Gobi desert and the South Pole.  If that wasn’t achievement enough, he also won silver and bronze medals for rowing in the Commonwealth Games.

Mark Pollock’s Trust, which works with scientists, technologists and physiologists to fast track a cure for spinal cord injury, is largely funded by the annual Run in the Dark.

2. Emma Hannigan

Writer Emma Hannigan has beaten cancer ‘a silly number of times’ (nine so far, and currently undergoing treatment again) and discovered writing while she was lying in bed getting treated for cancer the first time. As she says,

I certainly wouldn’t recommend cancer to a friend, but I have turned the worst part of my life into what is undoubtedly the best. You see boredom from being made sit in a bed led to a wonderful thing. I began to write.

Now she’s a very successful writer with ten published novels to her name.

3. Katie-George Dunlevy

Paralympics Ireland Paralympics Ireland

Katie-George Dunleavy, a visually-impaired paralympic cyclist, will be representing Ireland in Rio this year. She previously represented us in London in 2012 and achieved a number of personal bests in Track and Track TT while there. In 2015, Katie-George and her pilot Eve McCrystal secured third place in a time trial in the World Road Cup in Italy.

4. Nikki Bradley

Paul Doherty Photography Paul Doherty Photography

Nikki Bradley suffers from a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma which has affected her for her whole adult life. Nikki has not let that stop her though, and she has been climbing mountains to raise funds for her awareness campaign Fighting Fit For Ewing’s (FFFE). She has climbed Donegal’s Errigal Mountain and has recently completed a trip to Iceland where she traversed a glacier on crutches.

5. Frank McCourt

PastedImage-38307 Scribner Scribner

Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes, details his impoverished childhood in Limerick, along with his journey to become a teacher in America. He was born in America but the family returned to Ireland following the depression in 1929. His father abandoned the family and Frank and his mother, Angela, struggled against great poverty to keep the family alive and together.

The memoir made him a household name both nationally and internationally and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997 and was turned into a very successful film, too.

6. Simon Fitzmaurice

My Name Is Emily My Name Is Emily

Simon is an award-winning writer and film director whose work has been shown at Sundance and Palm Springs, to name a few esteemed film festivals. Simon has motor neuron disease and is completely paralysed – but managed to write the script for the film My Name is Emily through the movement of his eyes and iris-recognition software.

Who is your greatest inspiration? Let us know in the comments below.

Chris Fonseca doesn’t let his deafness stand in the way of his dance ambitions and in doing so, manages to inspire many people to reach for their goals too.  Smirnoff – We’re Open is all about including everyone – no matter what their circumstances. Head over to Smirnoff now to find out more. 

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Please drink Smirnoff responsibly. Visit 

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