25 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Normal People breaks IFTA record with nine awards; Actress Nika McGuigan wins posthumous award
04 Jul 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Paul Mescal picked up the award for Best Leading Actor - Drama
The IFTA Film & Drama Awards, which aired tonight on Virgin Media, saw Northern Irish actress Nika McGuigan posthumously awarded an IFTA, Normal People picked up nine awards, and Cartoon Saloon’s Oscar-nominated animated feature Wolfwalkers picked up the award for Best Film.

McGuigan won Best Actress Film for her performance in Wildfire, which was in post-production when the actress sadly passed away. Accepting the award on her behalf, Nika’s father Olympic boxer Barry McGuigan, and mother Sandra said they were “very, very proud and overwhelmed.” Her brother Blane then gave an emotional speech accepting the award on behalf of the family:

Firstly, on behalf of the family we would like to thank IFTA, all who voted, and all of those who worked on Wildfire, especially Cathy Brady and Nora-Jane Noone.  Nika’s performance speaks for herself. It is the culmination of years of hard work. Nika tirelessly grafted to become the best actor she could be and in Wildfire she found a vehicle that let her express herself artistically like she had  never been able to do before. It is tragic that Nika did not get to show the world more of her endless talent, but this award and  its recognition of her brilliant performance would have meant everything to Danika. “

Her Father Barry then spoke of the bittersweet nature of the occasion as well as Nika’s fighting spirit: “This is a testament to the special and sacred bond Nika had with her mother that transcends all of life’s challenges.” Nika’s mother Sandra finished by saying: “ For Nika to have been given  this award would take her breath away. For me and Barry, it was an absolute privilege that Nika was our daughter.  Thank you IFTA, thank you everybody.

Element Pictures’ global hit Normal People was the biggest picked up nine IFTA awards at the ceremony on Sunday night, setting a new overall record for most wins at a single ceremony – previously held by Love/Hate (7).

Normal People won the IFTA for Best Drama, as part of an impressive nine wins in total of 15 nominations including, Paul Mescal winning Best Actor Drama, and Lenny Abrahamson for Best Director Drama. Director Abrahamson joined from the set of Normal People follow-up Conversations with  Friends to receive his award from Irish Comedian and Actress Deirdre O’Kane, while last year’s winner of the Best Actor Film category Tom Vaughan-Lawlor presented producers Catherine Magee and Emma Norton with the award for Best Drama. Orla Brady fresh from her scene-stealing turn as “Irish” Romulan Laris in Star Trek: Picard presented Mescal with the Best Actor Drama awards.

Wolfwalkers won Best Film 2021. This is the second time in the history of the IFTA awards that an animated movie has won in this category following on from Song of the Sea in 2015, also from Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon.

Hollywood leading man Josh Brolin  presented Best Film and reflected on the impact Ireland has had on him, saying: “My own story with Ireland is that at 20 years old I was in Dublin, and I blindly walked into a theatre on a movie called ‘My Left Foot,’ and left a changed man. With the rest of my very little money that same trip, I saw the Cusack’s do ‘The Three Sisters’ at the Gate Theatre and was again changed. I also read ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ that same trip. Ireland has had a massive impact on me, so I just wanted to say congratulations to all the nominees because I know how tough it is to manifest an idea into film…”

Sunday Night’s Virtual IFTA Awards 2021 was a star-studded affair, with Mark Hamill, Colin Farrell, Olivia Coleman, Travis Fimmel and Josh Brolin among the stellar line-up of guests at the ceremony, presenting awards to the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Nike McGuigan, Paul Mescal, Nicola Coughlan, and Wolfwalkers.

The incredible array of guest presenters also included Orla Brady, Jason O’Mara, Sarah Bolger and many more  who virtually presented awards to Irish Talent for their extraordinary achievements. 

All nominees joined the show virtually and were clearly enjoying the camaraderie of talking with their fellow nominees in the various categories and many of the nominees hosting their own IFTA-viewing parties with friends and family, in line with current covid guidelines.

Connecting from Los Angeles Colin Farrell presented the award for Best Director Film and praised the nominated directors saying: “I’m so proud to see such great Irish Directing talent Nominated here tonight. All of them fearless and determined artists, sharing a bold new vision for Irish Cinema.”

Wildfire director Cathy Brady won the award and singled out her leads for praise, saying ``But can I say a big, huge thanks to Nika and Nora-Jane, the beating heart of this film. You made me the best director, and this is for you. I’m so proud and you are my forever dream team. 

She also took a moment to acknowledge the other nominees saying: “I’m just really blown away because the talent in this category is unbelievable and I’m just so proud to be part of it. I know each of you guys had your own journey to get to this place. You’ve had your ups and downs and I just want to say a toast to you guys and your loved ones who went on that journey with you because I know this is really hard but we love it and that’s why we do it. I just want to take a moment to say cheers to you.”

The Crown star Olivia Colman, connecting from Kerry where she is shooting Emer Reynold’s FIlm Mully presented Gabriel Byrne with the awards for  Best Actor film for his role in Death of a Ladies Man, speaking about his win he said, “Well that’s a real shock to me, thank you - and I’m not just saying that. [The other nominees are…] All great actors and I’m honoured to be among them.”  Byrne also took a moment to thank the iconic musician “I’d also like to thank Leonard Cohen himself for his beautiful music and his words. One of the things that has always stuck with me is something he said: ‘there’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’. Thank you so much everybody."

Asked by host Seoige if the acknowledgement from your peers at  home means something special to those abroad Byrne said ”I think anybody who leaves their country always feels more nervous about the home crowd. It’s true for sportsmen, actors, singers, they all talk about how nervous they are about playing in front of the home crowd. It’s especially heartwarming to get this award.”

Star Wars icon Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, presented the Screen Ireland IFTA Rising Star Award and  spoke fondly of his relationship with Ireland saying: “I know first-hand the incredible talent in Ireland. I'm so happy to join the Irish academy tonight to celebrate Ireland's greatest achievements. I’m here to announce the winner of the Irish Rising star award presented in association with Screen Ireland. This award shines a light on superb Irish talent proving themselves to be world class professionals in their fields. This would not be possible without the great work of Screen Ireland in financing Irish film production creating opportunities for Irish writers, directors, actors and crew”.

Nicola Coughlan won the Award for her standout performance in Netflix’s world-wide smash Bridgerton. In her acceptance speech, a clearly emotional Coughlan said  “I’m really shocked - oh my god I’m so shocked. Hearing Luke Skywalker say my name is such a shock! I’m so proud to be an Irish actor,  I’m so proud to be so proud of that! This is so special because all you really want is people at home to be happy with what you are doing. I was at the BAFTAs when Paul [Mescal]won and it felt like a win for everybody. So to be recognised at home is really so special, it's so amazing and I am so grateful, thank you so much.”

Normal People’s Paul Mescal was joined by Fionn O’Shea and Sarah Greene, in taking home acting awards with the pair winning the  Best Supporting Actor Drama and Best Supporting Actress Drama categories, respectively. Speaking about his IFTA win, Mescal said: “I am absolutely thrilled. It’s amazing to be nominated with such fantastic actors. It has been a journey  of over a year now that has utterly changed my life.”

Mescal thanked producers Element Pictures and director  Lenny Abrahamson saying “ I wouldn’t be in this position without him….trusting me with Connell. He thanked director  Hettie [Macdonald, co-director] as well as writer Sally Rooney who he described as “the most incredible artist and novelist working in the world at the moment” .He also thanked co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones as  “one of the most incredible actresses working in our industry.” He dedicated his win to the team saying “ It’s an honour that’s reflected on all of us.”

Sir Bob Geldof presented the George Morrison Feature Documentary Award he invoked Alfred Hitchcock’s famous quote: “In Feature Films, the director is God,  In Documentary Films, God is the director” before presenting the award to Breaking Out.

Directed by Michael McCormack and filmed over 10 years, Breaking Out tells the story of Fergus O'Farrell's band Interference, his most-famous song Gold - as heard in the film and stage show Once - and his life with Muscular Dystrophy. 

The event was hosted by Gráinne Seoige who took the helm with her trademark grace and elegance and engaged the nominees with some witty banter including a memorable sequence involving asking  Brendan Gleeson (nominated for his role as Donald Trump  in The Comey Rule) if he had heard any reaction from the former president through Back Channels. Gleeson responded that he had “No interest whatsoever in “Donald Trump’s Back Channels.”

It was clear from the night that the Irish industry is thriving with the Irish Minister for Arts Catherine Martin joining to applaud the great work that was celebrated on the night. She said: “ It is truly heartening to see irish talent on the global stage and it is a great reflection of the high calibre of our talented workforce. She thanked the nominees for their “ incredible resilience in the face of such adversity and for delivering these superb projects.”

90’s LGBTQ coming-of-age comedy-drama Dating Amber took home awards for both the  Best Supporting Actor and Actress Film Categories, with Barry Ward and Sharon Horgan taking home these awards. Host Gráinne Seoige presented the award to O’Shea while Liam Cunningham presented Horgan her award.

 Horgan’s Production company Merman were nominated for their role in producing Best Film Nominee Herself written by and starring Clare Dunne. Dunne won the award for Best Script - Film, alongside co-writer Malcolm Campbell which was presented by Ireland’s most celebrated director Jim Sheridan.  

Though the event was virtual this year there was no shortage of screen presence, with many of the nominees hosting their own IFTA viewing parties with friends and family. Irish actor Fionn O’Shea was joined by his parents back home on FaceTime as they watched him receive an award for his role of villainous ‘Jamie’ in Normal People which was presented to him by Mayans MC star Sarah Bolger. 

Sarah Greene won the award for best supporting actress in a drama, for her role as Connel’s mother Lorraine in Normal People. She received the award from Vikings and Raised by Wolves star Travis Fimmel.  Dervla Kirwan took home the award for Best Actress Drama for her role as the Ahern family Matriarch Val in Smother which was announced by The Man in the High Castle Actor Jason O’Mara.  

Speaking about the ceremony IFTA CEO  Áine Moriarty said: “We were so  delighted to be able to bring together such an illustrious group of Irish and International screen talent to celebrate the ongoing growth and success of our industry in Ireland. It was incredible to see the range of Irish talent and work that has been produced, often in the most difficult of circumstances, recognised tonight by a host of stars from around the world, guided all the way by the brilliant hosting of Gráinne Seoige. Congratulations to all tonight’s nominees and winners. ”

The IFTA Awards is funded by Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, and also supported by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Tourism Ireland and Virgin Media Television.


Winners of the IFTA Film & Drama Awards 2021:

Best Film


Director Film

Cathy Brady - Wildfire

Script Film

Clare Dunne & Malcom Campbell - Herself

Actor in a Lead Role - Film

Gabriel Byrne – Death of a Ladies’ Man

Actress in a Lead Role – Film

Nika McGuigan - Wildfire

Actor in a Supporting Role - Film

Barry Ward – Dating Amber

Actress in a Supporting Role - Film

Sharon Horgan – Dating Amber

Rising Star

Nicola Coughlan

George Morrison Feature Documentary

Breaking Out


Normal People

Director Drama

Lenny Abrahamson – Normal People

Script Drama

Sally Rooney – Normal People

Actor in a Lead Role - Drama

Paul Mescal – Normal People

Actress in a Lead Role - Drama

Dervla Kirwan – Smother

Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama

Fionn O’Shea – Normal People

Actress in a Supporting Role – Drama

Sarah Greene – Normal People

Short Film


 Short Animation

 Her Song


Kate McCullough – Normal People


Úna Ní Dhonghaíle – Misbehaviour

Production Design

Lucy van Lonkhuyzen – Normal People


Leonie Prendergast – Gretel & Hansel

Hair & Makeup

Linda Gannon Foster & Liz Byrne - Gretel & Hansel

Original Score

Aza Hand – Son

Sound Design

Steve Fanagan, Niall Brady, & Niall O Sullivan – Normal People


Ed Bruce & Robert Hartigan - Kidding

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