Spotlight On: Teen Irish Actor Niamh Moriarty

She chats inclusion & creating her own opportunities.

“Going for auditions, we had a system. Pamela would put me forward for auditions and she wouldn’t tell them I was in a wheelchair. So I would rock up to the audition with my mum and I’d be there in my bright pink sparkly wheelchair and I would see if they had the guts to turn me away.”

The world as a whole is largely inaccessible to the disability community, with the acting industry being no exception. But in a space that is largely oblivious to the needs (and sometimes existence) of people with disabilities, Niamh Moriarty is carving her own path. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at three years old, she is a wheelchair user and TY student balancing teenage life with a showbiz career. 

At just 16, the Dubliner has already been acting for five years, and has found success, landing roles in My Mother’s Shoes, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, Jack Thorne’s A Christmas Carol, and Toy Show: The Musical. 

Her career started at age 11, when Niamh’s mother noted her tendency to “perform monologues for the family or sing a song at the top of the dinner table” and enrolled her in speech and drama classes with the aforementioned Pamela Hughes who helped her get auditions. 

At the beginning of her career, roles for characters with disabilities were lacking, something that is changing, albeit slowly. But what really matters to Niamh when it comes to parts, is authenticity. 

“I think now that roles for actors with disabilities are starting to surface. Some people get it just right and some people don’t have a proper understanding. What important to me and what I’m hoping to try and see more of in the future, is the layers of us as people, because we go through a lot more in life.” 

Luckily, she found a role that fit as Marnie in Jack Thorne’s upcoming BBC drama Best Interests. Starring Sharon Horgan and Michael Sheen, the series will follow Andrew (Sheen) and Nicci (Horgan) whose daughter Marnie (Moriarty) has a life-threatening condition. While doctors believe it is in Marnie’s best interests to be allowed to die, her family disagree. Thus begins a lengthy legal battle and a journey through the controversial subject matter. 

As the youngest person in the principal cast, most people would have been wrecked with nerves, but not Niamh.

“I feel like because of my life experience, growing up in hospitals around lots of adult doctors and going to appointments and having very adult conversations at a young age, I actually tend to feel very comfortable around adults, sometimes more than people my own age, because it’s something that I’m so familiar with,” she explains. 

The project was filmed in London, which pulled her away from her family, friends, and dogs Simba and Winnie. But while bouts of homesickness were bound to occur after Niamh and her mother headed to the big city, she managed them well. But getting to work on her longest production to date, seeing just how accessible sets can be, and what an effort is made, it was all worth it.

Niamh used the UK’s only wheelchair-friendly trailer during the show’s run. But still, there is a long way to go for truly inclusive sets, especially in Ireland. But with organisations like the UK’s TV Access Project championing inclusion, there is hope. 

Her career is just kicking off, but still Niamh has a goal in mind: “I think if I were to get anything out of this life, I would just like to offer others a platform to feel creative and safe in that environment.”