Belfast Telegraph

Jamie Dornan to Rory McIlroy: Northern Ireland celebrities of 2014 ... and the headline makers of 2015

From the success of our sporting stars to a Belfast baker getting caught up in the middle of a storm in the Great British Bake Off, 2014 was quite an eventful year. Claire Williamson looks back over the year for our top six personalities, and picks the ones to watch in months ahead.

Rory McIlroy

Our most famous export had arguably the best year of his sporting life in 2014. Holywood's Rory McIlroy ended the year by being named the 2014 Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year, collecting the prestigious award for the second time in three years.

The world number one this year took four of the most prestigious titles on offer, including two Majors.

His winning streak started in May when he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

In July McIlroy won the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

There he picked up the coveted Claret Jug, and proudly brought it home to Northern Ireland where he embarked on a victory tour.

He was invited to meet the First and Deputy First Ministers, where he apologised for not having it with him as it needed "a bit of a clean" after a night out celebrating.

He then went on to win the PGA Championship at Valhalla to snap up his fourth Major win.

Earlier this month there was anger after McIlroy was named second to Lewis Hamilton in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards after his triumphant year.

Kyle Lafferty (and the Northern Ireland football team)

The team made 2014 an historic year in their bid to qualify for the European Championships.

On October 15 there were jubilant scenes in living rooms across the province as fans sang: "We love to sing, we love to dance, in two years time we're going to France."

The chorus rang out as Northern Ireland won their first three qualifiers for the European Championships in a row (Hungary, Faroe Islands and Greece) - for the first time.

All eyes were on Kesh man Kyle Lafferty, who was hailed the team's hero. Emotional fans could hardly believe their eyes when Lafferty secured triumph in Greece as he scored the second goal of the match.

Lafferty received resounding praise as he was named man of the match for the third qualifier in a row. He tweeted afterwards: "The way I am feeling right now words can't describe it. What a team performance. Just shows hard work, heart and determination is everything."

Mairia Cahill

A member of one of the best known republican families in Belfast, Mairia Cahill claimed she was raped by a suspected IRA man when she was just 16 years old and that it was covered up.

She claimed the republican movement responded to her allegations by first investigating them, then burying them and imposing a code of silence to protect the movement.

The allegations rocked the political world.

Ms Cahill's great-uncle was Joe Cahill, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA and a long-time ally of Gerry Adams.

The allegations sparked a week of political reverberations as Ms Cahill publicly vowed to continue in pursuit of an apology for the alleged cover-up.

Jamie Dornan

Jamie swapped Holywood, Co Down, for the brights light of Hollywood, USA, as he snapped up the lead role in the highly anticipated Fifty Shades Of Grey film adaptation. The actor has secured his place as one of the most memorable names from 2014 and 2015 with his appointment as Christian Grey in the film of the hit book franchise by E.L James.

The film comes out on February 14 and is expected to be a box office hit.

Meanwhile, Jamie has been busy keeping people glued to the small screen with his killer performance in The Fall.

The hit crime drama starring Dornan as the serial murderer Paul Spector was the topic of conversation on many people's lips this year as the eagerly awaited finale took place.

Dornan also took part in the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship which is held over three links courses - St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.

The actor was rubbing shoulders with fellow celebrities as they were paired up with professionals in the team competition.

The Holywood man was pictured with Bill Murray as he took to the golf course, where he proved his skills were better kept to in front of the camera - he was left in 50 shades of sand.

Iain Watters

All it took were 40 seconds of "injustice" to spark a national Twitter campaign for the bearded Belfast baker Iain Watters, under the hashtag 'Justice for Iain'.

The normally sedate world of the Great British Bake Off was embroiled in controversy this year when fellow contestant Diana Beard was accused of sabotaging Watters' dessert.

Beard was slated on social media after she removed Iain's ice-cream from the freezer as contestants battled to perfect baked Alaskas in 25 degree heat - prompting a public outcry that this amounted to sabotage and contributed to his exit.

Watters was Northern Ireland's first contestant on the show and he made his dramatic departure when he was dismissed for not presenting a dessert after a veritable meltdown.

The 31-year-old Belfast man stormed out of the tent after his dessert turned out a mess.

As the contestants battled to keep their ice-cream cold, Watters asked, "Where's my ice-cream?"

He then found it on a worktop melting in the heat.

Seeing no way of salvaging it, he threw it in the bin and stormed out of the tent, earning the episode the predictable tag 'Bingate' after Watters presented his bin to the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

Carl Frampton

Carl Frampton ensured his name stayed firmly among the headline makers of 2014 when he destroyed Kiko Martinez in the ring to become the IBF super-bantamweight boxing world champion in Belfast.

The city and Northern Ireland as a whole came to a standstill when 'The Jackal' marched into the ring at Titanic Quarter to do battle.

Some 16,000 people packed into the bespoke venue, and watched Frampton fight his way to victory.

After the contest, Frampton thanked Barry McGuigan, his coaching team and his family, as well as his grandfather, who recently passed away.

Following his triumph in the ring, Frampton took his championship belt along with him on a victory tour to Stormont to meet the First and Deputy First Ministers.

He then had a civic reception at Belfast City Hall, where thousands of fans came out to meet their champion.

Ones to watch

Claire Sugden

She's one of the Assembly's newest and youngest Members.

Claire Sugden (28) made a bold statement when she made her maiden speech warning MLAs to "take responsibility" and respect the position they are in.

Ms Sugden, who replaced the late David McClarty, said: "I live for Northern Ireland. I live for politics in Northern Ireland. I would love to bring my generation with me."

The East Londonderry independent MLA also added: "We have the potential to do so much more, and I look forward to a time when we are able to do that."

Looking to the future, Ms Sugden said: "I want my generation to feel the same way about this country as I do.

"It is OK to drive a Ford, but I would rather drive a Porsche, and I think that that is what we should aim for."

Stephanie Meadows

Watch out Rory McIlroy - we have a new rising star of world golf.

In June Stephanie Meadows (22), originally from Jordanstown, having just turned professional the week before, claimed third place in the notoriously difficult US Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

She began playing at the age of seven at Ballyclare Golf Club. The determined young golfer would often get her dad Robert to drive her there in the morning before school at 6.30am.

From there she became a member of the Royal Portrush Golf Club. At the age of 14, the former Belfast High School student moved with her parents, who are now both retired, to America where she attended Hank Hainey Junior International Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island.

She earned a four-year scholarship at the University of Alabama, where she smashed multiple records and won nine tournaments.

Proving an all-rounder, she showed excellence in the classroom as well, graduating with the equivalent of a first class honours in her accountancy degree.

Stephanie told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's been kind of hectic figuring what I'm going to play in next but definitely it was a great experience and I couldn't have asked for a better start to my professional career."

Michaela Walsh

In August Michaela Walsh took centre-stage as she battled Nicola Adams in a bid to bring home Commonwealth gold.

The young boxer left the Games in Glasgow feeling "cheated" by the judges' decision.

When the split decision was announced at the end of the flyweight final that made Adams the first female Commonwealth Games boxing gold medallist, Walsh shook her finger and head. Afterwards, she insisted that she had done enough to take the contest.

But the Belfast boxer vowed to win their next fight outright after having a gold medal "taken away from her" by the judges after the decision in Glasgow.

At the time she said: "I'm very proud of my achievement. I was cheated, not defeated.

"I still believe I won the fight. I watched it back and even Amir Khan said he thought I won the fight - it's nice to hear that from a big name like him.

"Hopefully we get it on again. I'm only a kid and look at the fight I gave her.

"I shocked her and that's only the start of me.

"The next time I'm going to take it out of the judges' hands."

Paddy McNair

It's a young footballer's dream come true.

When Paddy McNair turned up for training at Manchester United's multi-million pound Carrington complex on a Monday morning in September, his mind was focused on a match with the club's under-21 side a full week away - not being selected for a first-team debut for the Red Devils with 75,000 fans watching.

But that is exactly what happened for the 19-year-old from Ballyclare.

It was a moment McNair had dreamed of for the last seven years, since he was chosen while playing for Ballyclare Colts and invited to train at the local Manchester United School of Excellence.

He made his debut against West Ham where Manchester United triumphed 2-1.

McNair drew praise for his solid defending.

But despite the dream appearing shaken in December when boss Louis van Gaal rapped the youngster as he was brought off after just 39 minutes, plenty of famous sporting faces have rallied together to say the future remains bright for McNair.

Mairtin O'Muilleoir

Media-savvy former Lord Mayor Mairtin O'Muilleoir embarked on a social media takeover during his year as Belfast's first citizen.

He was noted for his active Twitter account which chronicled his busy year in office, often with pictures of places he had visited, and, of course, many selfies with the people he had met along the way.

An online satirical site even used the thousands of selfies to make a self-portrait of O Muilleoir.

Earlier this year in a Sinn Fein shake-up, O'Muilleoir was co-opted into the Assembly to replace Alex Maskey, who moved to the West Belfast constituency to replace Sue Ramsey as an MLA.

Speaking after a Sinn Fein selection convention in west Belfast, Mr O'Muilleoir said: "It is a privilege to serve Sinn Fein and a great honour to be chosen to represent the people of South Belfast."

Rachel O'Connor

She may not have won The Voice UK, but Rachael O'Connor has proven she is on course for big things.

The singer from Drumsurn in Co Londonderry was a shock elimination from BBC singing talent show after once being the bookies' favourite.

But the Limavady schoolgirl vowed she was determined to become a pop star every bit as big as her idol Kylie Minogue, who was her mentor on the show.

She returned to Limavady Grammar School to resume her studies but said she would still be keeping in touch with her mentor.

In her original blind audition, Rachael impressed the coaches with a stunning performance of the Emeli Sande song Clown.

And now, the teenager has a strong following on her Facebook page where she documents her flourishing career - including uploads of covers of hit songs.

But her year took off further than that, as she is now part of Michael Flatley's Lord Of The Dance Dangerous Games tour which has seen her jet-set across the world performing alongside former Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle.

Rachael is signed to the same management as Nadine and sings three specially-penned songs on alternate dates with the fellow Derry singer.

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