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Northern Ireland’s top 100 newsmakers of 2021, No 100-76: Edwin Poots' dog, Stephen Nolan, Clare Smyth and Shane Todd


Northern Ireland's Top 100 newsmakers of 2021, No 100-76. At No 94: Edwin Poots' dog.

Northern Ireland's Top 100 newsmakers of 2021, No 100-76. At No 94: Edwin Poots' dog.

Northern Ireland's Top 100 newsmakers of 2021, No 100-76. At No 94: Edwin Poots' dog.

Here's the (non-exhaustive) end-of-year countdown of the people and events that shaped 2021 compiled by our news team. Who takes the first spot and who would you have added to our list?


Year ’21 Podcast

Tara Mills and Declan Harvey guided listeners through the story of Northern Ireland’s creation 100 years ago in a popular BBC podcast. Each week a different piece of the story was added, explaining how we got to 2021.


Belfast seal

The poor seal with a can stuck to its mouth that repeatedly surfaced around Belfast during October gave us all the happy ending we were hoping for when it was revealed the mammal was rescued (with the can removed) in Scotland.


Suzie Lee

The Lisburn woman became a TV sensation winning BBC show Best Home Cook in 2020. The chef has since secured a show on BBC NI and is bringing out a book next year. In November she revealed how she defied the odds (and social media trolls) to become a culinary star.


Ezinne Nwosu

The Nigerian-born primary school girl (9) performed like a seasoned professional when she became Belfast Lord Mayor for the day, taking over from Kate Nicholl to become Mayor of Belfast for a day.


Professor Siobhan O’Neill

The Ulster University professor was appointed as the permanent Mental Health Champion in September after performing the role for more than a year in an interim capacity. She says she has a 10-year plan to reform mental health services in the region and has been a voice for those suffering with mental issues here for years.

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Liam Neeson

Hollywood star Neeson endorsed Ballymena’s first integrated primary school in November, recording a special message for its pupils and parents, paying tribute to their “vision, courage and determination”.


Edwin Poots’ dog


Edwin Poots at his home in Lisburn. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Edwin Poots at his home in Lisburn. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Edwin Poots at his home in Lisburn. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Appearing on this list alongside his owner is the Agriculture Minister’s proud pooch, a rottweiler named Tyson after the politician’s favourite boxer, Tyson Fury. The furry friend gained a lot of attention after appearing on the front cover of Sunday Life with its owner in May.


Aidan Walsh

Belfast boxer Walsh was the only local sportsman to win a medal at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, bronze in the welterweight division. It’s possible the Monkstown fighter could have gained silver or even gold, but had to withdraw from his scheduled semi-final after fracturing his right ankle when he landed awkwardly following his quarter-final victory celebration leap.


Mr Tayto


Mr Tayto

Mr Tayto

Mr Tayto

Boris Johnson revealed in November he is a “devotee” of Tayto crisps and joked that his figure is “a testimonial” to the benefits of the popular locally-made snack. TV chef Nigella Lawson also revealed Tayto is the only cheese and onion crisp she eats after posting a photograph on Twitter.


Stephen Nolan (and his shorts)


Stephen Nolan wearing shorts

Stephen Nolan wearing shorts

Stephen Nolan wearing shorts

The broadcaster often features in the headlines himself. This year he was most prominent for his legal actions against online trolls, his part in an investigative podcast into the LGBT+ charity Stonewall’s lobbying antics, and a particular pair of shorts that he sported outside his home while interviewing Edwin Poots in June.


Hassan Alkhawam

After fleeing Syria with his family for a better life in Northern Ireland in 2017, Hassan learned English and co-founded NI Hyatt, an organisation which helps other refugees integrate and for which he was named the Prince’s Trust Young Achiever of the Year.


Bailey Peacock-Farrell

The NI goalie has made great penalty saves against Lithuania and Switzerland and produced a superb save from Bulgaria late on to earn his side a point in their scoreless World Cup qualifying game at home. However, in September he had a nightmare for Sheffield Wednesday when Ipswich Town’s Macauley Bonne snuck up from behind him to rob the ball as he dropped it to the ground, sticking it in the net.


Joel Keys

The PSNI informed the loyalist activist of a death threat in November. The 20-year-old, who has talked of becoming a politician in the future, has more recently received criticism from loyalists due to his willingness to discuss the possibility of a united Ireland, or a “new Ireland” in his words.


Deirdre Shakespeare

The Tyrone mother started ‘Harry’s Law’, a campaign against child restraint and seclusion in schools, which came about after she realised how much her son was being restrained at his special school. The motion has even received support from socialite Paris Hilton.


Martina Anderson

The family of the ex-Foyle MLA hit out on social media at Sinn Fein “publicly humiliating” Anderson after the party called on her and Karen Mullan to “consider their positions”. Both women confirmed they would not contest the next Assembly election following a review of Sinn Fein’s structure in the area and stepped down in September.


Rosie Bradley

Former prisoner Rosie gained lots of positive attention for her Terry Bradley-inspired art pieces at the Building Bridges boxing club in north Belfast.


Michael D Higgins

The Irish President’s decision not to attend an Armagh church service marking the centenary was branded a “retrograde step” by Jeffrey Donaldson in September. Mr Higgins commented that the event “would present difficulties” and said he had been incorrectly referred to as the President of the Republic of Ireland rather than the president of Ireland.


The NI centenary stone

Princess Anne unveiled a centenary stone marking the anniversary of the foundation of Northern Ireland during her recent visit. Another stone made headlines during the year too — the non-existent centenary memorial one proposed for the grounds of Stormont vetoed by Sinn Fein back in March.


Pastor Jimberoo/Pastor Jimberoo’s Ghost

The infamous Twitter troll was forced to pay broadcaster Stephen Nolan over £100,000 in libel damages earlier this year. It is believed the man in his 40s from Co Down has advised Stormont officials in his well-paid role in economics and finance, and he reportedly begged Nolan not to reveal his identity. Loyalist Jamie Bryson has also initiated legal proceedings against him.


Shane Todd

The comedian kept our spirits up during 2021 with his BBC Radio Ulster Rave Lockdown show earning a cult following. The Holywood man hosted the weekly programme alongside friend and comedy partner Dave Elliott. Originally debuting during the first lockdown, the show made the switch to television for a St Patrick’s Day special.


Clare Smyth


Chef Clare Smyth (AFP via Getty Images)

Chef Clare Smyth (AFP via Getty Images)

Chef Clare Smyth (AFP via Getty Images)

In January Bushmills-born Clare Smyth became the first female chef to run a three-Michelin star restaurant in the UK. She is one of only seven three Michelin-star chefs.


Barbara Pravi

OK, so the French singer-songwriter may not technically have anything directly to do with here, but s he grabbed the attention of local viewers during her Eurovision Song Contest performance in May for being a dead ringer of SDLP politician Claire Hanna.


Joseph Healy

The 54-year-old Belfast man saved three penalties in a football match — even though he isn’t a goalkeeper. The father-of-five helped Willowfield 10th Old Boys come back and salvage a 3-3 draw when they were 3-0 down at one stage to 8th Old Boys in a Down Area League match last month.


Howard Hastings

The head of one of our most famous regional businesses, Hastings Hotels Group, led the company through what must have been a painful decision to sell the Slieve Donard Hotel after 50 years in the family.


Whoever painted DUP HQ’s front door

We may not have a Banksy here, but we do have a kind soul who gave the entrance to the DUP’s headquarters a good glossing back in June. The old timbers caught the public eye while we anticipated Arlene Foster’s successor to be announced from within the east Belfast building. While most of us sat idly by, one individual took charge and gave the door the refurb of a lifetime.

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