Belfast Telegraph

Who made the headlines in 2018 in Northern Ireland?


Anna Burns
Anna Burns
Arlene Foster
Jacob Stockdale
Lisa McGee
Gary Lightbody
Adrian Dunbar
Catherine McGrath
Michael Conlan
Michael Hughes
Clare Bailey

A host of Northern Ireland personalities from the worlds of art, sport, showbiz and politics stood out in 2018. Gillian Halliday takes a look at some of the names that grabbed our attention during the past year, along with ones we should be keeping an eye out for in 2019.


It has been quite the year for Anna Burns, who became the first author from Northern Ireland to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize for her experimental novel Milkman.

Now one of the most lauded literary names in modern times, the north Belfast-born writer, based in England, has reached dizzying heights with the release of her third work.

After securing the prestigious title, book stores here were selling out of copies of Milkman. Set in the Troubles during the 1970s, it went up against 13 other titles to win the accolade, which brings a £50,000 award. It tells the story of sexual coercion in a controlling society from the point of view of a young female protagonist.

As of last month, the novel had sold a total of 330,000 copies.

Arlene Foster


2018 was also the year that the province returned to prominence in the political arena thanks to Brexit - primarily due to the thorny question of the border.

The divisive issue has split not only this place, but the whole of the UK.

Regardless of the opposing positions, DUP leader Arlene Foster found herself in the national spotlight in 2018, remaining steadfast in opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May's concerted efforts to push through her Brexit deal with its controversial border backstop clause.

Although 2019 may herald tricky times for Mrs Foster once the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry publishes its findings, there is no denying she and the DUP's 10 MPs have played an influential role in shaping the unfolding Brexit drama.

Jacob Stockdale


The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for the Ulster and Ireland rugby ace, named 2018 BBC Northern Ireland Sports Personality of the Year.

The talented winger took the title despite stiff competition from four-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and hockey goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran of the Ireland women's team which reached the World Cup final.

It was one of many accolades for Stockdale over the past year, which included being named Six Nations player of the year after his record seven tries en route to Ireland's Grand Slam win in March.

An honourable mention also goes to team mate Rory Best OBE, who captained Ireland during the win against the All Blacks.

Gary Lightbody


Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody made a long-awaited return in 2018 with the band's new album and tour after a seven-year hiatus.

In the intervening period between 2011's Fallen Empires and this year's Wildness, the Bangor man endured a crippling case of writer's block compounded by drink and depression.

Thankfully, he has conquered both to make a welcome return to the stage.

And the openness with which he has discussed his problems has endeared him further to fans. His journey was reflected in the latest album, a deeply personal work that delves into his father's battle with dementia.

And on the back of their recent tour, the band will play Bangor's Ward Park in May.

Lisa McGee


Giving a very different take on mid-90s Northern Ireland is award-winning Derry Girls' writer Lisa McGee, who became a well-known name in 2018.

A runaway success from the moment it made its UK debut in early January on Channel 4, Derry Girls and its home-grown cast were instantly embraced by comedy fans.

Viewers revelled in the antics of the fantastically gobby Michelle, played by Jamie-Lee O'Donnell, and the rest of her girl gang, as well as her "wee English fella" cousin James, played by Dylan Llewellyn, tagging along.

The stakes were high for this six-part comedy series written by a largely unknown name, set in 1990s Derry in the dying throes of the Troubles.

But Channel 4 bosses clearly knew they were on to a good thing.

A glossary guide was issued to help viewers in Britain understand our vernacular.

With the second series set to air some time in 2019, Netflix will be streaming the first series in the US, opening up the show to a wider, international audience.

McGee, who has picked up accolades at the IFTA Gala TV Awards in Dublin, Edinburgh TV Festival and from the Radio Times, will find out in January if she will add another win to the list by picking up Best TV Situation Comedy at the Writers' Guild of Great Britain awards.

Derry Girls fans have their fingers crossed.

Who will stand out in 2019?

Michael Hughes


One local writer to watch in 2019 is Michael Hughes, who grew up in Keady, Co Armagh, and is now based in London.

Having worked for many years as an actor under the professional name Michael Colgan, his first novel, The Countenance Divine, was published in 2016.

But it is his second literary work, Country, that has really caught the attention of critics. Using Homer's Iliad as a template, Country is set in 1996 post-ceasefire south Armagh. The shadow of the Troubles still looms large when, after a woman turns informer, an IRA gang storms the local Army base.

It is Hughes' ear for the local idioms that has really captured readers, with reviews declaring it "enthralling, rigorous", and with an execution faithful to its classical Greek counterpart.

Clare Bailey


Keen to shake up local politics is self-described activist, feminist and environmentalist Clare Bailey, who took over as leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland in 2018.

Succeeding Steven Agnew, who stepped down after seven years, the MLA for South Belfast has set her sights on raising the party's profile over the next 12 months. In particular, the Queen's politics graduate wants more Green councillors returned in the forthcoming local elections.

Political observers are watching to see if her pro-abortion stance and women's rights advocacy resonate with younger voters keen to avoid the tribalism of local politics.

Bailey joined the Green Party in 2010, and has previously worked for Nexus NI, which offers support to victims of sexual violence.

Adrian Dunbar


Could Fermanagh native Adrian Dunbar be gracing the red carpet at the Baftas in 2019?

The actor will once again appear on our screens as one of the main stars in the hugely-successful BBC police anti-corruption drama Line Of Duty.

Last broadcast in 2017, it returns in spring for its much-anticipated fifth series with Dunbar as straight-talking Superintendent Ted Hastings, head of the internal AC-12 unit.

Filmed in Northern Ireland, the Jed Mercurio-penned series has been one of TV's most talked-about dramas.

And having attained a cult-like following thanks to Hastings' penchant for local colloquialisms, Dunbar is set to earn even more fans over the next 12 months.


The latest name to join the local music scene in 2019 could be country star Catherine McGrath.

From Rostrevor in Co Down, she is signed to Elton John's management company after he became her biggest supporter, declaring her as a huge star in the making after he played one of her records on a radio show.

Lauded as the next Taylor Swift, the 21-year-old has opened for crooner Michael Buble at London's Hyde Park and has toured solo in Australia.

This year she released her debut album, The Talk Of The Town, and, like Swift, the former babysitter - who got noticed by uploading her songs to YouTube - is not afraid to sing about heartache. Expect to hear a lot more of her.


Another sportsman worthy of our attention in 2019 is Belfast native Michael Conlan, who hasn't put a foot wrong in the boxing ring, racking up a perfect record of 10 professional career wins.

Earlier this month he lifted the IBO Intercontinental title, defeating former Commonwealth champion Jason Cunningham on the undercard of Carl Frampton's clash with IBF featherweight king Josh Warrington at the Manchester Arena.

The judges awarded the win to Conlan on points, although the London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist and 2015 World Championship gold medallist was made to work hard throughout the 10 rounds. Having made his professional debut in 2017, Conlan has his sights set on a featherweight title in 2019, fighting again on St Patrick's Day at New York's Madison Square Garden. Other plans include a massive outdoor fight in Belfast in the summer as one of the four or five fights Conlan expects to take.

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