Northern lights


Meet the Northern Lights. A physicist and a soccer agent. A politician and an award-winning poet. A property developer and a charitable muso known as the Dalai Lama of Draperstown. We brought this group of 20 together for our special Northern Ireland edition of the Magazine. Whether on their way up or already well established, they represent the changing face of a place in full reinvention mode. Contributors: GERRY MORIARTY, ROISIN INGLE, UNA BRADLEY, DEIRDRE MCQUILLANand FIONOLA MEREDITHPhotographs: Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker


Anna Lo made history in March 2007, when she was elected to the Stormont Assembly as MLA for South Belfast. This made her the first ethnic Chinese person to be elected to a legislative parliament in Europe. Lo – a member of the cross-community Alliance party – sits as chair of the all-party group on human trafficking at Stormont. Lo has spoken out strongly against racist attacks in Northern Ireland, and as a result has been threatened on several occasions, prompting the police to install additional security protection in her home. Lo was born in Hong Kong, but came to live in Northern Ireland in 1974. In 1978, she started the first English evening class for Chinese people in Northern Ireland, and in 1999 she was awarded an MBE for services to ethnic minorities. With her calm, cheerful and dignified demeanour, and her distinctive Asian-Ulster accent, Lo remains an unusually popular politician. FM


A founding partner of the architectural team behind the MAC, Belfast’s visually stunning new arts centre, architect Mark Hackett is now a director of the Forum for Alternative Belfast. The Forum is an urban design think tank, a group of architects and planners who want to find ways to make Belfast a vibrant and more equitable place to live. Since its launch in June 2009, FAB has made a big impact, and government departments are increasingly listening to what the group has to say. With co-director Declan Hill, Hackett is a passionate advocate for his cause, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. “We need to raise our standards and set our sights higher,” says Hackett. It’s not all policy and planning though: Hackett has judged sandcastle competitions and taken part in a barber-shop quintet, all to draw attention to Belfast’s need for imaginative change. FM


If you fancy owning a frock-coat with a Star Wars storm trooper painted on the back, Emma Gilles is your woman. Never short of ideas, Gilles is a whirlwind of creative activity. As well as customising clothes in idiosyncratic fashion, Gilles is also an inspired hairdresser. Getting your hair cut by Gilles is an experience – she equips you with a strong espresso and a piece of toasted Veda bread (lavishly buttered), puts on music by some of the many upcoming bands she knows, and sets to work with a flourish. Based at the T13 warehouse in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, Gilles showcases the work of other craftspeople and designers too: one particularly special find was a man whose hobby is making miniature replicas of old, forgotten Belfast cinemas. In summer, Gilles takes to the road with her Crafty Convoy lorry, attending festivals and events, and selling, in her own words, “art, junky stuff, antiques and crafty clothing”. Gilles’s philosophy? “You have to go for what you want, otherwise you won’t be a happy person.”  FM


While studying for his PhD at Queen’s University, Newry physicist Dr Hugh Cormican became part of a team developing innovative scientific cameras. He went on to become a founder and director of Andor Technology, capitalising on the demand for camera technology by a range of researchers including astronomers and biologists. In 2004 he guided Andor through a successful AIM stock market listing, transforming the university spin-out into a rapidly growing global corporation employing more than 260 people in 16 offices worldwide. Two years ago the father of three founded Cirdan Imaging which designs, manufactures and supplies innovative medical imaging solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in surgery, radiology and pathology. The winner of the Northern Ireland Science Park’s CONNECT Innovation Founder Award is hopeful about the future of science in the North: “There has always been a strong science capability here but schools were traditionally geared towards producing lawyers, doctors and accountants. I’ve sensed a move away from this in recent years towards the promotion of science, innovation and entrepreneurship which is really encouraging.” RI


She may be only 30, but Naomh McElhatton is proof that sheer determination, hard work, and a good eye for business can get you far – and fast. McElhatton set up Digital Advertising Northern Ireland (DANI) in the summer of 2010, in response to the rapid growth in the UK online advertising market. Now DANI is at the forefront of digital media in Northern Ireland, and McElhatton was voted one of the ‘Top 40 under 40’ entrepreneurs in 2011. She’s also an associate lecturer at the University of Ulster. McElhatton is particularly proud of the DANI Awards, now in their second year, which recognise the best of the digital industry in Northern Ireland. The mother of two young girls, she puts her success down to “fire in the belly.” FM


Everyone in the film and festival world in Northern Ireland knows Jude Sharvin. She has a special ability to make projects come alive. At the moment, she’s busy programming the Irish film strand of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, assisting well-known actor Adrian Dunbar in casting 2013 productions of Brian Friel’s play, Translations, and has just completed a stint as casting director for The Good Man, the debut feature film of writer/director Phil Harrison, which will premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh in July. Sharvin has a renowned ability to befriend and bond with people to create a professional network of actors, directors, writers and artists. “I learnt how to connect with people from my dad Malachy who ran a tiny bar in Ballyhornan, Co Down,” says Sharvin. “It was an unusual upbringing, full of laughter, tears and moments of sheer madness but it taught me a lot about people and how to share.” FM


Mary McCall is a 41-year-old north Belfast risk-taker who a year ago founded deals website TreatTicket, a site which offers deals for hotels, restaurants, spas, beauty treatment, days out and other forms of daily or weekend treats. TreatTicket operates in five cities – Belfast, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester – and in just 13 months of operation has more than 140,000 subscribers. “We expect to be offering local deals in at least 50 cities across the UK over the next two years,” she says. McCall, whose last job was working for Minister Sammy Wilson’s finance department at Stormont, is a formidable saleswoman, impressing a sufficient number of private investors and venture capitalists to invest in the company. “It’s not about being the biggest, it’s about being the best,” she says. GM


When Katharine Philippa stepped on stage at Belfast’s Ulster Hall for last month’s Great Northern Songbook those lucky enough to be in the audience knew they were witnessing something special. Only 20, this reflective singer-songwriter from Portadown had already made an impression with her debut EP Fallen, and her cover of The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams at the Ulster Hall won her even more fans. When not gigging or composing she studies music at Queen’s University, Belfast and is a part-time organ scholar with the Church of Ireland. She plays piano and guitar but has an endearing fondness for eclectic instruments such as her wooden box topped with an oven grill and an ancient typewriter she customised to produce a unique percussion sound. At this early stage of what is likely to be a long career, she is being mentored through Belfast’s Oh Yeah centre where she is part of the Scratch My Progress programme which supports emerging acts. Check her out at the Summer Madness festival in Glenarm Castle tonight and at various festivals through the summer. RI


This sharp-dressed broadcaster with the trademark quiff is slowly entering the consciousness of the Northern Ireland public as a producer on BBC Radio Ulster’s daily programme, The Stephen Nolan Show – “the biggest show in the country”, as Nolan, a sort of Northern Ireland current affairs shockjock, constantly reminds his listeners. Thirty-year-old Hurrell revels in the adrenalin-inducing buzz of being part of such a full-throttle programme. He also regularly features on the show as a foil to Nolan, taking abuse, engaging in banter, and regularly heading out of the BBC building to feed coins into car parking meters to ensure the portly Nolan isn’t handed another of the numerous parking fines he has amassed. Hurrell takes a day off on a Saturday and thereafter works pretty full-on 24/6 as a BBC producer, radio presenter and podcaster. He also presents the Vinny Show on Belfast youth station Blast106and he’s hosted a number of the Weekend Extra programmes from 7-8 am on Saturday morning on BBC Radio Ulster – hardly a prime slot, but just might be a launching pad to a sharper BBC profile. GM


One of Ireland’s very few FIFA registered agents, William McSorley represents 15 soccer players in Ireland and Britain. They may not be Rooneys or Givens, but McSorley is ambitious when it comes to landing even bigger names. The 32-year-old is a solicitor with Campbell Fitzpatrick in Belfast, which recently opened a specialised sports law service where McSorley, who has a masters in sports law, is a driving force. A native of Armagh, he knows his football. He played League of Ireland reserve football for UCD, was on the Armagh GAA panel for a while, and is now second goalie with the Antrim GAA team. He and the firm he represents reckon that agent work and other forms of sports representation will become a thriving and expanding business. “As Roy Keane once said, ‘players are no more than a piece of meat’. Players are out there to get as much from the game as they can in a very short window, and agents are only making a living out of a need that is there.” GM


A Derry man who operates between Europe and Australia, Sean Doran is back home at the moment having stolen a march on Dublin and Paris by founding and directing the first Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival which will run from August 23rd-27th. Beckett spent his formative years as a boarder at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen – also the alma mater of Oscar Wilde – hence the justification for the festival. Part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the festival is building up into an impressive multi-arts event. The festival highlight is a performance of Krapp’s Last Tape by the avant garde American actor and director Robert Wilson. Also appearing will be writers Edna O’Brien, John Banville, Colm Toibin and Melvyn Bragg. There’s a Bend It Like Beckett competition and a rugby Muckball Cup in a reference to Beckett’s great sporting prowess. Doran, who has an impressive record of running similar artistic events around the world, will respectfully but unmercifully milk every Beckett connection to make the festival work and establish it for the future. GM


Described by one critic as “an astute student of the human heart” and lauded as one of the most gifted young poets of her generation, multi- prize-winning poet Sinéad Morrissey is riding high on a tide of creativity. To date, she has published four collections of poetry including Through The Square Window, the title poem of which was awarded first place in the British National Poetry Competition in 2007. Armagh-born and Belfast-based, the mother of two is also a senior lecturer in creative writing at Queen’s University, Belfast. Other accolades she has earned include the Kavanagh Award and the Irish Times Poetry Award. In one of the poems in her first book, There Was Fire In Vancouver, she insightfully personifies one of the most bombed hotels in Europe:

The Europa Hotel

It’s a hard truth to have to take in the face — You wake up one morning with your windows

Round your ankles and your forehead billowing smoke

Your view impaired for another fortnight

Of the green hills they shatter you for.



John McCormick has just received his free bus pass – and he appears just as shocked as everyone else. “I’ve never worked harder in my life,” he laughs, spade in hand, at his organic farm at Helen’s Bay, a short commute from Belfast.

Originally from Dublin and a former banker, oil-rig worker and UCD drop-out, McCormick originally came North with the Camphill Community, and it was while working for that organisation that his love affair with sustainable agriculture and slow food took root.

His market garden has bucked the recessionary trend to expand and now boasts the North’s biggest box-scheme. No longer merely a grower, but an activist, albeit in a quiet, Zen-like fashion, McCormick is prominent in a number of causes, among them the “transition towns” movement and the Soil Association, for which he is the elected Northern Ireland representative. Among many ecology-related passions, his particular grá is the importance of a “green economy” – using local resources to alleviate depletion brought on by climate change. UB


Once dubbed the “Dalai Lama of Draperstown”, Paddy Glasgow is a big-hearted creative entrepreneur, who’s been running the Glasgowbury music festival, in a scenic corner of the Sperrin mountains, for 12 years. It started off as an obscure fundraiser for a cancer charity but has mushroomed into a well-loved jamboree with the tagline “small but massive”. Glasgowbury is a non-profit charity, deeply rooted in its south Derry community. Recognised by the Carnegie Trust for its contribution to rural regeneration and awarded Best Small Festival by the Irish Festival Awards, Glasgowbury boasts all the elements of the modern, boutique weekender – from holistic zone to “busk stop” – but what sets it apart is the ultra-safe, family-friendly atmosphere. You’re just as likely to see a crowd of Goths playing swingball as skulling cider. Away from the festival, the organisation called Glasgowbury grafts all year round, training young musicians from rural areas. Originally a singer-songwriter who toured Europe, Glasgow admits he “hasn’t time to breathe” since Glasgowbury went global, but this garrulous character, who could sell surplus energy to the national grid, wouldn’t have it any other way. UB


During the last World Cup, one of the companies advertising its wares on pitch-side hoardings seemed a tad out of place. Alongside the giant fast food and fizzy drinks brands there were banners promoting Northern Irish chicken producer Moy Park. “I’ve heard people across Ireland were rubbing their eyes wondering how we got ads at the World Cup,” smiles Nigel Dunlop, the chief executive of the poultry giant which is owned by soccer-friendly South American food company and FIFA sponsor Marfrig. The father of four steered the company during the Marfrig takeover and, in recent years, has been the guiding force when the business came under pressure due to high commodity inflation which saw a hike in the price of feed and wheat. Two years ago he oversaw the acquisition of another NI chicken player, O’Kane’s Poultry. Moy Park’s annual turnover is more than a billion pounds (sterling) and the company is Northern Ireland’s largest private sector employee with 10,500 workers and 13 sites across Europe. African-born and Enniskillen-educated Dunlop spent some time in India when he was younger, so if he is making a chicken dinner for his family it’s usually with plenty of spice. “I can make a decent curry,” he says. RI


With a voice described as “ludicrously soulful” 24-year-old Katie Richardson is best known around Belfast for being the frontwoman of the constantly evolving and as yet unsigned outfit Katie The Carnival. She wears quite a few other hats though, having worked with musicians including Duke Special, dabbled in puppetry and last year starred in the Tinderbox production of Paul Kennedy’s play Guidelines for a Long and Happy Life in the Belfast Festival. At the moment she is composing the music for another upcoming Tinderbox production Huzzies, a musical by Stacey Gregg due to open at the festival in October. The production centres on a fictional as yet unformed indie band and Richardson is charged with creating the sound and the songs for the group which, in a nod to The Commitments, will perform gigs in addition to starring in the musical. Her latest EP with Katie The Carnival is called Dinosaurs (A Little Fool To You) and she can be found gigging at festivals across the North this summer. RI


Wolsey is an unusual kind of property mogul – one with a social conscience. The son of two “committed socialists”, his working-class background has left him with a desire to give a foot-up to young people, especially those struggling to find direction. He left school at 15 with no qualifications – he’s now the North’s leading hospitality magnate; his Beancchor group boasting a portfolio of 39 pubs and hotels, the jewel in the crown being Belfast’s five-star Merchant Hotel. A grade-A listed building in the oldest part of the city, the hotel has been restored to Victorian grandeur, with a bit of Art Deco thrown in. You won’t find Wolsey sipping champagne in the spa, though – when he’s not scoping out bargain buys, such as the recently acquired, historic Portaferry Hotel, he’s giving pep talks in prisons and schools. The Merchant Hotel conducts an apprenticeship scheme with 27 schools in underprivileged areas. His latest venture is the Little Wings pizza chain, which promises “organic and healthy” fast food. UB


Milliner and jewellery maker Grainne Maher came to fashion from an unusual route. Having studied music at Queens, she went on to do a PhD in corsetry and its effect on the voice and from there started to take an interest in millinery. Since then she has built up a reputation for her bespoke headwear, some of it in perspex as well as more con- ventional fabrics and fans include Lady Gaga for whom she made a jewelled head cage. “Younger clients are more adventurous and want to be out there,” she says. One latest trend is for “perchers” (hats that centre on the forehead), a style initiated by Philip Treacy’s creations for last year’s UK royal wedding. Voted Designer of the Year two years ago, this mother of three works from her studio in Ravenshill where she also produces a range of jewellery called Pluck Devour, sold in House of Fraser and in boutiques around the country. DMcQ


Richard Dormer met his wife, Cork-born Rachel O’Riordan, while wearing tights and a bald wig. As it happens, it wasn’t Fetishists Anonymous but a production of Twelfth Night, in which Dormer was acting and O’Riordain directing. Since then, the couple have become the North’s thespian dream team, collaborating on productions through their company Ransom as well as enjoying considerable individual success. RADA-trained, Dormer got his big breakthrough writing and starring in Hurricane, the one-man show about troubled snooker ace Alex Higgins, which O’Riordain directed. It toured the West End and Broadway, potting awards as it went. Dormer is also writing the screenplay for and will play the lead in a film version of Hurricane, for which both Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers had been tipped. Dormer takes the lead again in Good Vibrations, the film about Belfast music legend Terri Hooley. O’Riordain has been commuting between Belfast and Perth, where she is an artistic director for the National Theatre of Scotland. Royal Ballet-trained, with a PhD in Shakespeare, she directs a series of mini-operas at Belfast’s new arts centre, the MAC, this weekend while Dormer can be seen in upcoming Irish/Swedish thriller Dark Touch. UB

With thanks to Gary Flynn and the team at Crane View Kitchens in Belfast’s dockside cultural space T13

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