The tragic circumstances in which 26-year-old Helen McEntee ran in a byelection after the death of her father last year would be enough to gain most people's respect, but her bearing during the campaign in March contributed to the high regard in which she is held. As the second-youngest TD in the Dáil, she is in a position to shape her party's future in the long term.
The century's other great whistleblower, Bradley Manning, was convicted by a military court of supplying a huge tranche of information to Wikileaks and sentenced to 35 years in jail in August. The former soldier earned further respect from supporters when, just after the verdict, he made the difficult announcement that he was a trans woman, began hormone replacement therapy, and henceforth wanted to be known as Chelsea Manning.
The Australian general election in September was a bad-mannered affair, with a deeply unpopular incumbent Labor party, led by Kevin Rudd after the sudden ousting of Julia Gillard not long before polling day, heavily beaten by a coalition led by the Liberal Party's Tony Abbott. Since assuming office, Abbott has stuck by some of his more populist policies, with a hardline stance on immigration and climate change.
Hugo Chávez was one of the world's most charismatic leaders over the past dozen years, a firebrand socialist who either restored pride and fairness to Venezuela or catastrophically mismanaged the country, depending on the ideology of the observer. Following his death in March after a prolonged battle with cancer, it was up to his deputy, Nicolás Maduro, to continue Chávez's so-called Bolivarian Revolution. His leadership has so far struggled to control inflation and slowing growth, but recent local election victories have buoyed his presidency.
Thicke, who is 36, has been a big name in R&B circles for years now, but he went seriously mainstream with the huge success of the controversial hit Blurred Lines, an infectious pop creation that was alternately seen as a playful description of nightclub seduction or an objectionable apology for sexual harassment, depending on the listener. It most certainly was the song of the year, however.
It can be hard to keep up with the endless soap opera that is Italian politics, and this year we were introduced to yet another new prime minister in the form of Enrico Letta, who succeeded the technocrat Mario Monti in April. Letta faces a steep challenge, what with a dysfunctional political system and serious pressure from the EU to throw some shape on the faltering economy. Given that this is Italy, it's best not to get too familiar with him; it might not be long before he's handing the office over to someone else.
The head of the US Federal Reserve is one of the most important positions in the world, with enormous influence on the global economy, and this year Yellen, who is 67, became the first woman to be nominated for the position. The fact that she is by far the best qualified candidate in the history of the bank was not enough to prevent President Obama attempting to install the divisive Larry Summers, but the sighs of relief after Summers dropped out of the race illustrate just how highly regarded Yellen really is.
The haunting, soaring Take Me To Church was inarguably the Irish single of the year, an instant classic that has made Wicklow's Andrew Hozier Byrne the hottest commodity in Irish music, justifiably generating global buzz. A star has very much been born.
The former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had played the role of useful international bogeyman for the past number of years, always on hand to deliver an incendiary speech threatening Israel or the West. So the election of the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani in June wrong-footed both extremist factions in Iran and those elements in the US and the West that relied on Iran as a convenient villain. The landmark Geneva agreement curtailing Iranian nuclear programmes is just the first sign Rouhani is determined to change Iran's recent course.
Tipperary-born Donal Ryan, who was on the longlist for the Man Booker prize this year, wasn't the only promising young writer given a boost by the prize; this year saw the precociously talented 28-year-old New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton become the youngest winner of the prize to date with her sprawling, hugely ambitious second novel The Luminaries. At this point, Catton is firmly on course to become one of this century's literary giants.
Most of the country didn't know what the 19-year-old Clare hurler looked like until, a few minutes from the end of Clare's epic All-Ireland final replay against Cork, he was substituted and took off his helmet: the boyish good looks and mop of hair made for a sporting unveiling for the ages. By that stage he had already written his name into the history books with a man-of-the-match performance, scoring three goals and three points and helping the Banner to All-Ireland glory.
Ten-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis won everybody's hearts at the start of the year, becoming the youngest nominee to date for Best Actress Oscar, for her starring role in the powerful, poetic arthouse film Beasts of the Southern Wild. Needless to say, she charmed everyone with her winning smile and heartbreaking performance. If there's any justice, Wallis will be a star for years to come.