International Women's Day 2015

In the wake of the global celebration we list ten of Ulster's most illustrious artists and leaders, from Dana to Mary McAleese

Mary O'Malley, co-founder of the Lyric Theatre

Mary O’Malley (1918 – 2006) was the founder of Belfast’s Lyric Players Theatre. A self-taught and tireless director, she fought against a tide of cultural populism and social indifference in the north during the 1950s, 60s and 70s to pioneer an unorthodox style of poetic theatre based on the principles of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre – co-founded by O’Malley’s literary idol, WB Yeats – where Irish writers and Irish culture would take centre stage. Read a full feature on her life and work.

Dame Mary Peters, Olympian

A legendary figure in British athletics, Mary Peters brought some much-needed good news to the country in the dark days of the early 1970s. At her peak in the early 1970s, the Lancashire-born sportswoman – who relocated to Ballymena aged 11 – took gold in the pentathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Watch a video interview with Peters recalling her greatest sporting achievements.

Dana, singer turned campaigner

Dana Rosemary Scallon famously won the Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland in 1970, with 'All Kinds of Everything'. On returning to her native city, she led in the Bogside in a midnight rendition of the song before anyone would consent to go home. Later she found herself being invited to meet Presidents, and used her newfound celebrity status to further the greater good. Read a feature on Dana's unexpected success.

Amanda McKittrick Ros, the world's worst writer?

Anna Margaret McKittrick was born on December 8, 1860 in Drumaness, County Down, the fourth child of Edward Amlave McKittrick and Eliza Black. Few would have known then that Anna Margaret would become, by her own invention, Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McClelland McKittrick Ros, a writer celebrated and slated in equal measure. Read a full feature on the woman who many believe to be the worst writer of prose fiction in history, and attempt to read some of her work if you dare.

Ulster Suffragettes

A century ago, a passionate crowd packed the Ulster Hall in Belfast to hear the iconic leader of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, demand votes for women. Leading feminist author, Dr Margaret Ward, returns to the same venue to deliver the Anna Eggert lecture for the Women's Resource and Development Agency on the Ulster Suffragettes, who risked prison and physical attack in their struggle for equality. Listen to the full podcast recording.

Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland

The eldest of nine children, Mary Patricia Leneghan was born in Belfast on June 27, 1951. Her mother was from Maghera and her father a native of Croghan, County Roscommon. Despite being directly affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland, McAleese was determined to pursue a career in Law. She graduated from Queen's University, Belfast, in 1973 and was called to the Northern Ireland Bar a year later. Read a feature on the rise and rise of one of Ireland's greatest stateswomen.

Rita Duffy, visual artist

'I drew portraits of people on the street in Montauk during the summer months when I was a student. It was pressured at first. But Andy Warhol was about – he wasn’t at all what I expected – and a very young Jade Jagger even stole some of my pencils one day. It was a thriving scene in New York. Drawing on the spot helped me sharpen my drawing skills.' Read a full Q&A interview with one of Northern Ireland's most respected conceptual artists.

Helen Lewis, Holocaust survivor and founder of Belfast Modern Dance Group

Dancing the valse from Coppelia saved Helen Lewis’s life. The Czech-Jewish dancer survived the deprivation of the ghettoes, then the hell of Auschwitz and a cruel life of hard labour at Strutthof. And just when she felt her spirit would break altogether, someone asked if she would dance in the camp’s Christmas show... Lewis relocated to Belfast following the Second World War, where she trained hundreds of dancers. Read a review of Lewis's acclaimed memoir, A Time to Speak.

Baroness May Blood

‘God gave my brothers and sisters husbands and wives, he gave me the brains,' jokes Baroness May Blood. 'The two that got away,' she adds, 'I have to say, their miss was their mercy, because I was always going to change the world, and nothing was going to take the place of that.’ Blood's 'From the Factory Floor to the House of Lords' lecture at the Ulster Hall charts the remarkable journey of one of Northern Ireland's great feminist advocates. Listen to the full podcast recording.

Mary Ann McCracken

Mary Ann McCracken established a muslin business with her sister Margaret in Belfast in the late 1700s. A firm believer in women’s equality, she was interested in mathematics, literature and politics, and was also involved in the United Irishmen. She will forever remain a symbol of the struggle for equality. Read a short account of her and her brother, Henry Joy's, historic lives.

International Women's Day took place on March 6. The Women's Resource and Development Agency have organised a full programme of events.