Things to Look Forward to in Northern Ireland in 2018

Heather McGarrigle offers a wealth of reasons to keep your head up for the year in wait, with hand-picked highlights from music, art, heritage and more

So, the decorations are back in the attic for another year, the fridge is nearly as empty as your bank account and another bleak and chilly January is stretching out before us. In fact, we’re heading towards Blue Monday, statistically the most depressing day of the year in terms of weather, debt, motivation, failure to keep resolutions, and how far away the merriment of Christmas seems to be.

But don’t get ready to hibernate just yet – there is already so much to look forward to in 2018! To prove it, we’ve put together a small selection of the fantastic things you’ll be able to watch, visit, listen to, read, learn and enjoy in the months ahead.

Festivals and Music

Northern Ireland has a packed schedule of festivals, many of which already have programmes released and early-bird tickets available.

We’ll begin with the Out to Lunch which is already underway! It started on the January 5 and runs until 28. Such is the post-Christmas appetite for its uplifting mix of comedy, spoken word and live music that many shows are sold out, but there are still plenty with tickets available.

Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival early bird tickets are on sale now too, with Ben Folds and a Piano set to be one of the festival marquee highlights in May.

Derry band Velvet Alibi have joined an exciting new music collective headed up by Scream Blue Murmur. Together with Civil Simian and Blackjack, the group is collectively known as The Beehive and aim to raise the profile of Northern Ireland’s thriving – if lesser known – groove music scene. With two wildly successful 2017 festival performances under their belt (Culture Night and the Sound of Belfast) the group is one to watch in 2018. A fundraising gig is next on the cards, on January 27 at the Oh Yeah Centre – click here for tickets.

The NI Science Festival returns on February 15, bringing 11 days of enlightenment to our shores. The programme has just launched and there truly is something for everyone. Now in its fourth year, it has expanded to 180+ events, with some of the best and brightest minds in the world offering workshops, talks, interactive events and more. Colonel Chris Hadfield and Professor Alice Roberts are two of the big names appearing this year. See for more.

The 14th Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival arrives on March 7, with 30 concerts of great local music over five days to ease us out of the cold and into the spring. Tickets for over a dozen concerts and events are available on

With Glastonbury taking a break this year, the BBC have decided to fill its sizeable wellies with the Biggest Weekend festival, which will tour the UK, arriving in Northern Ireland over the late May bank holiday weekend (May 25-28) with some of the 'biggest artists in the world' performing. Tickets are likely to be free, so keep an eye on the BBC website.

Belsonic, meanwhile, already has some big-name acts booked, namely Liam Gallagher on June 16 and The Script on 24, both in Ormeau Park. Tickets on

Sunflowerfest – the big, bright, family-friendly music and arts festival returns to Tubby’s Farm in the Moira countryside on July 27 and early bird tickets are already selling quickly on

The fifth Belfast Guitar Festival runs between August 5 and 8; line-up still to be announced.

The number one ethnic arts and culture festival, Belfast Mela, is back in Botanic Gardens on August 26. It will follow ArtsEkta’s biggest year to date, as they have just announced their 2018 plans, including new community programmes, special performances and multi-cultural workshops and projects across Northern Ireland.


2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Northern Ireland’s programme of events has not yet been released, but it’s being taken pretty seriously with the Historic Environment Division, Tourism Northern Ireland, and the Heritage Lottery Fund working together to not only offer loads to see and do throughout the year, but will also be funding initiatives to build and grow this sector for the future. Keep an eye on Communities NI and Discover Northern Ireland for event listings and more information.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of philanthropist Sir Richard Wallace and this is being marked in his native Lisburn with an open air concert in the heart of the city. Many of Lisburn’s streets, its main public park and one of its grammar schools bear his surname, so it’s fitting that the students of his 'living legacy' Wallace High School are taking centre stage at a concert featuring over 200 school pupils from the borough. Full details available soon on

Of course, 2018 also marks 100 years since The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women the right to vote. Suffrage and Society is a full-day conference being held in Belfast on February 6, hosted by Public Records Office NI in conjunction with Queens University Belfast and the Ulster Society of Irish Historical Studies. Search Eventbrite for tickets.


It’s another big year for film, especially if you love your comic book heroes. Avengers: Infinity War, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Hellboy are all due for release in 2018. Another Star Wars spin-off hits the big screen too – Solo: A Star Wars Story will give fans a glimpse at Han Solo and Chewbacca’s adventures prior to joining the Rebellion.

The trend for sequels, prequels and reboots shows no signs of slowing, with Fifty Shades, Fantastic Beasts, Mission Impossible, Deadpool, Oceans 11/12/13, Mary Poppins, Jurassic Park and Tomb Raider all adding a new film or a new take on the original this year.

Queen fans are finally getting the film they’ve been waiting for, with Rami Malek starring as Freddie Mercury in the band biopic Bohemian Rhapsody set for release just after Christmas.

Helen Mirren’s highly anticipated foray into horror, Winchester, arrives in cinemas next month (February 2). It’s based on the true story of the firearm heiress who believed her vast, spooky mansion was haunted by the souls of people killed by Winchester rifles.

Books and Literature

Big book releases include Zadie Smith’s second essay collection, Feel Free; Still Me by Jojo Moyes, the follow-up to her bestselling Me Before You and After You; the return of the Trainspotting crew in Irvine Welsh’s Dead Men’s Trousers and Jo Nesbo’s new thriller, Macbeth.

Closer to home, there are lots of new releases from Irish and Northern Irish authors this year – Donal Ryan’s fourth novel From A Low and Quiet Sea reaches from Syria to Ireland and is out in March. Thriller Tangerine by Christine Mangan is out in March and has already been picked up by Hollywood – set to become a film, directed by George Clooney and starring Scarlet Johansson.


Belfast writers Anna Burns and Sam Thompson have novels coming out this year – respectively, Milkman in March and Jott in May.

Theatre and Performance

Edgefest is a three-week festival of explosive new theatre by Prime Cut Productions and Tinderbox, designed to 'take us to the very edge of who we are'. One of the highlights looks to be The Man Who Fell To Pieces, the story of John who is, literally, falling apart. Using tape and clingfilm, he tries to hold himself together and unlikely hilarity ensues. Tickets for this and other Edgefest shows are available from

Brian Friel’s 1967 two-part play is in the Lyric Theatre from May 12 to June 10. Lovers: Winners & Losers is a bittersweet meditation on love, told in two parts.


Back to new theatre with the Irish premiere of Andrew Doyle’s debut Borderland, in the Waterfront on 19th and 20th January. It tells the story of two brothers whose delivery work is drying up due to the peace process putting their paramilitary clients out of business. They have one last delivery to make, and can’t help taking a peek inside the package… book at


Seedhead Arts have worked hard to put Belfast’s street art on the map with their innovative Hit The North project, and their street art walking tour is one of the best ways to see the fruits of their labour around the city centre. The tours run every Sunday from noon and only cost £8; check for more.

The R-Space Gallery are also celebrating the Richard Wallace bicentenary with an exhibition entitled The New Wallace Collection from April 7 to May 4. Before that, they are showcasing the work of two great female artists – Lucy May Schofield’s The Blue of Distance is a print exhibition incorporating workshops with the artist. That runs from January 13 to February 9. Between February 24 and March 23, Lucy Brown’s Offerings is a series of sculptural and wall-based works exploring narratives around the body, femaleness and nostalgia.