Start Making Sense with Imagine! Belfast

The Festival of Ideas and Politics returns to stimulate discussion on the big issues of today with high profile talks, theatre and more

Imagine! Belfast’s Festival of Ideas and Politics returns from March 14 - 20 to broaden horizons and puncture preconceptions with an open invitation to 'Start Making Sense'.

In this year of Assembly elections and commemorations, Imagine! Festival offers up an electrifying and eclectic week of discussions, talks, workshops, theatre, comedy, exhibitions, quizzes and tours to help us explore some 'big ideas' in our 'wee country'.

Over 80 – mostly free – events will take place in over 25 venues across the city, and organisers welcome everyone from the avowedly non-political to dedicated political observers, and youthful idealists to seasoned cynics in a festival-for-all.

The festival aims to stimulate a discussion on new ideas, big questions and activism in order to try to understand the range of global and local challenges that confront us all. Standouts of its hard-hitting programme of talks includes – in a rare visit to Belfast – award-winning journalist Owen Jones on The Politics of Hope and leading comedian, Bridget Christie.

Other high profile speakers include Geoff Mulgan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Jo Wolff, Avi Shlaim, Cathy Gormley-Heenan and John Higgs.

Peter O'Neill, Imagine! founder and director, said: 'The festival provides a unique opportunity for people to have their say on some of the big issues of our time in a fun, dynamic way. We want to encourage participation from people not normally involved in political debate and stimulate a discussion on new ideas and activism.

'There’s something for everyone in our programme – most of the events are free and spread across the city. So join us in making sense of our politics and culture.'


Topics for discussion range from What is the State of Democracy in NI?; What is Progress?; Towards a People Powered Politics; Editing the Genome and 1916: A Political Reflection 100 Years On’ to Brexit; the First World War; abortion; and the legacy of the conflict.

Imagine! also presents the Start Making Sense series of talks, which include Making Sense of Poverty, Making Sense of Youth Justice and Making Sense of the 20th Century, and – not a moment too soon - Making Sense of Elections.

Dozens of discussions and workshops cover the full gamut of issues on everybody’s minds at the moment, and encourage active debate by all in an open festival forum. Highlights include Are Schools Failing our Kids?; The Suffragettes, 100 years on; Populism and Racism and One Starry Night - hot chocolate, cosy blankets and star dust provided.

The festival also features an Alternative St Patrick’s Day with an affectionate and oh-so-slightly irreverent touch. There’s Pilgrimage, Pints and a Parade, discussions on Irishness and the Legacy of St Patrick and humorous investigations into the Irishness of St Patrick – in the unsurprisingly named 'Sure St Patrick Wasn't Even Irish' – plus comedian Neil Dougan maintaining 'St Patrick was a Prod'!

The comedy strand continues with US comedienne Jennifer Rawlings (I Only Smoke in War Zones) and a night of Electoral Dysfunction from Infinite Jest providing more laughter than you’d get from your average week in Stormont.

Meanwhile, Imagine’s theatre programme includes the premiere of Accidental Theatre’s Gordon Osram’s Funeral, The Rising at The MAC, Dramatising Political Ideas with the acclaimed playwright Jimmy McAleavey and Tinderbox, Deporting Patrick by Kabosh and Tost, from the award-winning Dylan Quinn Dance Company.

Add to that a couple of big fat quizzes, screenings, tours and a photo exhibition – John Baucher: It’s Nothing New (on the theme of immigration) and you have Imagine!, the only festival of Politics and Ideas worth voting for…

Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics runs from March 14 to 20 in various venues across Belfast. For full programme details and ticket booking visit