Northern Ireland Artists to Watch in 2017

A round-up of some of the rising stars tipped to light up local literature, theatre, music and more in the year to come

Northern Ireland is rich in creative talent and each New Year brings with it fresh new names who are hoping to make their mark in their respective fields. Whether you’re a music fan, or are into film, fashion or comedy, there’s something for everyone in the list below, which is of course, in no way exhaustive.

The following is but a dip in the ocean of the fresh talent emerging within the province, but is a good place to start if you want to be among the first to discover a few new names….

Music: Alana Henderson

Originally from Dungannon, cellist and singer-songwriter Alana Henderson will release her debut album in spring/early summer this year. Having released a debut EP – Wax & Wane - back in 2014, Henderson has been steadily building her profile throughout Northern Ireland and beyond since then. Indeed, she spent 2015/16 touring the globe with Hozier as a featured cellist, vocalist and occasional support act.

Henderson’s music is a creative fusion of folk and pop, featuring haunting vocals and of course, with that evocative cello sound mixed throughout. Once heard, she is not easily forgotten and her talent is sure to shine brightly in the year ahead.

Alana Henderson will perform with her brother and producer, Jarlath Henderson, at this year’s Out to Lunch Festival in Belfast, on January 21.

Poetry: Erin Halliday

With a vibrant poetry scene throughout Northern Ireland, it’s hard to pick out one person from the wealth of emerging talent. However, in December 2016, Erin Halliday – a teacher from Bangor – was presented with the Ireland Chair of Poetry 2016 Bursary, which is awarded annually to ‘a poet of promise’. Halliday, whose pamphlet Chrysalis won the Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection Awards, will subsequently enjoy a month-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan.

A recipient of the Arts Council’s ACES Award in 2015, Halliday’s work has to date appeared in Cyphers, FourXFour, Poetry and Audience, Poetry Proper, and The Yellow Nib. In 2016 she also featured in Blackstaff Press’s New Poets from the North of Ireland anthology, and The Bangor Book - a collection of writing celebrating 25 years of the Aspects Literary Festival. Described as a poet of great integrity and passion, Halliday is no doubt one to keep tabs on in the year ahead.

Erin Halliday

Prose: Pauline Burgess

Belfast teacher and author, Pauline Burgess, has built up a name for herself locally in the past few years, thanks to her Pony Friends Forever series for children, published by Blackstaff Press. However, just before Christmas, she signed a three-book deal with Poolbeg Press, who will publish Burgess’s new trilogy, aimed at 11-13 year-olds, over 2017/18.

The first book in the series is entitled Knock Back and is due for release in September 2017. The story takes place on a fictional residential farm for 'troubled teens' on the shores of Strangford Lough, and explores a range of issues faced by young people, looking at their problems, hopes and dreams. Having been writing and sending out manuscripts for the past 16 years, Burgess is proof that talent and perseverance always pays off.

Pauline Burgess

Theatre: Vicky McFarland

Larne-based writer, Vicky McFarland, is passionate about storytelling and currently has two plays in the pipeline – Heracles: Horror to hero (working title) and The Queen Bee. Awarded funding from the Arts Council towards the end of 2016, McFarland is now forging ahead with developing her work, and is also being mentored by Replay Theatre.

A trained teacher, McFarland is keen to explore storytelling in all its forms and has previously produced videos, audios and e-books, as well as running various workshops. In 2017, however, it’s all about the playwriting…

Acting: Anthony Boyle

Up-and-coming actor, Anthony Boyle from Poleglass, previously trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is now building up an impressive work portfolio. Cast as Scorpius - Draco Malfoy’s lookalike son in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - the young actor has now been nominated as Best Supporting Actor in a Play for the role. Winners of the 17th annual WhatsOnStage Awards will subsequently be announced in February.

Belfast-based Boyle has also appeared in HBO’s Game of Thrones, while his film credits to date include The Journey, The Lost City of Z, and the short film The Party. He also previously appeared on stage in Herons at the Lyric Theatre and in East Belfast Boy (which he co-wrote) at Ballymac Friendship Centre. A name to remember.


Filmmaking: Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin 

Establishing Six Mile Hill Productions Ltd in 2012, writer/director Chris Baugh and producer Brendan Mullin are now set to launch their debut feature-length film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Taking place from January 19-29, the internationally renowned festival in Utah will subsequently show Bad Day for the Cut, which was filmed in Northern Ireland, at a special Midnight Screening.

The thriller - written by Baugh and Mullin, directed by Baugh and produced by both Mullin and Katy Jackson – is about an Irish farmer out for revenge after his mother is murdered. Set in Belfast, the film was developed through Northern Ireland Screen’s New Talent Focus scheme and supported by Lottery funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Having won the Best Irish Short at the Kerry International Film Festival 2012 with their horror, Boys from County Hell, Baugh and Mullin are definitely a duo to take note of in the year ahead.

Bad Day for the Cut

Fashion and Design: ONA by Agne

ONA by Agne launched in August 2016, with the designer making her West Coast Cooler Belfast Fashion Week debut in October last year. With a very distinctive look, ONA by Agne specialises in making luxury knitwear and home-wear from chunky merino wool and has already built up a following locally.

Inspired by her grandmother, Agne knits everything from chunky hats and scarves, to blankets and accessories, all in vibrant and contemporary shades. Appearing at the Love Your Home Belfast 2016 show, her inspirational designs certainly made an impression, and 2017 is sure to see her become a more established name.

ONA by Agne

Visual Arts: Joanne Proctor

One of Arts Council NI’s ACES recipients in December 2016, Joanne Proctor is an award-winning contemporary visual artist whose work explores the complexity of the human body. Using a needle rather than a pencil, however, Proctor painstakingly hand-stitches her own hair onto paper to create images such as the ‘Drawing Breath’ piece, which depicted bronchial breathing tubes.

A participant in the Golden Thread Gallery’s Artist Career Enhancement Programme in 2014-15, Proctor’s work can be found in various public and private collections. Publicly, her work has been shown at Brooklyn Art Library in Brooklyn, New York; The Siena Art Institute in Italy and at Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Graduating in 2008 with a First Class Honours Degree in Fine and Applied Art from Ulster University’s Belfast School of Art, Proctor is sure to make her mark even further in the year to come.

Drawing Breath by Joanne Proctor

Drawing Breath by Joanne Proctor

Comedy: Aaron McCann

Omagh's Aaron McCann announced himself to the world in fairly untraditional fashion for a stand-up comedian, making headlines across the world's music media by persuading rapper Tyler, the Creator to come see him perform at an open mic night in LA. In the two years since the twentysomething comic has been in good company, refining his act as part of the 'Comedy Squad', a loose collective of some of Northern Ireland's funniest young talents which managed to sell out the Ulster Hall in October.

McCann also enjoyed a joint residency at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival with fellow Comedy Squad member Dave Elliott (its title Fathead & the Big Dog needing little explanation), has his own podcast and can currently be seen doing the rounds on Facebook, in a clever New Year's-themed clip for Boojum. With recent material covering everything from Countryfile jivers to his dad's attempts to haggle for Nike Air Jordan's, he's a unique voice in the comedy circuit and one that's only going to get louder.