For International Women’s Day 2022, we’ve taken a look at just some of the women in Northern Ireland who have been doing exciting and innovative things in recent years, whether it be in music, film, sport, business, activism or literature.
By no means a comprehensive list, here are 30 women who are breaking barriers in Northern Ireland:
(Image: Bee Macay)
Hailing from the outskirts of Belfast, Dea Matrona are made up of Mollie McGinn and Orlaith Forsythe (and previously Mamie McGinn).
Read more: 60 female and non-binary artists from Northern Ireland to watch
With their blistering takes on rock classics – Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Eric Clapton and Carole King are just some of the few artists in their repetoire – Dea Matrona made a name for themselves a few years back while busking the streets of Belfast.
Recently, they’ve reached a much wider international audience with live shows supporting the likes of Van Morrison and Status Quo, festival slots all over Europe, and all-important original releases, showing that they can write as well as they can play covers.
Enniskillen-based star Lisa McHugh is one of those artist who has taken country music in Ireland in a unique, entirely new direction over the past decade or so.
Just as comfortable on stage at the Farmer’s Bash as she is at the Late Late Show, she’s helped bridge the gap between country and pop, gaining legions of fans in the process.
The past few years have seen Gemma Bradley emerge as one of Northern Ireland’s foremost radio presenters, often introducing local audiences to the best in Northern Ireland music, as well as hosting a slot on BBC Radio 1.
But aside from that, Gemma is also a brilliant artist in her own right. Pop-RnB, with everything from tropical house to funk thrown into the mix, she’s building a reputation as much for her performing as for her presenting.
Brooke Scullion performed at the Semi-Final tonight
(Image: The Voice)
Co Derry singer Brooke Scullion rose to fame as a finalist in The Voice UK back in 2020, where she was mentored by Grammy award-winning coach/singer Meghan Trainor.
Now, she’s set to represent Ireland at Eurovision 2022 in Italy, following in the footsteps of fellow Derry Eurovision star Dana who won the competition representing Ireland in 1970.
Brooke was one of only six finalists chosen to compete for the top spot from over 300 entries after the Late Late Show put out a call for applications last year.
(Image: STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER PRESS)
She was just 16 when she shot to fame on the X Factor back in 2010, and now Janet Devlin from Gortin, Co Tyrone, is speaking out about her experience of alcoholism to bring more attention to the subject.
In a new documentary for BBC NI, ‘Janet Devlin: Young, Female and Addicted’, the 27-year-old singer speaks to young women from NI who are battling alcohol addiction, or who have been affected by addiction.
(Image: Channel 4/Peter Marley)
Saoirse Monica-Jackson has had a brilliant start to her career as an actress, charming us all with her portrayal of Erin Quinn in Derry Girls.
Her role in the show saw her being nominated for the IFTA Gala Television Award for Best Female Performance following its first season.
The 28-year-old from Derry is certainly one to watch, with a string of appearances in films such as The Flash coming later this year.
Derry Girls writer and creator, Lisa McGee, has really helped put Northern Ireland on the map with the hit Channel 4 series.
Many of Lisa’s other creations have achieved success, such as the BAFTA-nominated Being Human for the BBC, and the Golden Globe-nominated drama series The White Queen for BBC 1.
(Image: BBC/David Emery)
Derry actress Amanda Burton is best known for her early role as accountant Heather Black on Brookside from 1982 to 1986.
Following this, she’s went on to feature in a string of popular TV shows including Silent Witness, Marcella, and Waterloo Road. Alongside her extensive acting work, Burton is also an ambassador for The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury and neurodisability.
Tara Lynn O’Neill
Tara-Lynne O’Neill in Rough Girls
(Image: Lyric Theatre)
Stealing our hearts in her role as the loveable Ma Mary in Derry Girls, most recently, Tara Lynn O’Neill wrote and starred in the play ‘Rough Girls’, which tells the story of Belfast’s first ever women’s football team.
As well as researching and writing about women’s football in Belfast, supporting its further development is something the Derry actress is passionate about.
Over the years, she has also been involved in doing charity work, including her regular involvement in Translink’s Stuff A Bus appeal.
Singer and actress Bronagh Gallagher is certainly a woman breaking barriers. Her big break came with her starring role as Bernie in 1991 film, ‘The Commitments.’
She followed this up with smaller roles in smash hit movies including ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace.”
In 2020, she achieved the incredible feat of being listed at number 33 on The Irish Times list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.
As one of the leading broadcasters in the UK, it feels like Christine Lampard has been a constant presence on terrestrial channels for years.
Originally from Newry, Christine has had an incredible career in the TV industry, going from co-hosting The One Show and This Morning, to joining the team at Loose Women, to presenting factual shows and documentaries.
She has also been praised for her charity work, and is a Northern Ireland ambassador for The Prince’s Trust.
Allison Harding in NI Opera’s ‘Into The Woods’
(Image: Philip Magowan)
Allison Harding has had an incredible career as a film, TV and theatre actor, performing in everything from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to Macbeth.
Working and performing in Belfast, Harding was the standout performer in the NI Opera’s recent take on the musical Into The Woods – meaning that the actress is one of the many helping to keep singing and dancing alive in Northern Ireland.
Chef Clare Smyth
(Image: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Co Antrim-raised chef Clare Smyth MBE this year retained 3 Michelin stars – the highest possible grading – for her London-based restaurant CORE.
Clare opened her restaurant in 2017 and it was awarded three Michelin stars in 2021, which made her the first Northern Irish chef to have a restaurant with such achievement.
She has received numerous awards including the title of the World’s Best Female Chef 2018 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Clare grew up on a farm in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland where her lifelong love and passion for food and nature began.
Zara Campbell, CEO of The Safe Yard
Zara Campbell is CEO of Northern Ireland’s very first safety and self-defence company of its kind, The Safe Yard. The former Miss Derry recognised that more must be done to keep women safe in public and in unknown surroundings.
She wanted to act after her own experiences of experiencing sexism and harassment, as well as the growing number of events of violence targeted towards women, to create this self-defence business.
The Safe Yard offers a number of items for personal self-defence, including a key chain alarm, a drink spike testing kit, an extra door lock and a non-toxic criminal identification spray.
Caroline O’Neill, organiser of DIGG Deep for Kids is pictured with daughter Tess
(Image: Polka Dot Photo)
Caroline O’Neill was recognised as Northern Ireland’s Inspirational Woman of the Year in 2021. At the inaugural virtual Women in Business Inspiring Women Awards in December Caroline was picked from over 300 nominations to receive the title.
She was chosen from the winners of the five award categories for her generosity of spirit as she raised over £100K for Cash for Kids and various other charities at Christmas time to ensure no child was without a gift on Christmas Day.
Amanda Currie from Co Tyrone was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 18 and decided to launch her own company Oh-Vary, a period box subscription service, to help others suffering in silence.
Amanda found that there was a lack of local resources for people suffering from PCOS and other menstrual-related issues which led her on a new career path during the pandemic.
Oh-Vary contains all the essential sanitary products for the time of the month but also contains sweet traits and self-care gifts to comfort you every month with 5 per cent of all sales going to charities dedicated to ending period poverty and addressing the major issues faced in Northern Ireland surrounding accessibility of sanitary products.
Katrina McDonnell, project manager of the Homeless Period Belfast
Katrina McDonnell is the founder of Homeless Period Belfast, established in 2016 to raise awareness of period poverty locally. Mobilising an army of volunteers, Katrina and the team have distributed thousands of period care packs to a wide range of people in need, from rough sleepers and the homeless, to people who depend on food banks, refugees, asylum seekers, teenagers living in poverty and community youth groups.
The volunteer-led group has also campaigned for free period products for all girls and women across the region. She played a major role in the effort to get the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill passing through Stormont’s legislative process.
As the winner of this year’s International Women’s Day competition, 23-year-old graphic designer and illustrator Rebecca Elliott is one of the many local women who have documented and articulated the importance of this day.
Rebecca won the competition for her beautiful piece on the theme ‘World Changing Women’, pictured below.
Anna Kernahan leads the protest
(Image: Philip Magowan/PressEye)
Anna Kernahan is an activist from Northern Ireland who came to wider attention following the school strikes – where students across the world sacrificed school to protest government inaction around climate change.
In the years since then, Anna has continued with climate change activism, and has become one of those – like Greta Thunberg – who has highlighted and articulated the youth’s case in responding to this issue.
India Sasha Atkinson is on a mission to change the way the world sees people with disabilities by making hundreds of thousands of people smile every day on TikTok. Born with a rare congenital hand defect called Symbrachydactyly, India is the self-proclaimed “CEO of One Hand Humour” and is educating the world on issues such as accessibility and ableism one viral video at a time.
Whether it is her infectious outlook on life and never letting anything stop her from achieving her dreams – this 22-year-old is definitely one to watch out for.
(Image: Bernadette Hagans/ Instagram)
Bernadette Hagans broke boundaries when she became the first person with a physical disability to become a Miss Northern Ireland finalist.
Not only did she end up placing third in the competition, but she also won the coveted ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ title for her work as an ambassador for cancer charities such as CLIC Sergeant, The Boom Foundation and The Cancer Fund for Children. In 2018, the Belfast model had her leg amputated due to cancer and only two weeks after being discharged from the hospital, she ended up being signed by Zebedee modelling agency.
She has gone on to model for major brands like Primark, Kurt Gieger and Pretty Little Thing while inspiring a whole generation of people to be proud of their disabilities.
(Image: INPHO/Gary Carr)
As an MMA fighter, Leah McCourt became the first woman to headline a Bellator Europe card in Dublin back in 2020, breaking new ground for women in the sport.
A fierce advocate for all things MMA, Leah’s name is synonymous with the sport in Northern Ireland. She is also an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation gold medalist, as well as being a black belt in Judo.
Katie Mullan during a Tokyo 2020 Ireland hockey team announcement
(Image: Getty Images)
As captain of the Ireland Field Hockey team, Katie Mullan helped bring the country to the Field Hockey World Cup Final in 2018, a truly phenomenal and unprecedented achievement.
As if one incredible achievement wasn’t enough, Katie Mullan has also proven her abilities on the GAA pitch. At the end of February, Katie was part of the Eoghan Rua camogie team who became the first Ulster winners of the All-Ireland junior club championship.
Tokyo , Japan – 2 August 2021; Ciara Mageean of Ireland reacts after finishing in 10th place after round one of the women’s 1500 metres at the Olympic Stadium on day ten of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Hailing from Portaferry, Ciara Mageean has broken records left, right and centre when it comes to middle-distance running in athletics.
The 29-year-old became the Irish record holder for the 1500m and the mile in 2016. Then in 2020, Mageean became the first Irish woman ever to run sub-two minutes for the 800m.
Rachel Furness celebrates here record breaking strike
(Image: William Cherry/Presseye)
Last year’s NI BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Rachel Furness also recently broke the Northern Irish goal scoring record, beating the old record which was held by David Healy.
Furness is part of a Northern Irish team which has gone from strength to strength in recent years – qualifying for first ever major finals in 2021, meaning they’re set to play at the Euros later this year.
Co Down swimmer Bethany Firth is a six time Paralympic gold medalist and one of the strongest athletes to come out of Northern Ireland in recent years.
She competed at the 2012, 2016 and 2021 Paralympics, and – with three golds and one silver – was Great Britain’s most successful Paralympian in 2016.
Jan Carson’s books have been at the forefront of documenting contemporary Northern Ireland.
A previous winner of the EU Prize for Literature, her 2019 book The Firestarters blended magic realism with concerns about the flaring of troubles in post-Good Friday Agreement Belfast. Her latest novel, The Raptures , centres on a small town in Northern Ireland which is beset by a mysterious illness, and has received critical acclaim.
Anna Burns holds her book ‘Milkman’ ahead of being announced winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
(Image: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Winner of the 2018 Booker Prize, Anna Burns’ troubles-set novel Milkman went on to sell over half a million copies.
Her work – which is as daring as it is divisive – helped point people from across the world to a blossoming literary scene in Northern Ireland.
Anna Burns’ first novel, No Bones , is also a powerful book which focuses particularly on the experiences of women during the troubles.
A novelist, playwright, radio playwright, editor and short story writer, Lucy Caldwell has held a prominent place in Northern Irish literature.
Lucy Caldwell’s latest book, These Days, takes a look at Belfast during the Blitz, while the author also recently won the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award for her short story, ‘All the People Were Mean and Bad’.
As editor of the book ‘Being Various: New Irish Short Stories’, Lucy has also helped promote the work of many other emerging Northern Irish writers.
A short story writer and a teacher at Strathearn School, Wendy Erskine has had a global reach with her two short story collections, 2018’s Sweet Home, and 2022’s Dance Move.
Documenting everyday lives of people living in Belfast, she has received significant acclaim for her stories, as well as having won awards for them.
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