Arts review 2018: Milkman and Derry Girls topped the arts charts

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Arts Correspondent

media captionThe moment Anna Burns wins the Man Booker prize

2018 was the year when Milkman made Belfast-born novelist Anna Burns a history maker.

She became the first writer from Northern Ireland to win the coveted Man Booker award, and the accompanying £50,000 prize money.

Milkman, the writer's third novel, drew heavily on Burns' experience of growing up in north Belfast during the troubles, and prompted a string of glittering reviews.

If Burns triumphed on the page, another local writer - Lisa McGee - started the year with a triumph on the small screen.

Her comedy Derry Girls, set in 1994 and based on her schooldays in the city, became an instant hit when it was first broadcast in January.

Channel 4 quickly commissioned a second series about the exploits of four 16-year old friends and "the wee English fella".

image copyrightChannel 4
image captionDerry Girls centres on 16-year-old Erin Quinn (middle) and her friends growing up in early-90s Derry

Like Burns, McGee worked for a long time to become an overnight success having first taken up writing as a drama student at Queen's University in the late 1990s.

Derry Girls was a first of a number of major dramas set or filmed in Northern Ireland broadcast in 2018.

Jed Mercurio's Bodyguard was the most-watched BBC drama for a decade, but he continued to oversee police thriller Line of Duty as it filmed in Belfast.

Meanwhile, Jamie Dornan returned to Northern Ireland again to star in Alan Cubitt's three-part Death and Nightingales, again for the BBC.

The pair had previously teamed up for The Fall.

image captionLine of Duty returned to film in Belfast in 2018

Other BBC TV dramas shot in Northern Ireland and screened in 2018 included Come Home, with Christopher Ecclestone and Paula Malcolmson, Mrs Wilson - starring Ruth Wilson - and Doing Money, a hard-hitting portrayal of the horrors of sex trafficking.

There was also a special award for one of Belfast's most famous acting sons, as Kenneth Branagh received the freedom of the city in January.

And, staying with drama, while Game of Thrones was approaching its end, the head of industry body NI Screen Richard Williams said that it would leave a considerable legacy.

There was also hope that a spin-off prequel of the global smash hit would mean that winter was delayed for a while yet.

image copyrightHBO/PA Wire
image captionGame of Thrones is based on novels written by George R R Martin

The centenary of the Armistice brought some striking art works to Northern Ireland.

Shrouds of the Somme at Belfast City Hall was a stark reminder of the local cost of the bloody 1916 battle.

There were large art installations on Murlough Beach, Portstewart Strand, Downhill Beach and Port Bán, in County Donegal as part of film director Danny Boyle's Pages of the Sea project.

media captionSomme art installation

A very different artwork made headlines in June when it went on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

'Female Nude, 1916' by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani was likely to be one of the most valuable paintings ever displayed in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, a number of special music events also took place in 2018.

The Oscars of traditional music - TG4's Gradam Ceoil (music awards)- came to Belfast's Waterfront Hall for the first time and they are set to stay in the city until 2021.

There was also a Belfast debut for the BBC Radio 2 folk awards, held at the same venue in April.

The musical hat-trick came with the BBC's Biggest Weekend in May, as a host of bands including Ash, Manic Street Preachers, Underworld and Orbital headlined a sun-drenched Titanic slipways.

image captionStrathearn chamber choir fought off competition to be named Young Choir of the Year in the senior category

May also saw success for the chamber choir from Strathearn School who won the BBC Songs of Praise Young Choir of the Year competition.

And the year ended with Snow Patrol giving their local fans an early Christmas present.

They announced that they were to return to Ward Park in Bangor in 2019 to headline a gig in their home town for the first time in nine years.

As ever in Northern Ireland, culture sometimes proved controversial.

The Equality Commission, for instance, found that the Department for Communities failed to carry out the necessary equality tests before cutting the Líofa Irish language bursary scheme in 2016 - a decision which contributed to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive.

However the minister who made and later reversed that cut - the DUP's Paul Givan - said the report vindicated his position by pointing out that no equality assessment had been carried out when the scheme was originally set up, a claim disputed by Sinn Féin.

image copyrightPacemaker

There was also controversy at Belfast City Council over grants given to a number of groups to run events to reduce tension around bonfires.

However, the city council broke new ground in October by appointing the first dedicated Irish language officer in its history.

Finally, there was an extraordinary response to the death of Irish country star Big Tom McBride in April.

image captionBig Tom McBride was inducted into the Irish Country Music Awards Hall of Fame in June 2016

Fans from across the island travelled to his funeral in County Monaghan - to remember the golden era of the showbands and a career that long outlived it.

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