Anne Hailes: Celebrating local talents

Local doctor Ciara Mackey wowed the audience on Michael McIntyre's Big Show by singing On My Own from Les Miserables

THE talent in Northern Ireland is outstanding and it's lovely how local people popped up here and there over Christmas and New Year like unsung heroes – although you can't say that about Ciara Mackey, the 30-year-old accident and emergency doctor who wowed the audience on Michael McIntyre's Big Show before Christmas.

She sang On My Own from Les Miserables, bringing the house down and me to tears. So what's next for the sensational singing doctor? Will she be swapping emergency medicine for the stage and stardom any time soon?

She was modest and down to earth after the show: "All I know for sure is that I have a 12-and-a-half hour shift ahead of me at Belfast City Hospital."

Watch this space.

Congratulations to colleagues Eamon Holmes for his New Year honour and Linda Jane McAuley, both now holders of the OBE. So many honourable people listed all deserving their recognition but what about the youngest of all, 18-year-old Lucia Quinney Mee who has worked non-stop to promote organ donation.

A young woman who has had three liver transplants, set up the Live Loudly Donate Proudly campaign and is now tackling A-levels, heading for university and the British Transplant Games.

Her hope is that through the publicity surrounding her British Empire Medal, more people than ever will talk seriously about donation, with families discussing it amongst themselves and then taking action to save lives.

Can you imagine anything more fulfilling than helping someone somewhere to stay alive against all the odds?

And then actor Jimmy Green, an Ulster Television personality years ago, appeared in the prestigious TV extravaganza The Crown last week setting the clocks in Buckingham Palace – the royal horological conservator if you please!

I was invited to a celebration of the work of the local man Padraic Fiacc, one of the most significant poets to come out of Ireland according to Gerald Dawes, himself a poet.

Frances O'Hare, another poet who brought schoolchildren from Ballymena to the lunchtime event, described him as a writer to be read out loud and listened too.

And that's what happened in Belfast's Linen Hall Library when a number of admirers read from his works and Gerry Creen sang his very lovely song Lucky Star.

Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes and Bill McKnight's second collection Poetraiture contains lots of little poems full of meaning, like Exercise - Good For Your Mood:

"Keeping Fit at 51? I think I'll take the car out for a run."

Or Chain Reaction: "I remember the swings in the park. I remember the swings chained in the park on Sundays. I remember my hurt in the park on Sundays in Belfast in the swinging sixties."

Finally: 2060. "We're modern! isn't it fantastic? Faces and banking have all gone plastic."

Bill has a wry way of looking at life, there's humour but there's also a devastating truth in his work that's not always comfortable. At 54, this Belfast man who endured a long battle with mental illness has encapsulated his struggle in this new book of poetry.

He now works with the Belfast Health Trust helping patients with serious mental illnesses as they resettle in residential care and supported housing.

The poems confront the stigma Bill has experienced and his first book, Loud Silence, earned plaudits from respected international psychiatrists.

And finally in this salute to local talent, Annie Given has been in touch.

"Our wee camera club, Catchlight, has just won the FIAP World Championship 2017, in which 4,020 photographs were entered, from 201 clubs in 41 countries.

"We are feeling distinctly pleased about it!"

I bet. Hugh Wilkinson from Ballynahinch was singled out for an individual award for his photo Orang-utan and Butterfly, interesting that the ape was photographed in Dublin Zoo and the butterfly was photoshopped later.

"It's all about the final picture," club founder Ross McKelvey told me, digital composites are now considered an art form.

Members submitted two pictures each and the best went forward to be judged this year in Andorra, the small principality in the Pyrenees. Ross is hopeful that next year the judging will be held in Belfast, which will be a feather in our local hat.

Currently 20 entries are being printed and framed to shown in the Dublin Camera Club, Camden Street in February. The club is the champion of Northern Ireland, Ireland and now the world – where do they go from here?

It's a fine example of a hobby becoming a passion for the members, young people, retired men and women and those in-between, as Ross confirms:

"Bar a couple of retired and semi-professionals, the members come from all walks of life, doctors, council workers, lawyers, young and not so young and importantly, one school boy."

The presentation in Andorra will be in the Spring and there's no doubt those attending to receive their awards will have cameras with them. They know a good thing when they see it and they are only one click away from further accolades. You'll read more about it in this newspaper.

Social media is a menace but I honest don't think it will smother newspapers – still the wonder of the age for me. Just look at the news and features carried in this newspaper and in the national Daily Mail: on one day last week I had an in-depth education on protecting myself against deadly pollution, discovered that I was more exposed to fumes inside my car and that traffic pollution stunts children's lungs and brain development, read an examination of the truth behind the TV series McMafia based on the non-fiction book by journalist Misha Glenny, learned what happens when the new mini Ice Age hits in the next 30 years and whether or not sparkling water can make me fat.

Eighty pages of fascination over a cup of coffee – social media can't touch our newspapers with a barge pole!

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