The Humble Comber Spud Hits the Big Apple

Northern Ireland company, Mash Direct, has launched in the USA!

Farmed on the shores of Strangford Lough, the traditional Northern Irish foods will be available to purchase in time for St. Patrick’s Day at Key Food, Food Emporium, Brooklyn Fare and SuperFresh.  It’s the first time that the taste of fresh Northern Irish produce will be available for customers to purchase in US grocery stores. The potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cabbage and more are grown by the Hamiltons, a 6th generation Comber farming family.

Martin Hamilton diversified his farm back in 2004 to create Mash Direct, offering healthy, gluten-free, vegetable side dishes that have the taste and texture of quality, Irish homemade food. The company has come from humble beginnings of selling traditional Mashed Potatoes and Champ in St. George’s Market to exporting its range of over 40 products on a global scale.

Made with traditional local butter and containing no artificial flavourings or preservatives and being gluten-free, it’s easy to see why the vegetable dishes have proven to be popular with the American taste-buds. Speaking ahead of the US Launch, Mash Direct Director, andwinner of Ulster Tatler, ‘Business Man of the Year 2017’ Jack Hamilton noted, “Everybody knows that Comber is famous for potatoes and for the first time we are able to supply them fresh to New York. There is such a great variety of Irish-produced whiskies and stouts across the USA, but no one in the market is bringing fresh Northern Irish dishes to American plates. We wanted to bring the unique richness of Irish soil and six generations of farming knowledge to the shelves.”

Eight of Mash Direct’s products, including family favourites such as Potato Croquettes, Mashed Potato and Potato Rosti, will be listed to go into Key Food supermarket stores, throughout New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania from this week.

The company has a total of 19 Great Taste Awards to date, the award-winning Mash Direct range can be found in Spar, EuroSpar, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, SuperValu, Centra and lots of local independent stores. See the full list of over 40 products at:

Jean-Christophe Novelli Reveals Début Belfast Menu

Multi-Michelin-starred and 5-out-of-5 AA Rosette-winning chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli, recently revealed the menu for his hotly-anticipated début Belfast restaurant. Jean-Christophe, who has been dubbed the UK’s ‘Favourite French Chef’, has complimented the quality of Northern Irish produce, a great accolade for local suppliers. “You need to have wonderful ingredients to produce wonderful food, and I have been thoroughly inspired and excited by the quality and variety of produce available to me here on my Belfast doorstep,” said Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Set on Belfast’s waterfront, with stunning views and an open-air terrace, the 112-seater ‘Novelli at City Quays’ restaurant will open in April as part of the all-new AC Hotel Belfast, the £25million contemporary-luxe hotel developed by Belfast Harbour in the heart of its prestigious City Quays quarter. ‘Novelli at City Quays’ will be the celebrity chef’s first restaurant on the island of Ireland, representing a key milestone for him, a major coup for Belfast’s hospitality offering, and a valuable boost to local suppliers. At ‘Novelli at City Quays’ customers can look forward to the authentic Mediterranean-inspired cuisine all made with the best of locally sourced ingredients.

The 188-room, four-star quality AC Hotel Belfast is the first AC Hotel by Marriott on the island of Ireland, and the first purpose-built AC Hotel in the UK. ‘Novelli at City Quays’ is the first destination restaurant in the AC Hotels by Marriott 100+ global portfolio. Built to Jean-Christophe Novelli’s exacting specifications, the made-to-measure kitchen features a rotisserie oven to enable him to produce his signature roasts.

Jim Mulholland, grand chef of ‘Novelli at City Quays noted, “It has always been my passion and my mission to source whatever I can locally, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to introduce our amazing local produce to such a globally celebrated chef as Jean-Christophe Novelli and to see him, in turn, become a champion of it,”

Rain Falling Up

Get ready to be amazed and captivated by Rain Falling Up, a Dumbworld Production in collaboration with Ulster Orchestra. The show will take place in the Ulster Hall on Friday 16th March. Guaranteed to be a joyous concert for all the family, this spectacular musical production features a large chorus of 300 children from local schools in Belfast, the Ulster Orchestra and a live shadow puppet animation – all created with the support of world renowned film-maker, director and writer John McIlduff and composer Brian Irvine.

Combining music, song, narration and animation, Rain Falling Up, which is supported by National Lottery funding through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, tells the story of a little boy Jake, who is fascinated by all things scientific. One day, after being blamed for breaking his mum’s vase he comes to the conclusion that gravity is not his friend anymore. So he builds himself a gravity switch so he can turn gravity off. Life seems so much more fun when you can float around freely, but when the switch disappears and Jake finds himself drifting alone through the universe he realises that perhaps he made a mistake.

Rain Falling Up was first performed in the Waterfront Hall in 2010 with the Ulster Orchestra and has since been performed in Dublin, City of Derry and in the Italian city of Aosta, each time with a different orchestra and children’s choir. In 2013 Rain Falling Up, was nominated for a British Composers Award (community award).

The current project has been running since November 2017 involving a specially formed children’s chorus made up of 300 primary school children drawn from 10 schools across Belfast. During the project children will have taken part in 130 workshops including; animation, developing music, performance, learning, composition and singing skills led by Brian Irvine, the Dumbworld creative team and members of the Ulster Orchestra. Alongside these workshops the schools engaged in an art project focusing on the invention of their own gravity switches which will culminate in an exhibition of their work.
Rain Falling Up takes place at Ulster Hall on Friday 16th March 2018, 7.30pm. Tickets are £12, Snr citizens & children (5yrs-16yrs) £5, and children under 5 go FREE. For further details visit or

Belfast Gets Ready for St Patrick’s Day Celebrations

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this Saturday, Belfast is getting primed for some high energy celebrations and you’re invited to come and join the party!

From 11:30am on Saturday, 17 March, the streets will be awash with colour. A vibrant parade themed ‘Global Belfast’ will leave from Royal Avenue, travelling along a new route through Castle Junction and along Donegall Place, before snaking its way around Belfast City Hall, and then returning along the same route to finish on Royal Avenue.

Kicking off at 1:30pm until 4pm, a free concert at Custom House Square, headlined by former JLS member Aston Merrygold will take place. Aston Merrygold will headline the free Custom House Square concert and is sure to dazzle with not just his voice, but his incredible dance moves. Strictly Come Dancing star – and now touring musician, Aston’s debut single ‘Get Stupid’ went platinum and his feel good last single ‘Precious’ featured Shy Carter and Grammy Award winning beatboxer Rhazel.

Speaking at the launch of Belfast’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Lord Mayor, Councillor Nuala McAllister, said: “I really can’t wait for this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast, because I know that thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities will be joining in the fun.“The theme for my year in office is ‘Global Belfast’ and the wonderful Beat Carnival have worked so hard with their many community partners to create an incredible parade which illustrates that theme, as well as the diversity of the city we love, and our people. Make sure you don’t miss it!” Q Radio is the council’s media partner and popular radio host Eoghan Quigg will compere the concert. Q Radio said: “We look forward to what promises to be a spectacular celebration of culture and community on 17 March.”

Alongside Aston, award winning modern Irish dancing group Slide Step will wow the crowds with their powerful, cutting edge contemporary movement and a whole new take on the art form. Whilst Belfast based Irish Festival Dancing School, Tír Na n-Óg, who recently won the NI senior team title for a fifth year running, will deliver a heart stopping performance. Urban artists, Tanaka, winner of the PanArts Young Singer Songwriter Competition 2016 and JORD will inject a range of colourful influences ranging from R&B and AfroBeat to Pop and Folk to the concert.  Festival favourites Pure Blarney’s unique brand of electro-acoustic folk rock and local trad band the Rare Aul Stuff are bound to get the crowd moving the moment they step onstage. There’ll also be Global Belfast and St Patrick’s Day themed arts and crafts, a range of walkabout, street theatre acts and face painters to keep even the youngest revellers entertained. Hot food, soft drinks, sweet treats and more will be on sale from a range of traders.

Entry to the concert is on a first come first served basis. Alcohol is strictly forbidden and other terms and conditions apply.For more information, visit

‘Trainee Filmakers’ Wins At World Documentary Awards

Cinemagic’s short documentary film, ‘Trainee Filmmakers’, has won a platinum award at the recent World Documentary Awards in Bali. ‘Trainee Filmmakers’ is a short ‘behind the scenes’ documentary linked to Cinemagic’s second feature film GRACE AND GOLIATH, due out later this year. It is a comedy about an American film star whose world comes crashing down, and who finds himself lodging in the home of a working class family in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The film is written by Omagh born Maire Campbell and produced by Cinemagic Chief Executive, Joan Burney Keatings MBE. Cinemagic patrons include Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, Paula Malcomson and Julian Fellowes, to name a few.

A number of these high profile patrons feature in the ‘Trainee Filmmakers’ documentary including Liam Neeson, Saoirse Ronan and Paula Malcomson. Ian McElhinney narrates the short film. Grace and Goliath is the second feature film to come from Cinematic following the success of ‘A Christmas Star’ in 2014-15. The project offered an invaluable opportunity for young filmmakers from both Northern Ireland and Los Angeles to work across a range of disciplines including directing, production, costume and make-up, sound, lighting and music composition.

A special preview screening of the documentary ‘Trainee Filmmakers’ will be aired during Cinemagic’s Festival in Los Angeles on 15th March 2018 to an audience of celebrities, film and music industry executives at the annual Cinemagic Los Angeles Showcase event in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, Santa Monica.

Established almost 30 years ago, Cinemagic is an award winning Belfast-based charity and is the largest film and television festival designed for and by young people in the UK and Ireland. Cinemagic offers young people real skills and opportunity. They embrace the magic of film, television and digital technologies, as well as educating, motivating and inspiring young people through film screenings, industry workshops, practical masterclasses, filmmaking projects and outreach activities.

Sammy Nutt from Killaloo, just outside Derry/Londonderry, director of ‘Trainee Filmmakers’ one of Cinemagic’s greatest success stories said “Cinemagic breaks down boundaries, promotes inclusion, and introduces young people to other cultures, languages and traditions. It’s absolutely thrilling to see how our young trainees have gone on to work with various film and television companies such as the BBC, HBO, Disney, Sky Atlantic, RTE, and Bedlam Productions.”

Sammy Nutt is a former Cinemagic participant and took part in the organisation’s music directing talent lab workshop with the esteemed music/tv director Hamish Hamilton over 12 years ago. Sammy was chosen as the most promising director out of his class and took part in Cinemagic’s Young Filmmaker competition. He subsequently went on to secure a work placement as one of the directorial assistants at The Brit Awards in 2006 and 2007. Now based in London, Sammy works as a director in prime time broadcast television, music promos, short films and branded online content with broadcasters, companies and brands such as the BBC, ITV, MTV Networks, Universal Music, Sony Music, American Airlines, Budweiser and Cadbury. He is working with talent such as Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, Ariana Grande, Russell Brand and Simon Cowell.

The last few years have been a particularly exciting time for Cinemagic.They have firmly established annual Cinemagic Film and Television Festivals in Belfast, Dublin, London, Paris, Los Angeles and New York, with over 40,000 young people participating in their events each year. They have produced two feature films; secured worldwide distribution for ‘Christmas Star’ ; developed two “behind the scene” documentaries, produced over 45 short films; supported over 150 young trainees to work in the film and television industry; and we are now planning the world premiere of ‘Grace and Goliath’ later this year

To view the official trailer too ‘Trainee Filmmakers’, the behind the scenes documentary of ‘Grace and Goliath’, please check out:

Get Down To Tayto Park This Weekend

Looking for something to do this St. Patrick’s weekend?  Tayto Park, Ireland’s only theme park and zoo, has recently announced that it will reopen its gates for the 2018 season on Sunday 18th March. The County Meath park is gearing up for its biggest season yet with over 100 attractions on site and the promise of more exciting new rides this year. To celebrate its opening weekend on Sunday 18th March and Monday 19th March, Tayto Park is offering a special ‘all in’ €20 ticket which includes entry and wristbands for opened attractions.  To find out more go to, call 00 353 1 835 1999 or follow @TaytoPark on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Owner and founder Raymond Coyle visited Belfast recently to launch the new season, accompanied by a selection of birds of prey from the World of Raptors display – one of the Park’s major success stories of last year. He noted that Northern Ireland visitors account for more than a quarter of all visitors. Last year the park opened the new World of Raptors and Viking Voyage attractions and this year will also see a number of new attractions including Ireland’s first ever driving school for kid, which opens on March 24, and a new spinning coaster which is due to open in June. The park has easy access from Northern Ireland and free parking for cars and buses, there is something for visitors of all ages, whether they be families, couples, groups of friends, schools, birthday parties, or even companies hosting a corporate event. The new attractions will complement existing favourites such as the Viking Voyage water flume ride, the gravity-defying Rotator, the Power Surge and The Cú Chulainn Coaster, Ireland’s first rollercoaster and Europe’s first wooden rollercoaster with an inversion.

Tayto Park Zoo is home to an exceptional and diverse animal collection, from meerkats to big cats like the Amur Tiger, and a growing primate collection which includes the Squirrel monkey, Red-bellied tamarins and the Geoldi’s monkey. The Park also hosts a selection of beautiful and colourful birds from around the globe, as well as the extremely popular World of Raptors birds of prey demonstration. And for kids wanting to travel back in time, Dinosaurs Alive, Ireland’s only life-size animatronic dinosaur exhibition, features the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus.

There are also hopes to build a 32,000 square-metre, 250 bedroom family hotel that will offer accommodation, spa and leisure facilities for up to 1,000 guests. The seven-storey hotel will be built from wood to match the look and feel of the Park and will be in a parkland setting.


BelFeast has arrived!

Calling all foodies out there or anyone who is up for some good food, drink and a bit of craic! BelFeast – a new three-day food and drink festival taking place from 23rd until 25th March.

The event promises a ‘taste’ of Belfast and aims to boost Belfast’s reputation as a top food and drink destination by showcasing the finest in local produce, the skills of local chefs, and the best of local restaurants, cafes and bars. The foodie festival, based around the Cathedral Quarter is being complemented by an entertainment programme that includes live music performances, street artists, tours, workshops, and talks. The Cathedral Quarter will come to life with special events like an artisan food market and street food village. For those interested in learning more about local produce and how to use it, BelFeast Food Theatre at Mac will feature demonstrations from some of the finest chefs, food writers and creators in Northern Ireland as well as showcasing some of the emerging stars of the local food industry. BelFeast, funded by Belfast City Council and sponsored by Destination CQ BID, is being delivered by the team behind Culture Night in collaboration with Food NI and supported by local producers and the wider hospitality industry. Tickets for all the events can be purchased from individual venues.

Lonely Planet 2018 has already named Belfast as one of the best places to visit. A big reason for that is our food culture with Lord Mayor, Nuala McAllister hoping that BelFeast will boost this reputation as a food destination.“The festival will celebrate the unique role that food plays in our lives, encouraging people of all ages to get involved and learn more about what they eat and where it comes from,” added Councillor McAllister.

Gareth Neill Destination CQ BID Manager said: “BelFeast promises to be a fresh and exciting addition to Belfast’s rapidly expanding menu of world class fare sure to tempt visitors from near and far to sample a taste of Northern Ireland and the Cathedral Quarter.”

This is definitely a date to add to the Food lover’s calendar with thousands of people expected in the city centre to enjoy the foodie festival. More information on the festival programme is available at where a downloadable programme is available. Tickets are purchased directly from venues.

Are you ready to be part of a top-secret project?

Wholesale and retail giant, Musgrave, is looking for two people from Northern Ireland to appear in a top-secret project, which will go live in March this year.  They are hoping to cast an adult and a child of either gender in the project and excitingly you don’t need any acting or modelling experience so every man, woman and child, aged 5 and over, in Northern Ireland is able to audition. If you have a great sense of humour and are looking for an adventure, then head to The MAC on Saturday March 3 at 10am and you could land a role in our project. You don’t need any acting or stage experience or be a model to qualify, everyone is welcome to audition. Musgrave explained,“We’d like to meet people who really embody what’s great about Northern Ireland; whether that’s a cheeky grin, a dashing head of red hair or a swagger to their walk that makes them stand out in a crowd. But to be honest we are hoping that someone will come along and surprise us by offering something we weren’t expecting – it’s going to be very exciting.” The lucky duo chosen will find out before the whole of Northern Ireland what the secret Musgrave project is all about. Musgrave are remaining tight-lipped about the details but what they can reveal is that the lucky ones chosen will be part of an incredible experience they will never forget and they could even become a well-known face in Northern Ireland.

Informal auditions will take place in The MAC on Saturday March 3rd between 10am and 12pm. Only children 5 and over can attend.  Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Musgrave employees are not eligible to audition.  Winners must be free for the week of March 5th. No fee provided. Contact if you have any questions about the open casting.

‘A Touch Of Tartan’

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association Northern Ireland Branch hosted the President’s Charity Concert – ‘A touch of tartan’ in the Island Hall, Lisburn.

The event was in support of the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland. The RSPBANI President Winston Pinkerton gave a brief overview of British Heart Foundation and explained that this worthy cause was his chosen charity as the pipe band fraternity in Northern Ireland has tragically lost several members recently due to heart disease.  The compere at the evening of great entertainment was award-winning entertainer Gary Wilson.  Taking part was: Country singer Hugo Duncan, Drumlough Pipe Band, Bags & Bellows Scottish Smallpipe Ensemble, Armagh Drum Majors Display Team and highland dancers Kathryn Stewart and Jodie Turner (Kathryn Stewart School of Highland Dancing). Mr Pinkerton is pleased to add that proceeds from the concert plus money raised from collections at pipe band contests over the last two years has raised significant funds so far for his chosen charity.

Portrait Of A Century

An exciting new photographic exhibition is being held at The Market Place Theatre in Armagh in Association with the National Museum of Ireland. The Exhibition, ‘Portrait of a Century’ is by Irish photographer Kim Haughton. The exhibition opens to the public in Armagh on Monday 12 March 2018 and forms part of the ‘Home of St Patrick Festival’ programme 2018 in Armagh. The Market Place Theatre will be a hub of activity throughout the festival with a programme of exciting performances, talks and exhibitions which aim to inspire, inform and entertain.

‘Portrait of a Century’ is a photographic exhibition of one hundred images of people who are threaded together through a shared language, culture and nationhood. Each photograph represents the birth year of the person in it. The series as a whole spans a one hundred year time frame from 1916 to 2015. The exhibition is a photographic representation of a nation reflected in those who have shaped it in some way.  Between 2015 and 2016, Kim photgraphed familiar faces of people who are woven into the fabric of national arts as well as sporting legends, presidents, public servants, private citizens, pioneering women, dazzling young people and the children of the future to create this visual time capsule. Each image in the series represents the birth year of the sitter and spans a hundred-year time-period from 1916 to 2015. Beyond the colour of their skin or the texture of their clothing, many of the portraits reveal something deeper than just the people in them. Exploring themes of nationhood, identity and time, the work is a photographic representation of a nation reflected in those who have shaped it in some way.

Kim, who is now based in New York, completed her MA at London University of the Arts and was named as ‘an Irish photographer to watch’ by TIME magazine in 2015. She spent the early part of her career as a photo journalist covering post conflict humanitarian issues around the globe with her work having been exhibited in London, New York, Oslo and Dublin and her images apperaing in publications worldwide, including The Financial Times, Der Spiegel and Vanity Fair as well as having her work is held in the National Archives of Ireland.

The exhibition will run at The Market Place Theatre, Armagh from 12 Mar – 5th May 2018.

Additional information on the exhibition can be found on:

Corporate Colours Day for Autism NI

This April, Autism NI are celebrating World Autism Awareness Month with their new ‘Making Sense of Autism’ campaign. As part of the campaign they are encouraging workplaces to hold a ‘Corporate Colours Day’. In Northern Ireland, just 16% of Autistic adults are in full-time employment. Through this campaign, Autism NI is calling for all businesses to take positive steps to become more accessible for individuals with Autism – both as valued employees and customers.

Autism NI Corporate Fundraising Manager Sarah-Jayne wants companies to embrace their corporate colour and stand-up for Autism. All you need to do is choose a day within the month of April and ask all staff to wear your corporate colour. This can be socks, a tie, scarf, shirt or go all out and dress head-to-toe in that colour and then donate to Autism NI. The ‘Corporate Colours Day’ encourages employees to think about the Autism Spectrum and that all individuals are different just like the colour spectrum. Top local businesses Savills, Blush Boutique, Trust Ford and Lloyds Banking are all getting behind ‘Corporate Colours Day’. The charity’s aim is to get as many different coloured businesses within Northern Ireland to take part.

Alongside this campaign the charity will be holding ‘Making Sense of Autism’ Family Fun Days throughout Northern Ireland. On Saturday 14th April at venues including Belfast City Hall, Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena, Lakeland Forum, Enniskillen and Guildhall Derry/Londonderry and on Saturday 21st April at Lagan Valley Leisureplex, Lisburn from 1pm – 4pm. There will also be fun awareness activities that your friends and family or school can get involved in including our ‘Walk 5k A Day’ and the ‘School’s Sensory Challenge’ all taking place during World Autism Awareness Month.

Autism NI is a local charity providing life-changing services for the 30,000 individuals living with Autism throughout Northern Ireland and they rely on your help to improve the lives of children and adults living with the daily challenges of this hidden disability.

For further information or to request a ‘Corporate Colours Day’ fundraising pack contact Sarah-Jayne on 028 9040 1729 (option 3), email or visit


Visit Belfast becomes ‘China Ready’

The Visit Belfast Welcome Centre scores an island-wide first to secure global China Ready status.

Visit Belfast has been recognised for being ‘China Ready’, another major accomplishment in the tourism agency’s efforts to maximise on the city’s growing popularity with Chinese tourists. As Belfast and NI’s flagship visitor information centre, it is the first on the island of Ireland to secure this market status. The new China Ready accreditation, which helps identify global services that Chinese visitors can trust, recognises the measures Visit Belfast has taken to cater for the increasing Chinese visitor market, a key growth market for the UK and Ireland.

Tourist trips from China to the UK and Ireland have doubled in the past decade, with Europe being a major global destination for Chinese tourists who tend to stay longer and are also among the biggest tourist spenders. Everyone in Belfast can benefit from a thriving and prosperous economy.  The strengthening relationship with China stands in helping to achieve that aim.