Six of the Best: Films to see on the big screen this Christmas

Scooch over Mean Girls: Hormonal strife is seldom this joyous, and the tremendous verbal sparring between Steinfeld and Harrelson brings a modern, post-ironic gloss to the rat-a-tat delivery of Golden Age Hollywood comedy. Mayhem breaks out. Jones is excellent as the head tearaway, but the rest of the characterisations are painfully thin. One wacky chase scene later, she and best friend Victor (DeHaan), an aspiring inventor, are on their way to Paris, where she hopes to train at the Académie Royale de Musique. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY  ★★★ Directed by Gareth Edwards. There will be no high-fiving with First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart). TB  Review/Trailer FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM ★★★★ Directed by David Yates. TB  Review/Trailer ARRIVAL ★★★★★ Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Hard to resist. The personal is blended with the intergalactic to singular effect. DC Review/Trailer SULLY   ★★★★ Directed by Clint Eastwood. As they progress, Arrival develops an emotional backbeat that becomes properly overwhelming in the final reel. With no real source material to fret over, the film-makers are free to make something fresh of the new film. Perfectly amiable kids’ animation that will remind almost nobody of Black Swan. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is lovely. DC  Review/Trailer ADVERTISEMENT THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN ★★★★★ Directed by Kelly Freon Craig. And it surges with great performances. Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan.12A cert, gen release, 96 min  Eastwood finds an ideal subject in the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks), the pilot who landed a stricken airliner on the Hudson on 2009. Adams is committed and nuanced. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell 12A cert, gen release, 133 min Against the odds, Yates’s spin-off from the Harry Potter series proves to be more coherent and emotionally grounded than any of its predecessors. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nathaly Thibault, Mark O’Brien 12A cert, gen release, 116 min Adams plays a linguist asked to interpret visiting aliens in a tricky, gorgeous, intellectually satisfying drama from the director of Sicario and Prisoners. Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker. 12A cert, gen release, 133 min We join a group of rebels as they seek information that will help Luke Skywalker blow up the Death …

People of 2016: Oscar winner Ben Cleary. ‘Everything is changing’

He stayed in England after graduation and worked in an upmarket burger restaurant to finance Stutterer. He retains a passionate belief in projecting films on the big screen. Thank God I did. “I have started to do some commercials to pay some bills,” he says. “We were chatting to Michael Keaton about Spotlight. We were watching the rest of the show with him. Cleary is now spending most of his time at the family home in Rathmines. The last time I met Ben Cleary, he looked as if he’d just stepped off the world’s most frightening rollercoaster. Ha-ha!” he says. So… “The best thing about winning has been getting a really good agent in London and brilliant management in the US. When you first get shortlisted a ton of emails come through to you. “I can’t really talk about it yet. If we looked dazed, that’s because we were.” Last year’s Oscars were the greatest ever for Irish film. That’s what I grew up loving. That’ll be happening in 2017.” Not many film-makers have sat where Cleary sits today. That’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of getting in to see them if this hadn’t happened. We were hanging out with Chris Rock. Leonardo DiCaprio was somewhere nearby. There has been some talk of TV work and I certainly wouldn’t say never to that. I can tell you that I am doing a project for Amnesty International based on a poem called The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel. But after we won we got backstage and people were coming round with trays of champagne. “You’ve won an Oscar, so everyone is very nice. “You can’t really drink while you’re actually at it. (“I was here just last night to see Paterson,” he says, gesturing around the IFI.) But he knows the medium is changing faster than at any stage since the introduction of sound. Alfred Hitchcock worked for 60 years and never won a competitive Academy Award. When I look back at it now, it feels like a very detailed dream that somehow actually happened.” As the next Oscar season grinds into gear, Cleary and I meet amid the relative calm of the Irish Film Institute. The possibilities are endless and daunting. “We absolutely were,” he says, laughing. I hope it will then do well and I can move on to my second. “I basically …

Kerrie O’Brien: a poet with promise

But the experience in Paris liberated her. It is a creative process, distilling the emotions and condensing what O’Brien calls the “raw beauty” of a single moment in time into a single line or stanza. Illuminate took time. Illuminate is a poet’s pilgrimage. In the poem Hemingway she tells us: I hadn’t eaten The hunger raw and persisting But he led me And right where he lived A café… It then came A thudding chant – Be still, still In the howling. She concludes the collection with her Wish for a good death after a life hopefully lived well: ADVERTISEMENT I want to thank the well-loved Bark of my body For all it has done. It begins with a private and deeply personal moment. O’Brien travelled to Paris in 2012 when she was 24 to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Words have a way of moving us, sometimes deeply. Travelling to the City of Light allowed her to find her voice, unshackle herself, find clarity, and write freely. After all, she is an art history graduate from Trinity College Dublin. She came away from that transformative experience knowing and understanding that hers would be a writing life. It doesn’t necessarily make the work any easier, but it has purpose now. Too many distractions. The bed faced the window So I would wake to brightness Stretch in its warmth And contemplate the rooftops Of the city…. And it seems fitting But get no sense of him – Because really On warm evenings He is at home Near Cooldrinagh Still roaming the hills With his father. She will find her way. It’s work – hard work. Hemingway finds her and gently leads her on, urging her to be patient. That is why poetry matters. We see her visiting Beckett’s grave in Montparnasse, to pay homage, and perhaps tap into his literary genius. I took your hands in mine As I had taken my Grandfather’s When he thought the end was coming – Only touch will do In these moments Each time the same prayer – You mean so much to me. She has been writing poetry for the best part of a decade now. Writers struggle over every word, poets especially, and rightly so. There is a feathery lightness to O’ Brien’s work. The loss of great Irish poets like John Montague earlier this month and Seamus …

Frongoch: university of revolution and hive of creativity

(Five female internees were transferred separately to British prisons, three remaining interned at Aylesbury prison.) Solitary confinement was the predominant experience. As early as Easter Week itself the Irish National Relief Fund had been formed by Art O’Brien and other London-Irish nationalists. Towards the end of May, however, the internees began to be treated as de facto prisoners of war. This week marks the centenary of the release of the remaining 500 or so internees from Frongoch internment camp. However, the Frongoch experience was not entirely functional for all internees. The poet Brian O’Higgins was particularly affected by his surroundings: “There is absolutely no privacy. Between May 1st and June 16th, 2,519 internees were deported from Richmond barracks to one of eight British prison centres: Perth, Barlinnie, Lewes, Knutsford, Stafford, Wakefield, Wandsworth or Woking. Gender roles too were blurred within this illusory civilian life. Michael Lynch attempted to stave off depression by counting bricks on the wall, James Kavanagh fashioned a deck of cards out of toilet paper, while Frank Robbins instituted a system of Morse code using a hand brush. “Many prisoners in Frongoch,” Seamus Fitzgerald would later observe, “cherish mementoes of these places, such as little hand craft models, hand-made brooches, rings”. The South Camp dormitories contained between 150 and 250 beds on each floor, which measured 150 ft long and 50 ft wide. The sense of liberation experienced by the internees was vividly recalled in later memoir, often in the form of objects. The ceiling of the ground floor dormitory, meanwhile, reached only nine feet high. As many as 650 were released and returned to Ireland while the remaining 1,863 detainees were relocated under the Defence of the Realm Act to Frongoch internment camp in north Wales. One hundred years after the Frongoch releases, material culture continues to serve as historical metonym to the physical and psychological realities of that period: it was a long 1916. Afternoons could be spent at “Croke Park” (the internees’ recreation field) while evening classes were offered in French, German, Spanish and Irish. One veteran, Joseph McCarthy, would later comment: “Some of the prisoners became expert at housekeeping and were the envy of the others. “A man could keep sane, under these conditions,” one internee noted, “only as long as he was able to keep his mind revolving on something or other. If the mind got blank, or if you started worrying …

At the Dungeon, a short story by Danielle McLaughlin

“Please? The rusting carcass of a stroller was lodged in the silt below, its buckled handles pointing skywards. They’d all died of cholera, the mummies, and they had a kind of, I don’t know, melted look about them.” She spoke in a pleasant, conversational tone; she could have been inquiring where Isabel bought her sweater. Eamon. When did fear start, exactly? Isabel glanced at Penny’s still-flat stomach. A bit too thin, maybe, and she did talk quite a lot, but this might have been to compensate for Ben, who mostly didn’t say anything. Beneath the sketch of the reclining woman – and she did look more reclined than dead, an artist’s nude who’d forgotten to take her clothes off – a smaller drawing depicted something that could’ve been a kitchen implement, a long, silver thing with a sharp piece at the end. She pointed to the door. All morning, Penny had harvested information about motherhood with a tenacity that was unsettling. “We’ll be needing it ourselves soon.” She’d blushed then, grinning as she looked from one to the other. Frank would know. “Is she dead, Mummy?” Isabel wrestled briefly with “sleeping” and “having a rest”, and then, because there was likely to be a lot more of this sort of thing, she said: “Yes, Holly, she is.” “Why, Mummy?” “Um.. “Is he real, Mummy?” “No, he’s pretend.” “But he moved.” Rumpelstiltskin was fidgeting with an earpiece, tucking a wire down the front of his shirt. “Their little melted faces were like papier mache. They’d already got their money’s worth queuing to go in – the darkness, the crush of bodies, the noise. And what was she going to say to him now? In the rack room a man dressed as a prison warden stood at the top and explained how it all worked. They could turn around now and go back out, Isabel thought, and they’d have no cause for complaint. “Come on, Holly,” she said brightly, and they all shuffled forward, proceeding with such bovine obedience that Isobel half-expected one of the staff in Victorian costume to reach out and slap her on the rump. She glanced over her shoulder to check if the others had caught up and was both relieved and peeved to discover that they hadn’t. “We have to stay in line,” Isabel said, “or the lady will get cross.” Possibly, this wasn’t even a lie. …

Hygge, sexsomnia and Irexit: hated words of 2016

We thought Brexit would go the way of its forebear, but alas, it has come to dominate the “narrative”, so we’re stuck with this word at least until 2019. Some have been around a while, but seemed to gain “traction” this year. “It should be disconnection.” A reasonable argument, but let’s just disconnect from that term completely. Trump was, unsurprisingly, high on the list of most-hated words, along with Farage and Boris, but admit it, folks, it’s the people attached to the words you hate, not the words themselves. True, we do live in a post-truth society, but that doesn’t make this term any less unlikeable. Shrinkflation reached a new low when the makers of Toblerone removed some of the triangles from their iconic (!) chocolate bar, turning it into a sad, gap-toothed excuse for confectionery. Hillary had a better word for them, but let’s not go there again. Some are awkward, portmanteau constructions, while others are succinct, neatly summing up the thing they describe. Top of the list is Brexit – which was, lest we forget, a variation on the original Grexit. “Genderqueer” and “non-binary” were chief among the hated terms. Replacing the truth And right up there is post-truth, which is the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016. “Disconnect” has also been condemned as grammatically wrong. A lot of you were annoyed by the use of “believe” by marketers to sell their products, or “philosophy” by sportspeople to describe their team strategy. I don’t want to burst any snowflake bubbles, but some of you expressed annoyance with the variety of terms seemingly coined simply to avoid offending people who didn’t fit the “cisnormative” gender identity. Still, bigly rather suits the Donald, doesn’t it? Some are specific to events of this year, which makes me hope they won’t stick around long into the new year. The sexsomniac has no memory of the acts they’ve committed while asleep. “Alt-right” rose in popularity in tandem with support for Donald Trump, as people struggled to find a word to signify new breed of conservative in the US, for whom even right-wing views were too leftie. It’s also a bit of a tongue-twister (try to repeat it fast), so we’d be inclined to do a Trump on it and pronounce it “postrew”. Another hated US election-related word was “dogwhistle”, using coded language in your public pronouncements to send a political message …

Blockbusters bombed while Irish film soared

How did our centenary celebrations strike you? On TV, the magnificent Crazy ExGirlfriend confirmed – alongside Sing Street and the upcoming La La Land – that the musical is in rude health. I’m Looking forward to Paul Thomas Anderson’s as-yet-untitled film about the 1950s fashion world with Daniel Day-Lewis; Michael Haneke’s Happy End, a film about the refugee crisis; Sofia Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled and Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about the 1967 Detroit riots. The summer blockbuster season was, however, poisoned by an incessant stream of expensive effluent that reeked of coming End Times. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? I’m not sure if this counts as “cultural”, but getting to attend the Oscars was a treat. Ignore concocted cultural fury such as the misogynistic thuggery that preceded release of the (perfectly tolerable) all-female Ghostbusters. ADVERTISEMENT 2016 in three words Orange toxic event. Throw a smartphone into a chimpanzee enclosure and those beasts would, surely, come up with better films than Suicide Squad, Warcraft, Independence Day, X-Men: Apocalypse or Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. The best record of the year was Esperanza Spalding’s jazz-pop-funk cornucopia Emily’s D+Evolution. The respectful international coverage of the nicely mounted celebrations in the capital over the Easter weekend suggested that the 1916 rising may have become as uncontroversial as the American Revolution. What let you down? What were your cultural highlights of 2016? As Zhou Enlai probably didn’t really say about the French Revolution, it is too early to say. This was far from the case. Cannes lit up with Paul Verhoeven’s dangerous Elle, Jim Jarmusch’s gorgeous Paterson and Maren Ade’s singular Toni Erdmann. Prepare to read endless musings on how the films of 2016 predicted and commented upon the election of Donald Trump. What are your 2017 resolutions? Towards the end of the summer, opinion pages became sodden with suggestions that 2016 might be the worst year for cinema in decades. Not everyone will be happy with this. The surge in Irish cinema that, for the first time in 20 years, sent The Irish Times to (or near) the ceremony continued with cracking diverse domestic films such as Sing Street, The Young Offenders and A Date for Mad Mary.

The visual arts focused attention on marginalised voices

Jaki Irvine’s If the Ground Should Open… And what will be your cultural resolution for 2017? ADVERTISEMENT How did our centenary celebrations strike you? 2016 in three words Not even wrong. And what let you down? The National Gallery of Ireland’s Creating History, a kind of alternative, episodic history of Ireland from the 17th century through art, is compelling. The Frank Auerbach retrospective at Tate Britain was superb. looking to the role of Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan in the Rising, was one of several bids to refocus attention on those marginalised by the dominant historical narrative. Among too many outstanding solo shows to mention were those by Sabina Mac Mahon and Vanessa Donoso Lopez, both at The Lab, Enda Bowe at Visual, Amie Siegel at Temple Bar, Hughie O’Donoghue at the Galway Arts Festival, John Kelly and Ed Miliano at Oliver Sears, Paul Doran at Hillsboro Fine Art, Ann Quinn and Charles Tyrrell at the Taylor, and Una Sealy at the Ashford. The suspicion was that he’d been unjustly neglected because he was gay and indifferent to artistic fashion. Against the slightly overwhelming setting of non-stop commemoration, historian Robert Gerwarth’s The Vanquished, a refreshing, enlightening and persuasive rereading of nationalism and the world immediately post-WWI, is bracing and, in the event, very relevant to the current historical moment. Elizabeth Price’s survey show at The Model, Sligo, was brilliant, as was Aideen Barry’s survey at the RHA. What were your cultural highlights for the year gone by? Mick O’Dea did well in getting his outstanding 1916 show in early, in January, before an endless succession of commemorative exhibitions. Alan Phelan’s attempt to imagine a future for Roger Casement if he had lived was another notable example. Despite promise and definite achievements, repeated viewings of his work only highlighted his weaknesses. Imma did well in winning 50 Lucian Freuds on a five-year loan. To see Giacometti and Modigliani, both at Tate Modern, two perennially fresh, relevant artistic voices. A retrospective of the work of Irish painter Patrick Hennessy was long overdue. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? In the event, the show demonstrated that he had, to a significant degree, wasted his abilities, had a narrow and confining vision of painting, and an unintentionally kitsch aesthetic sense.

Samuel Beckett’s letters: hearing the voice behnd the works

Volume 4 contains the letters in which Beckett authorizes Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, one of the four editors, to perform the “unspeakable job” of editing and publishing his letters with the proviso that they are limited to “those passages only having bearing on my work.” It is a testament to the editorial care that these letters shed so much light on the work and on the man, all without any hint of prurience or sensationalism. It was, in his own words, “All I’m good for,” a quote lent added poignancy by recurrent thoughts like this: “What blunders all the way. I think of the recent Irish Times report of the Irish Naval Service vessel, the LE Samuel Beckett, rescuing 242 refugees in the Mediterranean. He has read from the poetry and prose of Samuel Beckett at The Irish Arts Center, The Beal Bocht Cafe, The Brooklyn Library’s Dweck Center and at Dixon Place. I defended it warmly.” ADVERTISEMENT Beckett is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century yet suffers from a reputation for difficulty, which may wrongly deter many who would greatly enjoy his work. He is currently in the throes of his second novel. These volumes of letters can help the reader hear the voice behind the works, to truly hear the music of the work, the hard truths and unwavering honesty about the human condition. His work remains painfully, poignantly relevant and true. Beckett’s uneasy relationship to place is evident throughout. There has been nothing else worthwhile… In 1975 he comments on his cousin John Beckett’s Wicklow hike: “That was a great jaunt over the old ground. When a troubled young man, greatly influenced by Beckett, sends him his harrowing poems, Beckett counsels: “take yourself away from my work and from yourself.” “Nothing matters but the writing. I wish I had been with you.” Beckett was no secular saint and could be funny and scathing, particularly of offensive productions of his work. This collection illustrates Beckett’s efforts to balance the competing demands of writing new works, vetting production requests, directing his own theatre works, while dealing with everyday correspondence. Why didn’t I go into Guinness’s as father wished?” Ruby Cohn writes: “letter just received announces a new work in the making (He calls it struggling), and he is so miserable in it that I foresee a major advance.” Of the early work on …

The best crime fiction of 2016

Declan Burke is the editor of Trouble is Our Business (New Island), a collection of new stories by Irish crime writers After You Die was a fine addition to Eva Dolan’s absorbing Peterborough-based series featuring DI Zigic and DS Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. In Blood Will Out (Corsair), Walter Kirn relates his true story of being beguiled by Clark Rockefeller, aka “the most prodigious serial imposter in recent history”, in a tale of sociopathic deviance that could have been penned by Patricia Highsmith. Lying in Wait (Penguin Ireland), a psychological thriller that explores the corrosive impact of a young woman’s murder on two families, was Liz Nugent’s second novel. Ann Cleeves maintained her high standards with the atmospheric Cold Earth. Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders was a brilliant pastiche of the English village mystery and a hugely enjoyable tale of publishing skulduggery. ADVERTISEMENT Tana French’s sixth offering, The Trespasser (Hodder & Stoughton), won the Crime Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, a deserved reward for a compelling blend of police procedural and domestic noir, delivered in French’s inimitable Dublinese. A debt to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is handsomely repaid in a novel that confirmed the considerable promise of Nugent’s debut, Unravelling Oliver. Lisa Lutz’s road-trip extravaganza, The Passenger, was one hell of a sexy, whiskey-soaked thrill-ride. Another debut, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (Corsair), was a literary spy novel in which the unnamed narrator (“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook”) takes us from the fall of Saigon into the heart of post-Vietnam War America as he pits his wits against “the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit”. Catherine Ryan Howard’s Distress Signals made for a highly confident and accomplished debut. ADVERTISEMENT Declan Hughes is Arts Council writer in residence at University College Dublin for 2017 My top 10 for 2016 is a baker’s dozen of forbidden pleasures: Easy Rawlins as engaging as ever in Walter Mosley’s splendid Charcoal Joe; Slow Horses, Mick Herron’s deliciously sleazy and sophisticated spy thriller; Liz Nugent’s exquisitely bleak and pitiless Lying in Wait; The Darkest Secret, Alex Marwood’s stunning domestic noir epic; the delirious, beautifully written Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman; Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley’s ripped-from-the-headlines tragedy of New York manners Before the Fall; the terrifying and compelling A Time of Torment from Irish master of supernatural …

Una Mullally’s cultural highlight of 2016: ‘Grace Jones at the Olympia’

I think the swerve into darkness the world took with Trump will colour art and culture for a long time, across film, television, protest art, hip hop, graphic novels, theatre and literature. Hopefully the rhetoric surrounding how important artists are will translate into more funding to artists themselves. What were your cultural highlights for 2016? What post-truth and American fascism and white supremacy means for art and pop culture. How did our centenary celebrations strike you? ADVERTISEMENT What will be your cultural resolution for 2017? Christine & the Queens at Glastonbury made flesh the viral TV performances that made her famous outside France. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? 2016 in three words Go to hell. Certainly the Easter Monday in Dublin was hopping. Anohni made a protest album of pure brutal beauty that no one saw coming. And what let you down? The death of icons. How other artists outside of officialdom took on the challenge of commemoration was especially interesting, from the female graffiti collective Minaw, to the TG4 series Eipic. Camera Person remains the must-see documentary of the year for me as well. Read more, write more, party more. The opening of The Broad in LA heralded a very Los Angeles gallery and shows what super-rich people can do in the art world when they set their minds to it. Back home, Drop Everything was a stunning mix of art, place, weather, tunes, and people. The world is in flames, we need to protest and party in equal measure and with love, anger and creativity. It was all just so sad. I thought they went well overall, especially considering the fractious beginnings of the planning. I also loved James Vincent McMorrow’s sophisticated We Move. Tino Sehgal’s Blank Cheque at Palais de Tokyo in Paris made audiences reimagine what an “exhibition” is and was so good I went three times. I did feel that some of the cheesier moments we could have done without, the finale of the Centenary event at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was a bit like ending Jurassic Park with Barney. Grace Jones at the Olympia was the gig of the year.

Fintan O’Toole’s cultural highlights: ‘A great year for the elderly’

All tricks and no poetry makes Will a dull boy. A Date for Mad Mary was the best Irish cinema debut for ages. It was a great year for the elderly: the last, hilarious and heartbreaking, volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters; Leonard Cohen’s noble farewell; Glenda Jackson’s glorious return in King Lear; a haunting last blast from the great Tony McMahon. For dance-theatre fusions: Anu’s These Rooms and Michael Keegan-Dola’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala. Waking the Feminists feels like that rarest of things, a real watershed moment. Your 2016 highlights? No going back to lad theatre? On a personal note, it was a privilege to work with Owen Roe, Olwen Fouéré, Lisa Dwan, Fiona Shaw and Stuart Graham at the NCH and Belfast festival events – and Kevin Rowland singing his mother’s Irish songs for the first time at the NCH was really something. The Irish novel is really flying and there are new works to look forward to from Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle and Sara Baume. Paul Muldoon, Rita Duffy, Anu, Fearghus ó Conchúir and many others showed that it is still artists who give the nation its voice. 2016 in three words: The republican imagination. What let you you down? ADVERTISEMENT What are your 2017 resolutions? Lisa Dwan’s No’s Knife was startlingly courageous. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? Jon Snow came back from the dead in Game of Thrones so maybe Cohen, Prince, William Trevor and John Montague will live on, too. How did our centenary celebrations strike you? And the Seanad’s land grab on the National Museum shows remarkable depths of philistinism in parts of our political culture. I really disliked the A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dublin Theatre Festival. And the Government actually noticed: the cultural legacy programme has great promise. Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End is glorious. Christian Blackshaw’s superbly meditative Mozart sonatas in Kilkenny still linger in the mind. So I have learn to read fiction faster. In a year of toxic rage elsewhere, it was a reminder of the proper uses of anger.

Michael Dervan’s culture highlight of 2016: ‘Composing the Island’

What were your cultural highlights for the year gone by? What will be your cultural resolution for 2016? It has already shifted perceptions about our musical heritage. Who does RTÉ think it is kidding at a time when neither orchestra has a principal conductor? 2016 in three words: hot and cold. Composing the Island, September’s survey of the last century and more of music by (mostly) Irish composers. There was also the huge embrace of culture and the arts by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in fronting the announcement of Creative Ireland, a venture he promises will “make every local authority a dynamic hub of cultural activity” and “enable every child to access tuition in music, drama, art and coding”. As I’ve said before, Enda, show us the money. I gave up resolutions a long time ago, but I’m dying to find out how Creative Ireland is going to be resourced. Our miserable infrastructure of opera is a legacy of decades of underfunding and neglect that became significantly worse when the 21st-century recession was added to the mix. The venture showed what can happen when major institutions (RTÉ, the National Concert Hall, Ireland 2016, with Bord na Móna as sponsor) work in harmony. What let you down? The game of musical chairs in the management of RTÉ’s performing groups. Executive director John O’Kane was moved sideways into a new role and Aodán Ó Dubhghaill, head of RTÉ lyric fm, was given O’Kane’s old brief of managing the orchestras, quartet and choirs on top of his existing full-time responsibilities. Incredible as it may seem, opera provision in Dublin is actually lower now than it was before 1951, when the Arts Council itself was set up. The Arts Council’s ongoing shilly-shallying about funding opera is greatly worrying.

Kevin Myers: Why I wrote about my adolescent homosexuality

The person that I now am would not exist, there would be no memoir, and nor would you reading this. The gravitational pull of distant, hitherto unknown events can be ineluctable and irresistible: see how my father’s death all those decades ago is now minutely but irreversibly changing your life? The waywardness of that disreputable swagman memory in any autobiography usually means that those characters enslaved within the chain-gang of his narrative wil1l no doubt hot1y dispute the accuracy of its contents. It is what it is: merely a creatively-written fabrication based on my memory of events in which there were many participants, for whom I have written merely walk-on parts (if even that). The word “tree” might stimulate your creative juices around your notions of something with roots, boughs, branches, leaves, twigs and birds? What has been discarded might well be better than what stands: but no matter – for what remains is an honest tribute to my beloved father, the co-owner of that single headstrong heart. E=MC2 is as much a work of fiction as Hamlet. And frankly, a memoir is no more than an autobiographical fabrication involving real people and events written by a participant who undertakes to give a true rendition of his or her memory. So, I admit to a pitifully unsuccessful attempt to seduce another boy at my boarding school – although “seduce” does not come close to describing my woeful attempts to satisfy my tumultuous carnal desires. I cannot proclaim that my memoir possesses either a momentous inner gravity or constitutes some condign allegory. Anyway, that cringe-making account of my brief and tragically unrewarded foray into adolescent homosexuality is my way of affirming: listen, I am telling you the truth here as best I can. Any word only serves as the launch-code for the reader’s imagination. This will probably not be confirmed in any way by the narratives created by their own memories, in which I have a mere walk-on part (if even that). Had Dad not died when I was a teenager, had he survived to my own adulthood, had I ever had a chance to have a pint with him, I’m sure my life would have been completely different. Had a certain Dublin brewer not invited Wallis Simpson onto his yacht where she met the Duke of Windsor, the latter’s niece Elizabeth might today be a relatively unknown old dowager, the …

A prison diary made up of love letters

I had begun writing The Wrong Man in prison and finished it upon my release. One of them bet the others that he could steal a stag trophy off the wall without being caught. In Crumlin Road Jail (where we were locked up 23 hours a day) and, afterwards, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh I read voraciously – hundreds of novels. Years ago, around Christmas, he and three mates (labourers and an electrician) all went to the old Hunting Lodge after work. It was around about the time I was giving up on novel number four that a friend told me that my girlfriend had left two huge bags of my prison letters in her loft. Are you okay, mate?’” Adrian said that he couldn’t swim but was told not to worry, he would learn quickly, and one of the other lads had a spare set of shorts. I called the book Then The Walls Came Down, after the lyrics of the Traveling Wilburys’ song Tweeter and the Monkey Man, which brought back good memories my girlfriend and I shared, though the title also resonated appositely with the ceasefire and burgeoning peace talks. And today he has a lot of exciting entries to make in his diary. Then he put the head under his coat and they all walked out, caught a black taxi to Twinbrook and got out opposite the Hitchin Post where the two who lost the bet went to its off-licence to buy a carry-out. For example, one about his new friend, Jim O’Carroll. If he is, he’s the only one as it has been defunct for over 70 years! A stormy cold wind was ripping the air apart and the starlings kept trying to find roosting spots on the disused chimney stack but broke up in disarray and went crashing through the air. Fast forward. My third novel, The Wrong Man, a sympathetic portrayal of an IRA informer, had just been published, and I was ready to begin number four. So, daily, I had to request to see the governor, and, à la Oliver Twist, ask him if I could have more paper. In two moves he had the stag’s head off the wall and under the table, and its antlers covered over with the bags. Then, they pulled too hard and to gasps and astonishment from the crowd the head landed on the footpath. …

Kevin Myers: ‘All memoir-writing is a branch of fiction’

Any word only serves as the launch-code for the reader’s imagination. It is a memoir, not an autobiography, which by definition is more holistic and wide-ranging. Do his motives ring true? Carlo Gebler reviews it in The Irish Times on December 24th Thus my mother – who really was by the more significant parent – is relatively and indeed unjustly absent. The gravitational pull of distant, hitherto unknown events can be ineluctable and irresistible: see how my father’s death all those decades ago is now minutely but irreversibly changing your life? These are the only useful tests of a narrative that otherwise doesn’t obviously lie or deceive (for then no further tests are needed). Probably not. Moreover, how could I possibly remember conversations a lifetime ago, when down the years that followed as as a reporter I could barely remember what had just been said moments before? Hieroglyphs are mental triggers, and each response in each mind is different, being a unique and original creative work. Had Dad not died when I was a teenager, had he survived to my own adulthood, had I ever had a chance to have a pint with him, I’m sure my life would have been completely different. And frankly, a memoir is no more than an autobiographical fabrication involving real people and events written by a participant who undertakes to give a true rendition of his or her memory. I am not the hero of this tale, merely its author, and certainly as flawed as, or even more flawed than, most of my dramatis personae. This will probably not be confirmed in any way by the narratives created by their own memories, in which I have a mere walk-on part (if even that). One usual way round such fundamental contradictions within any memoir is to insist that it conveys either a larger truth or a metaphorical one. But your tree is yours. E=MC2 is as much a work of fiction as Hamlet. I cannot proclaim that my memoir possesses either a momentous inner gravity or constitutes some condign allegory. “Tree” for an Eskimo is not the same as it is for an Ethiopian. It comes down to this. The memoir’s key is my father’s profound melancholy, his premature death, and the devastating impact of both on me. One day it will be disproved, as all theories are, but meanwhile it has no authentic existence …

Grace, a short story by Sam Coll

Sam Coll reads an extract from Grace ‘Think of it as a package holiday without the ticket price attached.’ ‘Once Dermot’s cousin has fixed his teeth, of course,’ said Maggie Magee seriously. And from what I hear tell, old Vernon here has been behaving as badly as I did. ‘Oh well,’ said uncertain Dermot newly crestfallen, ‘Er, that’s, uh, a good question … I’m sure he could, uh, do a discount or something if I put in the word … cousins are cousins, y’know …’ ‘Pprhg hugh,’ said Conan Kelly darkly. Or eat? No harm done, mature Mr Graves conceded, rubbing his palms. ‘Just think,’ said Mr Graves dreamily, ‘To be as St Kevin in Glendalough…’ ‘Bah!’ Dermot snorted, ‘They have loads of them fucking hippie retreats going on all over the place. Conan Kelly gave Vernon to understand that he was sorry that they had led him astray on Thursday, and expressed his hope that Vernon was in the process of recovery. They waited, ever more eager. And I’m sure you’d be a good houseguest. He answered her knock with reluctance, unwilling for her to see the state to which he was sunk. ‘I can drive you up myself as soon as it’s arranged,’ Mr Graves added, a droll eyebrow uplifted. ‘What what?’ cried eager Maggie Magee, leaning forward. Just think of it – a woodlands retreat, to live like a hermit and get back in touch with nature. He ate an apple. And he slept well that night and did not dream. Could one not go to the cinema? She gasped at the sorry sight of him, haggard in his bloodstained pajamas with his face in a swollen mess, purple cheeks purpled further by a medley of greenish tinged bruises, chips of dried blood flaking off amid the grizzle of his stubble, opening his mouth ajar in a leer to display his empty row of nibbled gums, toothlessly grinning in wordless reply to her flurry of worried queries, raising a palm to entreat her be hushed, before miming a slip and a crunch through the gruesome pantomime of his witty fingers. He listened to the rustling leaves and the nearby gush of the gurgling stream. He took a book from the shelves and read deep into the night. To further assure her of the soundness of his aims and of the thoroughness with which he had thought things …

Christmas on TV: the best movies to watch

Co-stars Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland. Mr Peabody and Sherman (3.50pm, BBC One) Mr Peabody is a super-intelligent dog and Sherman is a seven-year-old boy who accompanies the canine boffin on his time-travelling adventures, learning about history first-hand, but also encountering some perilous temporal paradoxes. NEW YEAR’S EVE Jackie Brown (11pm, UTV Ireland) Pam Grier plays the titular air hostess who is caught smuggling drugs and money into the US, and has to play a smart game to stay out of jail in Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 28TH Muppets Most Wanted (3.35pm, BBC One) On the Muppets’ world tour, Kermit is kidnapped and replaced by his double – a criminal mastermind named Constantine who plans to steal the Crown Jewels. Steve Carrell voices Gru, who has now turned from villain to doting dad (fatherhood will do that to you), but soon gets caught up in nefarious goings-on. Tobey Maguire is an orphan who becomes the doctor’s reluctant assistant. It gets complicated. The Butcher Boy (11.20pm, TV3) Neil Jordan’s film version of Pat McCabe’s novel captures all the madness and mayhem of the novel, in which smalltown boy Francie Brady retreats into a world of comics and westerns to escape his grim reality. The Lady In the Van (9pm, BBC Two) While the kids are in bed waiting for Santa to arrrive, the grown-ups can settle back and watch the charming, quirky true story of a homeless woman who took up residence in her van outside the Camden home of playwright Alan Bennett. FRIDAY DECEMBER 30TH The Sting (1.40pm, RTE One) Having hit the cinematic jackpot with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up again, this time as a couple of conmen who set up an elaborate sting on a mobster. NEW YEAR’S DAY ET The Extraterrestrial (1.05pm, RTE One) Stephen Spielberg’s magical adventure about a lonely boy who befriends a lost alien hiding in his backyard, and tries to help him contact his spaceship while concealing him from grown-ups and sinister government agents. Co-starring Jeremy Northam, Alan Cumming, Toni Colette and Ewan McGregor. Also features Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury. Kelly’s Heroes (2.10pm, RTE Two) Long before Inglourious Basterds, Clint Eastwood headed up this second World War caper about a band of military misfits on a rogue mission to steal …

‘The world is in flames, we need to protest and party in equal measure’

Hopefully the rhetoric surrounding how important artists are will translate into more funding to artists themselves. I also loved James Vincent McMorrow’s sophisticated We Move. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? Camera Person remains the must-see documentary of the year for me as well. Read more, write more, party more. I thought they went well overall, especially considering the fractious beginnings of the planning. Back home, Drop Everything was a stunning mix of art, place, weather, tunes, and people. Certainly the Easter Monday in Dublin was hopping. The death of icons. Christine & the Queens at Glastonbury made flesh the viral TV performances that made her famous outside France. Anohni made a protest album of pure brutal beauty that no one saw coming. The world is in flames, we need to protest and party in equal measure and with love, anger and creativity. I did feel that some of the cheesier moments we could have done without, the finale of the Centenary event at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was a bit like ending Jurassic Park with Barney. And what let you down? ADVERTISEMENT What will be your cultural resolution for 2017? What post-truth and American fascism and white supremacy means for art and pop culture. I think the swerve into darkness the world took with Trump will colour art and culture for a long time, across film, television, protest art, hip hop, graphic novels, theatre and literature. It was all just so sad. How other artists outside of officialdom took on the challenge of commemoration was especially interesting, from the female graffiti collective Minaw, to the TG4 series Eipic. 2016 in three words Go to hell. What were your cultural highlights for 2016? How did our centenary celebrations strike you? Tino Sehgal’s Blank Cheque at Palais de Tokyo in Paris made audiences reimagine what an “exhibition” is and was so good I went three times. The opening of The Broad in LA heralded a very Los Angeles gallery and shows what super-rich people can do in the art world when they set their minds to it. Grace Jones at the Olympia was the gig of the year.

‘In a year of toxic rage, Waking the Feminists was a reminder of the proper uses of anger’

It was a great year for the elderly: the last, hilarious and heartbreaking, volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters; Leonard Cohen’s noble farewell; Glenda Jackson’s glorious return in King Lear; a haunting last blast from the great Tony McMahon. On a personal note, it was a privilege to work with Owen Roe, Olwen Fouéré, Lisa Dwan, Fiona Shaw and Stuart Graham at the NCH and Belfast festival events – and Kevin Rowland singing his mother’s Irish songs for the first time at the NCH was really something. What let you you down? How did our centenary celebrations strike you? Christian Blackshaw’s superbly meditative Mozart sonatas in Kilkenny still linger in the mind. 2016 in three words: The republican imagination. For dance-theatre fusions: Anu’s These Rooms and Michael Keegan-Dola’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala. No going back to lad theatre? Lisa Dwan’s No’s Knife was startlingly courageous. So I have learn to read fiction faster. Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End is glorious. Jon Snow came back from the dead in Game of Thrones so maybe Cohen, Prince, William Trevor and John Montague will live on, too. The Irish novel is really flying and there are new works to look forward to from Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle and Sara Baume. What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? And the Seanad’s land grab on the National Museum shows remarkable depths of philistinism in parts of our political culture. And the Government actually noticed: the cultural legacy programme has great promise. A Date for Mad Mary was the best Irish cinema debut for ages. Your 2016 highlights? All tricks and no poetry makes Will a dull boy. Paul Muldoon, Rita Duffy, Anu, Fearghus ó Conchúir and many others showed that it is still artists who give the nation its voice. I really disliked the A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Waking the Feminists feels like that rarest of things, a real watershed moment. In a year of toxic rage elsewhere, it was a reminder of the proper uses of anger. ADVERTISEMENT What are your 2017 resolutions?