A year of big numbers in music, arts and entertainment

From music to film to theatre and art, Marjorie Brennan looks at the heavy hitters of the arts and entertainment world that have attracted huge audiences in Ireland over the past 12 months.

CINEMA: Songs of praise

We may have more choice than ever when it comes to watching movies at home but Irish people still like to get out and take a trip to the flicks, with an increase of over 3% in cinema admissions nationally year on year, according to Omniplex, whose own admissions increased by 8%.

The top two films were very much music-driven, with Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again at number one grossing €7.1m.

A Star is Born, at number two, had a particularly strong showing given it was only released in October, bringing in €6.3m.

Three franchise/sequels complete the rest of the top five, The Avengers: Infinity War in third place, earning €6.1m, followed by Incredibles 2 at €5.8m and the latest instalment of the resurrected dinosaur franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, at €4.4m.

Not far behind were Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody with €4m and Black Panther with €3.9m.

Biggest homegrown hit was Lance Daly’s famine epic Black 47, at number 22, earning €1.8m.

Other films with an Irish influence were Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, at number 13, earning €2.7m and Ladybird, starring Saoirse Ronan, in at number 30, earning €1.4m. Possible late entries to most popular films of 2018 are Christmas releases including Mary Poppins Returns, and the Transformer hit Bumblebee.

LIVE GIGS: Sheeran conquers all

One name loomed large when it came to gigs in Ireland this year.

Ed Sheeran brought his all-conquering Divide tour to Cork, Dublin, and Galway in May, performing for more than 400,000 fans in seven performances.

Sheeran smashed the record for the most tickets sold by an artist in Ireland in one day — more than 300,000. He played to 120,000 fans over three nights at Pairc Uí Chaoimh and it was estimated that he cleared up to €2m per concert.

Sheeran grossed $432.4m from the entire tour, blasting the previous record by U2 (with $316m for last year’s Joshua Tree tour) out of the water.

In contrast, Sheeran’s BFF Taylor Swift arrived in Ireland for her Reputation tour in June amid reports of somewhat underwhelming sales and not quite full arenas, and her two Croke Park gigs didn’t sell out.

However, the 130,000 fans who did see Swift play her first Irish stadium gig were not disappointed, with Swift delivering a masterful performance.

In Cork, Live at the Marquee once again catered for all tastes, with thousands enjoying performances from acts including A-ha, Kraftwerk and Christy Moore.

With acts in previous years having to contend with floods and storms, the unrelenting sunshine certainly enhanced the experience for audiences.

In 2019, it’s the turn of Cork rugby venue Musgrave Park to host a pop superstar, this time George Ezra, who plays a sold-out gig on June 20.

Homegrown music stars Picture This completed an Irish stadium tour this year and have already sold out an unprecedented five nights at 3Arena in March.

Some may have been surprised at the Spice Girls’ Irish gig selling out so quickly but one can never under-estimate the pull of nostalgia, even if Posh is opting out.

Not only did they sell out, but there were reports of tickets for their Croke Park gig on sale for over €300 on ticket resale sites.

BOOKS: Oliphant, Aisling and the Auschwitz tattooist impress

As the appeal of e-readers waned, it was clear that the real thing was still very much in favour, and it has been a particularly strong year for Irish titles.

While Normal People by Sally Rooney was perhaps the critics’ favourite of the year, it was the Aisling novels by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen that took the commercial laurels, according to figures from Nielsen BookScan.

The books were number three and four in the list of bestsellers, selling more than 80,000 copies, a substantial figure for the Irish market.

The bestselling book in Ireland was The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, based on a true story, which sold almost 62,000 copies, just ahead of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which sold almost 59,000 copies.

David Walliams came out on top with the kids; The Ice Monster, only released at the end of the year took prime spot with more than 31,000 books sold.

Top performer in the cookbook category were Stephen and David Flynn with The Happy Pear: Recipes for Happiness selling more than 11,000 copies.

At All Costs by former Clare hurler Davy Fitzgerald and Vincent Hogan was the most popular sports book, scoring sales of almost 11,000.

Creative non-fiction/memoir also had quite a moment in Irish books this year, with John Connell’s The Cow Book (12,329), The Gospel According to Blindboy (10,568) and Emilie Pine’s essays Notes to Self (8,679) achieving significant sales for an emerging genre.

TELEVISION: Daniel O’Donnell takes on the All-Blacks

Ireland’s rugby success was reflected in the TV ratings this year, with the Grand Slam- winning match against England pulling in an average audience of almost one million viewers for TV3 (now Virgin Media One) on Patrick’s Day.

However, RTÉ fired back with an audience of 883,700 for Ireland’s historic win over the All-Blacks on November 17.

RTÉ’s live coverage of England’s exit from the Fifa World Cup, at the hands of Croatia, was also hugely popular, netting an average viewership of 924,000.

The All-Ireland finals were a big draw for RTÉ, with the hurling final, between Galway and Limerick, attracting an audience of 854,000, and the football final, of Dublin versus Tyrone, watched by 841,000.

Away from sport, the national broadcaster also had this year’s top-rated programme, the institution that is the ‘Late Late Toy Show’, with an average viewership of 1.3m.

Daniel O’Donnell’s entertaining appearance on Room to Improve drew an audience of 859,000.

Highest news programmes were RTÉ’s Six One News and Nine O’Clock News, on March 1, with 807,000 and 707,000 viewers, respectively. Wondering why this particular date?

This was when Storm Emma was at its peak and people were warned not to venture outside. According to TV3, 1.9m people watched their news shows alone from the Wednesday to Sunday of Storm Emma.

RTÉ’s comedy offerings struck a festive chord with viewers, with Mrs Brown’s Boys — Exotic Mammy watched by an average of 612,000 and Cork-set The Young Offenders drawing an audience of 480,000, as well as being streamed over 18,000 times on RTÉ Player.

THEATRE: Jimmy fills the hall

It was a good year for the Abbey, with its top-selling show, Jimmy’s Hall, playing to more than 25,000 people in Limerick, Dublin, Galway and Cork.

It would also appear the national theatre is progressing in its aim to engage more outside the capital and draw new audiences, with 14 Irish counties visited in 2018, and 56% of audience members coming to the Abbey Theatre for the first time.

Oscar-nominated Ruth Negga’s performance as the Dane in Hamlet was always expected to draw the crowds at the Gate, and the production delivered, selling out the 371-seater venue for its five-week run.

In terms of sheer numbers, however, the adaptation of the Roddy Doyle classic The Snapper, came out on top, also selling out for the entirety of its 13-week run. It returns at the Dublin theatre next summer.

It’s no mean feat to fill the Everyman Theatre in Cork, which at 650 seats, exceeds the Abbey’s capacity by 22, but two home-produced shows drew full houses to the venue this year.

Lauren Coe in Asking for It

The much-anticipated stage version of Louise O’Neill’s novel Asking For It, sold out its 15-night premiere run, with Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West, directed by Julie Kelleher, close behind, drawing 5,500 people.

Cork Opera House’s varied programme brought thousands to the venue, with two pantos book-ending the year, Snow White at the start and Aladdin at the end.

The success of the reinstated summer show continues, with The Wizard of Oz seen by 34,000 people.

Other notable hits included Cork City Ballet’s The Nutcracker, enjoyed by 3,500.

MUSIC SALES: Stream dreams

The year’s biggest movies drove music sales in 2018, with the original cast recording of The Greatest Showman racking up 64,400 sales, followed by A Star Is Born, with Ed Sheeran’s 2017 album Divide continuing to sell well to secure the number three slot.

George Ezra’s Staying at Tamara’s was in fourth and rounding off the top five was Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys at 5.

The Official Irish Charts reflects the biggest selling singles and albums of the week across physical, digital and streaming.

Special weighting is applied to streams to create a chart unit sales equivalent which is then added to physical and download data.

The best-selling album by an Irish act was Picture This with their eponymous album the seventh best-selling of the year.

Fan favourite George Ezra also had the biggest single of the year with the insanely catchy summer hit ‘Shotgun’, which had more than 114,100 combined sales.

‘Shotgun’ was also second on the most streamed tracks for Irish users of Spotify, with ‘God’s Plan’ by Drake in top position.

The most streamed albums were Scorpion by Drake, beerbongs & bentleys by Post Malone and Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa.

The most streamed Irish artists globally in 2018 were U2, Niall Horan, The Script, Hozier and The Cranberries, reflecting the sad death of Dolores O’Riordan.

While Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ — originally released in 2013 — was still riding high in the top 20 most streamed, his latest release ‘Nina Cried Power’ featured on an even more prestigious list — Barack Obama’s much-anticipated ‘Best Of’ picks for 2018.

The most streamed Irish artist in Ireland in 2018 was Picture This, the Kildare act claiming the most streamed Irish album of the year with their eponymous debut released in August; and while Kodaline pipped them to the post for most streamed Irish song with ‘Follow Your Fire’,

Picture This had the other four songs in the top five. Meanwhile, One Direction alumnus Niall Horan’s Irish fans didn’t leave him down — Flicker was number two most streamed Irish album of the year on Spotify.

VISUAL ART: Nudes are good news

The Crawford Gallery in Cork had an “unprecedented” year, with more than 220,000 visitors enjoying an engaging and illuminating slate of exhibitions.

One which, perhaps unsurprisingly, captured the public imagination was Naked Truth: The Nude in Irish Art, which presented over 80 works by Irish artists.

Robert Ballagh photographed at the Crawford Art Gallery during the Naked Truth: The Nude in Irish Art exhibition. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

One of the biggest successes at the Glucksman Gallery in UCC was the Josef and Anni Albers exhibition, showcasing the couple’s acclaimed textiles and artwork, while exploring how a visual art exhibition could be experienced by people who are partially sighted or blind.

The gallery’s critically-lauded Outposts show was all too prescient in dealing with themes of global borders.

More than 470,000 people enjoyed the work on show at IMMA in Kilmainham, Dublin, in 2018.

Top exhibitions were the Freud Project; Sunset, Sunrise, featuring the work of contemporary Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian; and Mary Swanzy, Voyages, headed to Cork’s Crawford Gallery this spring.

At Dublin’s National Gallery, Roderic O’Conor and the Moderns was the headline draw, the vibrant retrospective setting the Irish artist’s work in the context of his contemporaries and featuring work from Van Gogh and Gauguin.

More than 100,000 people attended Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger in Dublin and Cork; it was the most successful exhibition ever in West Cork Arts Centre at the Uillinn in Skibbereen, drawing over 31,000 people.


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