Best of 2020: Irish writers, singers, actors and others select their highlights of the year

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Cónal Creedon, Jarlath Regan and Christine Dwyer Hickey are also among the contributors 
Best of 2020: Irish writers, singers, actors and others select their highlights of the year

Culture highlights 2020: The Queen's Gambit, The Crown, Stefanie Preissner

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, writer 

Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Picture Clare Keogh)
Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Picture Clare Keogh)

Book of the year: You can probably guess the focus of Mark O’Connell’s book from its title, Notes from an Apocalypse. It’s engaging, inquisitive, and never boring.

TV: Like so many others, we’ve been making great use of our Netflix subscription throughout the pandemic. A recent favourite was The Queen’s Gambit.

Film: The Lighthouse focuses a tight eye on a pair of lighthouse keepers. Maniacal, weird, distressing. I loved it.

Music: I love Lisa O’Neill’s EP The Wren, The Wren – her voice is both powerful and poignant. Her cover of Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff never fails to give me goosebumps.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat (Tramp Press) won Irish Book of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards

Cónal Creedon, Writer 

Conal Creedon. Picture: Clare Keogh
Conal Creedon. Picture: Clare Keogh

Book: I'm currently reading Fr. Brian D’Arcy's It Has to be Said and Elizabeth Osta's convent memoir Saving Faith. Two perfect companion books. A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa was another favouriite of mine this year. 

TV: I'm not big on TV. 

Film: This year, I've been catching up on classics. For American gothic/noir and surreal cinematography, Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter is a masterpiece.

Music Choice: Cork duo Big Boy Foolish’s music is powerful, new, progressive and most of all ultra-original. Don't say you haven't been told, file under “no current category in existence”. 

Cónal Creedon’s Begotten Not Made is published by Irishtown Press.

Stefanie Preissner, Screenwriter and author

Stefanie Preissner. Picture: Gavin Browne
Stefanie Preissner. Picture: Gavin Browne

Book: My absolute favourite book this year was Ghosts by Dolly Alderton. It's only come out in the last few weeks so put it on your Christmas list and get reading!  

TV Series: I don't think I would have gotten through the lockdowns without the TV show Below Deck. I rarely enjoy scripted TV shows because I see them as work so this reality TV show is total escapism, absolutely brain chewing gum and it helps me to forget everything going on in the world. 

Film: My favourite film of 2020 is a new animation called Over the Moon. After watching it, I very quickly downloaded the album to listen to the songs over and over.

Music: My favourite piece of music I discovered last year. After my nana died Brendan O’Connor sent me a link to Nick Cave's latest album, Ghosteen. The Spinning Song moves me every time I hear it. That whole album is an experience.

Julie Kelleher, Artistic Director, Mermaid Arts Centre

Julie Kelleher. Picture: Darragh Kane
Julie Kelleher. Picture: Darragh Kane

Book: I had been anticipating Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat because I admire Doireann so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It felt so raw and real and domestic yet entirely epic.

TV: Mrs America is a period piece, but the fascinating thing was it managed to humanise characters whose politics would be at odds with my own and called into question the politics of the character who would be more aligned with my own. Those debates can be so polarised nowadays.

Film: Parasite, although it came out last year, I only got to see it a few weeks ago in the cinema here in Mermaid. It felt incredible to see something on a big screen. The film is extraordinary – the way it looks. Everything is so unexpected about the story.

Music: Róisín Murphy’s Róisín Machine is perfect disco house. The awful thing is I’m having to listen to it at home or on my earphones. I want to be listening to it on a dancefloor in the almost dark.

Christine Dwyer Hickey, writer

Christine Dwyer Hickey. Picture: Nick Bradshaw
Christine Dwyer Hickey. Picture: Nick Bradshaw

Book: John Boorman’s memoir Conclusions is very philosophical. He’s in his 80s now, coming to the end of his life. It felt like having a series of conversations with a very wise old man whether it’s talking about the process of filmmaking or a little sprinkle of stardust with his anecdotes from Hollywood.

TV: Babylon Berlin, which is set in Germany between the wars, has a surreal touch to it. It’s about a police commissioner who suffers from bouts of shellshock and becomes addicted to drugs. It’s very exotic yet it shows the poverty and harshness of life at the time in Berlin.

Film: I was doing the lockdown clear-out and I found this DVD called Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan). It’s directed by Vittorio De Sica. It’s a fantasy drama, which reminded me of It’s A Wonderful Life – where one man changes everybody’s lives.

Music: I listen to Schubert’s Impromptus: Opus 90 every time I start on the voyage of a new novel. It puts me in the right mindset for it. It’s an energetic piece, and it’s beautiful and compact.

Christine Dwyer Hickey’s The Narrow Land is published by Atlantic Books.

Sinéad Quinlan, Comedian 

Sinead Quinlan.
Sinead Quinlan.

Book: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is about living in the present – wherever you are, be there totally. Everything was swiped with the pandemic. Huge things for people were suddenly irrelevant. His concept of living in the moment has helped me so much this year.

TV: Jigsaw is a series by Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss. His dad told him when he was seven that life is like a jigsaw. You have your four corners – family, friends, hobbies and a job. In the middle is your partner who will help you build the rest of it. It’s well done, deep and hilarious.

Film: A Quiet Place is a horror sci-fi. Everyone has to be quiet or these aliens, who are noise-sensitive creatures, will kill them. It’s about how this family had to live in complete silence. It’s excellent. Emily Blount was so good in that film I forgive her for the shocking accent in Wild Mountain Thyme.

Music: Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy by The Tams is an old-school track about not taking life too serious. It has a Motown feel to it and such a happy feel to it.

Seriously, Sinéad? is available to watch on the RTÉ Player.

Danny O’Reilly, Singer (The Coronas)

Danny O'Reilly, The Coronas. Picture: Mark Nixon
Danny O'Reilly, The Coronas. Picture: Mark Nixon

Book: Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan is amazing. It’s intriguing. It’s one of those stories that seems like it should be fiction – how John Delaney managed to get so high up and control so many people in the FAI with so many questionable dealings going on.

TV Series: The Queen’s Gambit is great. It makes chess so exciting. The main character is talented but flawed. She has baggage and issues so she has to get over her flaws as well as what’s in front of her – her internal battles as well as her external battles.

Film: Calm with Horses with Barry Keoghan and the lead guy, Cosmo Jarvis, whose performance is amazing. It’s simple in a way, but a dark movie with little moments of comedy.

Music: I love the new Biffy Clyro album, A Celebration of Endings. I don’t think it’s my favourite album of theirs, but because so many bands are putting off releasing new stuff because of the pandemic, the week it came out I was actually waiting for the Friday release, which I haven’t done in a long time.

The Coronas’ album True Love Waits (deluxe edition) will be released 18 December.

Karl Spain, Comedian

Karl Spain. Picture: David Keane.
Karl Spain. Picture: David Keane.

Book: Ian Rankin’s A Song for The Dark Times. I love his Inspector Rebus series. I love the character and the Edinburgh setting, for partly personal reasons, as I spend a month there every few years for the Fringe festival.

TV: The Undoing with Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman is very good. There’s a nice back and forth between “he’s the killer” and “oh no, she’s the killer”. I read the book while watching it. I always find it easier to read a book when I can picture the characters!

Film: James Bond was meant to save the world in April. Then it was delayed until November. Now it’s next year. Covid got Bond in the end. No Time To Die? It’s a case of No Time to Show the Bond Film.

Music: It’s been a year of revisiting music. I’ve been back listening to The Clash, as I read a book about them earlier this year. London Calling has long been a favourite album.

Avril Stanley, Director, Body & Soul Festival

Avril Stanley. 
Avril Stanley. 

Book: Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times is particularly relevant during these times. It’s about transformation and how to embrace fear. It’s an eternal read.

TV Series: I love the intensity and the wildness of Narcos. The lead character Pablo is incredible. He has such presence. You shouldn’t like him, but if you met him you’d probably go salsa dancing with him.

Film: Jojo Rabbit is a comedy drama about this kid who has an imaginary relationship with Hitler. It’s a touching story with a level of realness, an imaginary realm and a sliver of history, which depicts that world from a different perspective than normal.

Music: S16 by Woodkid is epic. It’s a mixture of melody, symphony, intensity and a soundscape that’s off the scale. There’s something chilling and dramatic about it. It’s stunning.

Hilary Rose, Actor

Hilary Rose Picture: Miki Barlok
Hilary Rose Picture: Miki Barlok

Book: Sharon Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted is a lovely book about self-discovery, rooted in Celtic tradition and connecting with the land. It feels current, as people are going back out into nature even though it’s written four years ago.

TV: The Crown is amazing. Gillian Anderson was a good choice as Margaret Thatcher. Every season, I have a different favourite character. I loved the Princess Margaret character, the wild child, and with the fourth season I’m interested in the Charles and Diana story.

Film: 1917 by Sam Mendes is a big, epic war film. There’s one lead character and the camera is on him all the time. It’s a very technical film to make, a massive undertaking, a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Chris Walley, who plays Jock in The Young Offenders, has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in it.

Music: What I’ve had on repeat this year, as a kind of anthem for what has been happening, is Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads. I laugh when I listen to the lyrics: “And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’” 

Jarlath Regan, Comedian and podcaster 

Jarlath Regan. 
Jarlath Regan. 

Book: Patrick Freyne’s OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea is a special book. Weaving humour in to difficult situations is my favourite thing. Very few do it better than Patrick Freyne. 

TV: As a 1990s basketball obsessive, The Last Dance was glorious. It didn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of the Chicago Bulls story. It brought me back to a simpler time. Most of all, I loved that Michael Jordan became a thing you could talk to anyone about. MJ is to me what Ali is to my father.

Film: Calm with Horses was great and would have done really well had cinemas been open. I hope it gets a theatrical release some day. Barry Keoghan and Niamh Algar are superb in it. 

Music: The album In Waiting by Pillow Queens blew my mind this year. Tom Dunne recommended it on my Selection Box podcast and I haven’t stopped listening to it ever since. Were it not for this virus, these girls would be everywhere by now.  

Jarlath Regan is the creator of Irishman Abroad Podcasts.

Stevie G, DJ & radio presenter 

Stevie G.
Stevie G.

Book: Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier is terrific – his use of language, his characters, and he’s always got good pop culture references and things I can associate with like his descriptions of early houses.

TV: I love that the Hip-Hop Evolution series tackled hip-hop history from a regional perspective. Yes, you’ve to pay attention to New York, but I love the way it dug into Atlanta, Florida, places that were seen as country in America, in the same way in Ireland lots of the best hip-hop has come from places like Limerick and Waterford.

Film: I love the colour of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. Every frame is like an Instagram post, and it’s not that they’re all beautiful people; they’re just normal, average people, but the humour and dialogue brings them to life.

Music: Empress by Yemi Alade. She’s only 31. She’s released five albums. She’s worked with Beyoncé. She’s always working, always grinding. Outspoken on issues. Her music is really good, soulful, danceable Afro beats.

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