CULTURAL LOOKBACK: Review of the Irish arts scene in 2022

CULTURAL LOOKBACK: Review of the Irish arts scene in 2022

THE year is drawing in which offers a prime opportunity to reflect on some of the highlights from the Irish arts scene in 2022.

Year on year Irish artists the world over consistently produce top class performances and notch up impressive achievements in their respective fields.

And this year has been no different, although it possibly felt slightly more significant as 2022 saw the arts world return to normal service following a nearly two-year Covid-19 hiatus.

In many respects it’s been a ground-breaking year for many Irish artists, performers and venues, but for all it’s simply been a joy to be back out there doing what they do best in front of live audiences.

Here are some of our highlights from the year gone by…

Branagh’s Belfast enjoys global success

Kenneth Branagh finally gets his Oscar gong

He admits it’s taken him 50 years to write, but it was well worth the wait for Sir Kenneth Branagh, whose semi-autobiographical film Belfast proved a worldwide hit.

The movie, set in Branagh’s hometown during the Troubles, saw the writer, director and producer win his first Oscar this year – despite more than three decades working in the film industry.

Belfast achieved three Oscar nominations this year, which ultimately secured the Irishman the Best Screenplay gong in Hollywood in March.

Written and directed by Belfast-born Branagh, the film chronicles the life of a working-class family living in the city during the late 1960s.

Branagh revealed this year that he wrote the film during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.

Following its release in November 2021, the 61-year-old explained that he had spent the best part of 50 years “agonising” over how to approach the subject of his childhood spent in a turbulent Northern Ireland.

"Basically, I didn't want to just be staring at my own navel," he said.

"It wasn't personal therapy; it was really to see whether the story of a family in a difficult situation - where humour and all the other coping mechanisms we come up with to try and deal with difficult times - could speak to other people,” he added.

"This lockdown promoted that, I think, because the introspection and the feeling unsettled that we've all shared really drove me back to that time."

The film also won a Grammy and a BAFTA this year.

Since then, Branagh has been gracing our television screens in This England.

In a remarkable transformation, the Irish actor played former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the six-episode Sky series, which aired in October.

Admitting it took between two and three hours every day to get into his makeup and costume for the role, Branagh adds that playing Boris was a "life-changing part" for him.

Critical acclaim for Sinead O’Connor documentary

Nothing Compares is an absorbing documentary that tells the tale of Irish singer Sinead O’Connor’s rise to global fame.

Described by one critic as a “bracing guide to a brilliant individual who declined to conform”, it has received critical acclaim since its release in April this year.

The 97-minute film, directed by Kathryn Ferguson, traces O’Connor’s rise to worldwide fame after Nothing Compares 2 U was released in 1990, as well as the Irish singer’s eventual exile from pop mainstream after she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992.

The documentary also examines some headline-grabbing controversies, like O’Connor’s refusal to perform at a New Jersey stadium amid the Persian Gulf War unless stadium officials agreed to forgo the playing of the national anthem.

At the time, the star’s political and religious outburst was met with outrage.

But, told through a contemporary feminist lens, Ferguson’s portrait of the singer argues that O’Connor was 30 years ahead of her time.

After a decade of focusing on short-form work centred on identity, gender politics and community, Nothing Compares is Ferguson’s first feature documentary.

It premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2022 and went onto the festival circuit where it has picked up multiple awards.

Nothing Compares is currently showing at cinemas across the country.

Garth gets his Dublin dates…finally

Garth Brooks made it to Ireland this year

Country music legend Garth Brooks wowed Croke Park when he played five concerts at the hallowed Irish venue in September.

The US star, who hails from Tulsa, in Oklahoma, got his Dublin gigs after an eight-year wait, following the 2014 licensing drama with Dublin City Council which saw his planned ‘Comeback Tour’ concerts at Croke Park cancelled.

Brooks had then planned to hit Dublin in 2020 with his stadium tour, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic.

But the star returned with a bang this autumn, selling more than 400,000 tickets and spending an extravagant amount of money on his set to give Irish fans the concert of a lifetime.

The Dublin gigs were Brooks’ only European venue of his 2022 stadium tour, and they were so successful the musician claims he could have easily sold a further two dates in the Irish capital.

Instead, the 60-year-old, promised his Irish fans he will return and confirmed that next time he hopes to play a nationwide tour.

He also revealed he would have no problem calling Ireland home.

"I can tell you this. If people here in the States or anywhere else around the world say, 'well stay there, Garth!' I'm fine with this,” he said.

"They're ahead of all of us. Ireland is ahead of all of us,” he added.

“Some countries are ahead in technology, some countries are ahead in industry, some countries are ahead in their laws defending freedom and the military.

"Ireland is ahead of all of us in loving one another. They just are. They treat each other really, really good."

Fans say goodbye to Derry Girls

Lisa McGee pictured at the launch of the third and final series of Derry Girls in April

Lisa McGee’s hit Northern Irish sitcom Derry Girls came to end this year.

After three series and 19 episodes the Channel 4 favourite set in Derry at the height of the Troubles enjoyed its grand finale in May.

And after being on our screen since 2018 the show’s final one-hour episode was a force to be reckoned with.

McGee, as usual, pulled out all the stops for her girls’ swansong.

The show ends as Erin and Orla set about planning their joint 18th birthday party while the group were preparing for their final year of school in what just so happened to be the same week as the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

So, there was much to get in, and plenty of laughs, of course, along the way, with cameos from the likes of Liam Neeson and Chelsea Clinton making it all the more poignant.

Its creator and the cast said goodbye to Derry Girls in a series of social media posts made after the show.

McGee shared a picture of herself on set with Neeson, stating: “Thank you for watching. I’m quite emotional tonight so don’t have any words.

“Enjoy this picture of the day Liam Neeson came in, when I wore my shitty filming blacks but stuck a bow on my head cos… Hollywood.”

Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who plays Erin in the show, thanked Lisa for creating it, saying that it was a "huge break" for her.

"Working with Lisa has changed my life and will always continue to inform my creative decisions for the rest of my career, a privilege to say the least," she said.

Nicola Coughlan, who has gone on to win roles in the likes of Bridgerton after making her break on the show, posted two images on Instagram, one of her before her final audition for the role of Clare five years ago and another in her final scene in season three.

"It’s impossible to put into words what Derry Girls has meant to me and how much it’s changed my life, so I won’t even try," she said.

"Thank you all so much to you all, what an honour it’s been."

Oscar whispers as hard-hitting Women Talking is released

Jessie Buckley stars in Women Talking

Due for release just in time for Christmas, Women Talking is going to be a tough watch.

Irish stars Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley are among the line-up in this much-anticipated film, which is based on a harrowing true story.

Buckley, who hails from Co. Kerry, is hotly tipped to receive an Oscar nomination for her role in the production, which is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews.

Buckley stars alongside Mara as well as Frances McDormand, Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw.

Directed by Sarah Polley, Women Talking tells the story of "a group of women in an isolated religious colony as they struggle to reconcile their faith with a series of sexual assaults committed by the colony's men".

The Hollywood Reporter claims Buckley is one of the frontrunners in the Best Supporting Actress category for the Academy Awards.

She previously received a nomination in that category for her role in 2021's The Lost Daughter.

The Oscar nominations will be revealed on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, so watch this space.

Irish language film makes history

quiet girl Catherine Clinch as Cáit in The Quiet Girl

The multiple award-winning Irish language film The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin has consistently made headlines this year.

Most recently it surpassed €1million at the box office in Ireland and the UK, a feat which has never before been reached by an Irish language film.

The directorial debut from Colm Bairéad explores the meaning of family in 1980s rural Ireland through the eyes of a neglected young girl Cáit, played by newcomer Catherine Clinch.

The film has been widely acclaimed, and this year won seven IFTAs, including for director, actress, cinematography, editing, production design, and original score.

Produced by Cleona Ní Chrualaoi of Inscéal, The Quiet Girl was developed and produced as part of the Cine4 Irish-language feature film scheme and financed by Screen Ireland, Irish-language broadcaster TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Indie distributor Super has secured the rights to the film, which has also been chosen as Ireland’s nomination for Best International Feature Film for the 2023 Oscars.

Fifteen international films were due to be selected for the next stage of the Oscars process on Wednesday, December 21, as the Irish Post went to press, with the shortlist due to be announced in January 2023.

The 95th Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 12, 2023.

New festival for Irish community in Britain

Community stalwarts were honoured at the new Pairc Festival

A host of leading Irish artists took part in a new music festival which launched at the new Irish Centre in Birmingham over the summer.

Páirc Festival brought leading performers to the outdoor grounds of the venue in Kings Heath, in the former Stadium Club, in August

Among the impressive names on the line-up at the three-day festival were Imelda May, Ocean Colour Scene, Finbar Furey, Nathan Carter, Damien Dempsey and Sharon Shannon.

The inaugural event proved a resounding success which also boasted a street food village, over 50 market stalls, outdoor bars and beer tents.

Ciaran Healy, co-owner of the Old Crown in Digbeth and part of the Páirc Festival organising team, explained: “Páirc Festival is all about celebrating the long-standing traditions of the Irish community based in the UK.”

As part of this year’s Páirc Festival, organisers took the opportunity to honour a number of community stalwarts in recognition for their contribution to the Irish community in Birmingham and further afield.

Wexford-born John Fitzgerald, who has dedicated the vast majority of his life to Irish music, was honoured, alongside the late Irish Post photographer Brendan Farrell, former Birmingham Irish Centre worker Queenie Mulvey and local fundraiser Pat O’Neill.

Tribute to WB Yeats near west London home

W B Yeats has been memorialised in London

In September, poets, actors, writers and lovers of the written word gathered together in London in celebration of Ireland’s national poet, Nobel Prize winner, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre and an outstanding figure in 20th century literature, WB Yeats.

Inspired by Yeats’s poem Enwrought Light, Conrad Shawcross’s artwork in honour of the poet was unveiled just beside St Michael & All Angels in Chiswick, west London.

The WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project, founded and led by local poet Cahal Dallat from Cushendall, Co. Antrim, has been responsible for having the sculpture erected this year in tribute to the Irishman.

“This dazzling Yeats-inspired sculpture by artist and youngest ever Royal Academician Conrad Shawcross, comes with lines from the Yeats poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, engraved in a wide circular stone base,” they explain.

The poem, originally entitled Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, is one of Yeats’s best-known works.

Shawcross, 45, specialises in mechanical sculptures based on philosophical and scientific ideas, and to some extent the artwork attempts to resonate with some of Yeats’s more metaphysical thinking.

The site of the installation, St Michael & All Angels, is the church where the Yeats family worshipped — as Yeats’ grandfather and great-grandfather were both Anglican clergymen.

It is also fifty yards from the poet’s childhood home.

Yeats would have passed the church daily on his way to Godolphin School in Hammersmith.

Although born in Dublin, much of the poet’s early education was in England.

Highest award for fiddler Paddy Glackin

Paddy Glackin

Legendary fiddler Paddy Glackin received the highest accolade in traditional Irish music this year.

The Dublin native, who has been in the business for nearly 50 years, was awarded the Musician 2022 gong in TG4’s annual Gradam Ceoil awards in April.

The awards ceremony, which is now in its 25th year, took place in Dublin for the first time in its history and aired live on TG4 on Easter Sunday from the National Concert Hall.

The annual Gradam Ceoil Awards, also known as ‘the Oscars of traditional music’, pay homage to musicians who have advanced, strengthened, and preserved traditional music in Ireland.

Paddy Glackin, described by TG4 as a “fiddle player, consummate performer, seasoned broadcaster, teacher, recording artist, archivist, collaborator - a true keeper of the flame”, received the top award on the night, it.

Confirming their choice for the gong, TG4 explained: “For almost half a century, Paddy has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to traditional music in Ireland.”

They explained: “Amongst leading influences were his father and subsequently, John Doherty, Tommie Potts and Padraig O’Keeffe.

“Paddy has always been eager to engage with new approaches - his seminal 1980 recording with Jolyon Jackson set a benchmark in opening cross-fertilisation within traditional music and his work with the avant-garde American composer John Cage has been universally acknowledged.

“The founding fiddle player with The Bothy Band, included amongst many others he has toured and recorded with are Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, Liam O’Flynn, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin & Robbie Hannan,” they added.

Colm Tóibín wins prestigious Rathbones Folio Prize 2022

Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet Colm Toibin

Novelist Colm Tóibín was awarded the Rathbones Folio Prize 2022 for his novel The Magician, receiving a £30,000 prize.

Known as the 'writer's prize', it is the only major literary award for which all the books in contention are selected and judged by an academy of peers, and is the only prize to consider all works of literature, regardless of form.

The Magician traces the life of author, essayist, philanthropist and social critic Thomas Mann, one of the most acclaimed and contradictory figures in continental European literature.

Tóibín was four chapters into writing the book when he was diagnosed with cancer which required six months of heavy-duty chemotherapy.

"I knew that if the cancer came back, the chances of writing the books were zero," the Irish writer admits.

"Once I could really start working again, I worked really hard and really fast. Then I could worry about the health stuff. Anyway, I finished it."

Judges Tessa Hadley, William Atkins and Rachel Long chose The Magician from an incredibly strong and diverse shortlist, which featured novels, poetry and non-fiction from internationally renowned talent from across the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including Booker Prize-winner The Promise by Damon Galgut.

"Choosing one winner from the eight titles shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize found us pulled in so many different directions by these extraordinary books, which we lived with and loved and read and read again,” they explained.

"We sat around a table for several hours picking out lines and passages, taking in the very different worlds of each book and arguing passionately for every one of them.

“And then gradually it became clear – and was a surprise to all of us – that we’d each arrived at the same decision.

“Colm Tóibín’s The Magician is such a capacious, generous, ambitious novel, taking in a great sweep of 20th century history, yet rooted in the intimate detail of one man’s private life."

Tóibín has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times.

He won the Costa Novel Award in 2009 for Brooklyn and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2021.

This year marks his first Rathbones Folio Prize, following his previous shortlisting in 2015.

The Wexford native is the author of ten novels, including The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, Nora Webster, and House of Names, and has also published two collections of stories and many works of non-fiction.

In January Ireland’s Arts Council named Tóibín as the new Laureate for Irish Fiction, taking over from Sebastian Barry.