Have a grown-up Christmas time


Christmas isn’t just for kids – there are lots of events on at this time of year to keep adults entertained too. Here, Irish Times writers offer their suggestions for the festive season

A chorus of festive music to choose from

There’s a feast of musical offerings around the country this Christmas, so to ensure the best experience, do some research – and be prepared for a lot of choral events, writes Arminta Wallace

FOR MANY people, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a large dollop of suitably seasonal music. But with temperatures and budgets plummeting this year, it’s a good idea to plan your festive musical calendar with a bit of extra TLC. That way you’ll ensure that you get the best value, not just for your money, but for your soul as well (There’s nothing more soul- destroying than music that doesn’t move you even a tiny bit – unless it moves you to run very, very fast in the opposite direction).

First, you need to pin down what kind of music you’re after. Are you the traditional carols-plus-bible-readings type, or is Jingle Bell Rockmore your sort of thing? Can you not live without an annual Messiah, or will your ears explode if they’re subjected to another Hallelujah Chorus? With a plethora of musical offerings to choose from, you can have pretty much any kind so long as it involves singing. Maybe it’s an evolutionary response to the short, dark days, but the vast majority of gigs on offer during December are choral in nature.

Location is the next item to take into consideration. You’ll almost certainly get a much higher standard of music at the National Concert Hall than you will at your local church. However, as ambience is almost as important as musical content at this time of year, there’s a lot to be said in favour of a familiar venue – especially somewhere within walking distance of your home, which makes for a weather-proof and ecologically sound option.

Another couple of questions for your checklist: do you consider candles and/or historical costumes to be a desirable add-on, or the kiss of kitschy death? Do you want to join in, or would you prefer to watch? If the place is full of kids, noise and daft jokes is that okay, or do you want to sit in blissful piece and quiet while somebody chants plainchant? Are you happy to stand in the open air to listen to carol-singers – especially if there are mulled wine and mince pies on the go?

Finally, your outing might benefit from a bit of detailed fine-tuning. For Messiahs, find out who the soloists are and check whether it’s a period-instrument performance with a small group of singers, or a great big choral society bash. With services of nine lessons and carols in city-centre cathedrals, look at the website to see whether you need to apply for tickets in advance – they’re usually free, but don’t leave it too late. And don’t forget smaller churches, where top-notch choral outfits are often to be found in action. The Lassus Scholars and Piccolo Lasso are at Clarendon Street and at St Kevin’s on Harrington Street (dublinchoralfoundation.ie).

If I could go to just one live concert this year, it would have to be The Mornington Singers at the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street, Dublin (this Saturday at 8pm, morningtonsingers.org). Under its dynamic young conductor, Orla Flanagan, this group has just released a gorgeous selection of music on its third album, Water Night. For the Pro-Cathedral concert, Flanagan has built a programme around a Czech-language setting of the “Our Father” by Janacek, and Leonard Bernstein’s sumptuous Chichester Psalms. The latter is a setting, in Hebrew, of some of the most luminous poems in the Hebrew Bible, including the miniature masterpiece that is Psalm 131 – “My heart is not proud, nor my eyes lofty.” The centrepiece of the work is Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd” arranged for solo voice and harp, in this case Aideen Rickard and Andrea Malir respectively; and it finishes with an uplifting meditation on the theme of global harmony.

If all that isn’t enough to get the hairs standing on the back of your neck, the choir will also perform music by Palestrina, Lukaszewski, Benjamin Britten and the other-worldly Praetorius-Sandstrom Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen, finishing with a triple-whammy of festive favourites: Once in Royal David’s City, Silent Nightand O Come All Ye Faithful. If I were lucky enough to live in the southern half of the country, I’d certainly be signing up for UCC Choral Society’s annual Carols by Candlelight. This happens on December 8th, 9th and 10th, 8pm at the Honan Chapel in Cork city, and features Britten’s Ceremony of Carolsalongside new carols, old favourites – and mince pies and refreshments at the Student Centre. Tickets from the Visitor’s Centre: 021-4901876.

Finally, if you’re anywhere near Galway on December 18th, don’t miss Cois Cladaigh’s Gaudent Angeliat St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church at 8pm. With everything from In Dulci Jubiloto Arvo Part’s Magnificat, there’s a mince pie session at 7.30pm; and it’s in aid of Breast Cancer Ireland. Music to the ears of everyone everywhere, surely?



It’s been another busy year for Dion Boucicault, the 19th century playwright who reinvented the “stage Irishman”. For its Christmas show the Abbey brings this lively political melodrama from 1864 to the party, featuring a fine cast directed by Mikel Murfi. Abbey Theatre Previews Dec 15 – 20. Runs from Dec 21 – Feb 5. abbeytheatre.ie


Spoiled for seasonal stand-up, you have Karl Spain’s Laughter Lounge Xmas Party(Dec 2, €29) in Dublin, the Galway Comedy Festival hit Who Needs Enemies? A Christmas Talein Town Hall Theatre (Dec 20, €12.50/€10), and a hamper of headline acts in Belfast’s Grand Opera House: Whose Line is it Anyway?, Neil Delamere, Best of the Festivalsand That Was The Year That Wasfeaturing Tim McGarry and Andy Zaltzman. (Dec 10-11; 17-18, £14-£18.25) . Ho ho ho!


Why should kids have all the fun? Following The Christmas Fairy Tells All, a wacky spin on the nativity in Dublin’s The New Theatre (Nov 29-Dec 4, €15/€12) comes Chattyboo’s Beauty and the Beast, an over-18s fairytale about reality TV and corrupt villains in The Crane Lane, Cork (Dec 3-23, €15/€12) In Belfast’s Errigle Inn, Grimes and McKee’s Christmas Do (Dec 14 – Jan 1; £12.50). Boos and hisses optional.


What is Christmas without a surprise? In just under three years the Project Brand New workshop has road-tested various new works, a huge number of which have gone on to successful full productions. This is always a festive night out, whatever the theme. Project Arts Centre, Dec 16-18, €5, projectartscentre.ie, 01-881 9613. – Peter Crawley

Community events:


One of the most popular Christmas walks is the Goal mile which has been going for close to two decades, and last year took place in 83 separate locations around the country. The event runs on different dates and has spread to the UK and other countries abroad where Goal has a presence. Participants can make it a leisurely stroll or a sprint, and all proceeds go towards the charity. See goal.ie


The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland (CFAI) has launched a Christmas fundraising challenge, entitled Ireland to Everest, 32 Steps for Cystic Fibrosis (CF). The challenge begins at noon on Saturday December 11th at Mullaghmeen in Co Westmeath and is followed by Slieve Ni Calliagh in Meath on December 26th (St Stephens Day). Both of these climbs are suitable for all levels of fitness. See irelandtoeverest.com.


Three pilot Santa dashes took place in Ireland last year with hundreds of Santas taking part. This year, the fun run has gone nationwide. The idea is that participants dress up as Santa and run a distance of up to 5km. Counties participating this year include Meath, Dublin, Athlone, Limerick, Cork, Sligo, Kildare, Longford and Galway. The runs are held between December 5th and December 19th, and entry is €20, with proceeds going to charity. allirelandsantadash.com


This is the 21st year of the annual Cope Galway Christmas Day swim, which takes place in Salthill, from 10am until 1pm. A swim also takes place in Clifden this year, and another new addition is the Jingle Bells walk. The idea is that walkers tie bells onto their shoelaces and walk the prom in Salthill. Registration is available on copegalway.ie or call 091-778750.


To mark the New Year, Croagh Patrick Walking Tours, based in Westport, is intent on combining a fun get- together with healthy outdoor pursuits, in an effort to work off the excess of Christmas. A choice of walks is on offer on January 1st and 2nd, both days to suit both the hardened hiker and the casual stroller, while accommodation is also provided. Guided walks cost from €25 and further details are available on walkingguideireland.com or 087-2333295. – Brian O’Connell



How to choose from the multitude of Messiahs that proliferate every December? Well, this year offers the unusual prospect of an Estonian perspective under Tõnu Kaljuste and an Austrian one under Martin Haselböck.

NCC, ICO/Tõnu Kaljuste University Concert Hall, Limerick, Thur 16th, 8pm €20 061-331549; RDS, Dublin, Sat 18th, 8pm €20 0818-719300. Belfast Philharmonic Choir, UO/Martin Haselböck. Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Fri 10th, Sat 11th, 7.30pm £10-£24 048-90239955


Christmas concerts favour choirs and carols. But there are just four performers in the group Morisca (Pauline Graham, Laoise O’Brien, Sarah Groser and Francesco Turrisi), singing, playing recorders, gemshorn, vielle and percussion, to bring a medieval flavour to Morisca’s Sunday afternoon Christmas concert in Galway. St Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway, Sun 12th, 4pm €15/€10 concession. See galwayearlymusic.com. 087-9305506


The National Chamber Choir offer a bit of everything (Beethoven and Britten, Bruckner and John Tavener, carols and Swingle Singers arrangements) in the Dublin suburbs and the city centre. NCC/David Brophy. Monkstown Parish Church of Ireland, Dec 22 8pm; Hugh Lane Gallery, Dec 23, 4pm €14 01-7005665


The Vienne Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert is on television in the morning. But if you’re not in Vienna and want to experience the thrill of an orchestra in the flesh, go and hear RTÉ NSO celebrating Vienna in at the National Concert Hall. Finghin Collins (piano), RTÉ NSO/Christopher Warren-Green. NCH, Dublin, Jan 1, 2.30pm, 6.30pm €12-€38, 01-4170000. – Michael Dervan

Christmas in a castle:

Visitors to Bunratty Castle can enjoy a mulled wine reception as well as a three-course festive meal from December 8th to 23rd. On hand also are the Bunratty Castle entertainers, who perform a selection of festival songs dressed in Victorian attire. €35, from 8pm. Booking is required. See shannonheritage.com or call 061 360788. – Brian O’Connell



Surprisingly sedate take on the alien invasion thriller. Gareth Edwards describes his film, which follows a couple as they make their way through occupied territory, as “Lost in Translation meets War of the Worlds”. A cult in the making. Opening Dec 3.


Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp come together for a Euro-thriller from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of The Lives of Others. A remake of the French film Anthony Zimmer. Opening Dec 10.


It’s been nearly 30 years since Tron introduced cinemagoers to computer-generated imagery. Jeff Bridges returns as the missing computer hacker. Newcomer Garrett Hedlund plays his adventurous son. It’s in 3D, of course. Opening Dec 17.


What more do you need to know? Meet the Fockers – part two in the De Niro-scares-Stiller franchise – was the biggest film in Ireland during 2005. This one has to do with children. Opening Dec 22. – Donald Clarke


Most Dublin galleries host Christmas group shows (there’s an especially good one out of town at the Kilcock Art Gallery, titled Big Vision – Small Works), and Jorgensen Fine Art goes one stage further. Besides a range of paintings and sculptures, it offers a fine selection of antique furniture, china, glassware, lamps, candlesticks, tea caddies, high-quality art books and other collectibles. Great browsing.

Jorgensen Fine Art, 16 Herbert St. Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm. Until Dec 24, 01-6619758


The perfect antidote to Christmas, Philippe Chancel’s brilliant photographs, taken during 2005, depict the carefully choreographed and very strange world of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea. It’s a startling glimpse into a totalitarian state, and even the regime’s most carefully orchestrated bids to impress are shot through, as Chancel observes, with a sense of desolation and unreality.

Limerick City Gallery of Art Off-Site, Istabraq Hall, Limerick City Council, Merchants Quay Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm. Until Dec 23


Ireland has been slow to embrace the notion of fine art photography, but now many of the best up-and-coming artists are photographic artists, and the Gallery of Photography’s Artist’s Award aims to prove the point.

The eight shortlisted artists featured here are all good. They are Patrick Fitzpatrick, Patrick Hogan, Michele Horrigan, Sabina MacMahon, Liam Murphy, Kirsty O’Keeffe, Francis O’Riordan and Ivor Prickett. Incidentally, the gallery’s bookshop is the best photographic bookshop in Ireland by a long shot. Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Sq, Temple Bar, Dublin. Tues-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 1pm-6pm. Until Jan 30, 01-6714654


The show everyone is talking about. Drawn largely from IMMA’s own collection, it features a huge range of material charting the development of modernity in Ireland, from 1900 up to the 1970s and covering painting, sculpture, photography, film, architecture, literature, music and design, with many key works in each area on display.

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Tues-Sat 10am-5.30pm, (Wed 10am-5pm), Sun and Bank Holidays 12pm-5pm (Closed Mondays and Dec 24-26). Until Feb 13, 01-6129900.


Henry Vaughan, who bequeathed the bulk of the National Gallery’s Turner watercolours, stipulated that they be shown only during January when natural light was at its lowest. That’s not strictly necessary with contemporary lighting technology, but the gallery wisely adheres to the condition, making this annual outing a real seasonal treat. This year they’re accompanied by silhouettes and miniatures from the Mary A McNeill Bequest. National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Sq West and Clare St. Jan 1-31, 01-6615133


Firdawsi’s 60,000-verse epic The Book of Kings (the Shahnama) was completed in 1010: 1,000 years ago. It’s often referred to as the Iranian national epic, and the Chester Beatty possesses a stunning collection of paintings illustrating it, produced in Iran and India from the 14th to the 19th centuries. This show marshals 150 of them.

As regular visitors know, the library also houses a terrific shop and the Silk Road Café. Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle. Until April 3, 2011 01-4070750 – Aidan Dunne


Whether you decide to go to Leopardstown or Limerick, a number of festive race meets take place directly after Christmas Day around the country. The gatherings are far more social affairs than normal weekly racing festivals, and many of the on-site bars and restaurants make a special effort with hot drinks and food. Tickets for the popular Leopardstown Festival, which begins on December 26th, begin at €20. leopardstown.com – Brian O’Connell

Sweet treats:

Temple Bar’s annual Christmas chocolate festival runs from December 3rd to December 5th. Highlights of the weekend events include open-air movies with hot chocolate, while many of Ireland’s top artisan chocolate producers will participate in an open-air fair on Sunday.

Other entertainment, including carol singing and some scenes from well-known fairytales, will also take place. Most events are free, although some will carry a charge. templebar.ie – Brian O’Connell