It's a sure sign that the seasonal good cheer has reached critical levels when even as jovial a soul as Shay Byrne sounds jaded by it all. As he introduces Neil Diamond's virulently upbeat version of Deck The Halls on Wednesday morning's Rising Time (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Byrne gives a knowing, almost apologetic chuckle. It's a wry acknowledgment that the relentless jollity at this time of year can make even the most effervescent among us feel like the proverbial boughs of holly: prickly, sour and poisonous.
Those seeking a stronger antidote to festive positivity could do worse than tune into The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), where the presenter spends a good chunk of Tuesday dampening the holiday spirit. It's not that Kenny is playing the Grinch. In fact, he sounds pretty chipper. It's just that the Christmas items he hosts are all curiously downbeat.
Kenny’s first discussion covers a topic that is for many people alas unavoidable. He speaks with Ann D’Arcy, counsellor at Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin, about dealing with bereavement at Christmas. D’Arcy says that for those mourning a loved one, the all-pervasively merry atmosphere can be a problem. The many “images of happy families” wear thin at the best of times, let alone after suffering a loss.
Equally, D’Arcy stresses that “there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve”, and gives handy advice on the delicate etiquette surrounding Christmas Day invitations to friends or relatives who have lost someone. It’s a useful and even necessary discussion, handled with sensitivity, by D’Arcy at least.
The presenter, however, can’t help going on one of his perplexing verbal riffs. He ponders the benefits of bereaved people going out for Christmas dinner, or as he puts it, “taking miseryboots out of the environment in which they’re miserable”. This is meant to be tongue in cheek, but it’s no surprise when it’s greeted with nervous laughter.
His next seasonal item is also slightly jarring. Kenny talks to historian Conor Mulvagh about an archive report written in 1939 by Irish diplomat William Warnock about the Christmas mood in, of all places, Nazi Berlin. There are, to be sure, fascinating glimpses of life in Hitler's Germany at this very early stage of the war. Mulvagh quotes Warnock's sharp if impeccably patronising observation that the rationing of stockings "has been accepted with rather bad grace by the ladies".
In the absence of clothing, Mulvagh says that “books became the Christmas present of a Nazi Christmas 1939”, which at least makes a pleasant change from the Nazis’ normal practice of burning them. Nonetheless it’s a bit discomforting to hear Kenny and his guest breezily discuss “a Nazi Christmas”, given what was to come.
This is followed by a report in which Jonathan Healy cuts and pastes sundry YouTube clips to tell the history of Christmas cards. It's all fine, in an aural wallpaper way, until Healy says that the venerable tradition of sending cards has collapsed, laying the blame on the price of stamps and – of course – the rise of social media. By this stage, Kenny's glum bill of festive fare makes the January blues seem positively appealing. Where are the cheesy Christmas songs when you need them?
Ryan Tubridy, for his part, sounds like all his Christmases have come at once on Monday, when he talks to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Sorkin is the creator of the fictional presidential TV drama The West Wing, and thus a favourite of the presenter, who, as he regularly reminds his listeners, is a big fan of US politics. It's a truncated affair, with Tubridy only having a 10-minute slot. Nonetheless he can't help showing off by recounting tidbits from Sorkin's life to Sorkin.
There isn’t much personal revelation from Sorkin himself, who prefers stirring lines sounding straight from a screenplay: of the Trump presidency, he says “our darkest days are always followed by our finest hour”. Still, it’s hard to argue with his closing and sadly pertinent line that “when you see and hear simple decency it can be very arresting”.
Tubridy, for his part, sounds delighted. If nothing else, he disproves the adage that you should never meet your heroes, no matter that his audience aren’t much the wiser about Sorkin by the end of the encounter. Still, at least someone’s getting what they wanted for Christmas.
After four years of stimulating, enlivening and informative programmes, The Book Show (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) is sadly closing its covers for good. Last week's penultimate edition reminds listeners what they will be missing when presenter Sinéad Gleeson departs the airwaves.
It's hard to imagine two more different subjects than a radical republican Irish female author of overlooked 1930s novels and a mildly dotty broadcaster and former Tory MP writing about Christmas. But Gleeson hosts the two items – on the late Dorothy MacArdle and Gyles Brandreth respectively – with her trademark combination of lightly-worn knowledge and easy confidence.
Her interview with McArdle's publishers Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff shines a light on the writer's life while discussing the wider issue of women writers being neglected. As the editor of two anthologies of Irish women's literature, Gleeson knows the territory well, but avoids undue didacticism. Meanwhile, she finds the right tone of seasonal lightness when talking to Brandreth, but shows the breadth of her reading when conversing about the short stories of Saki.
Book lovers and radio aficionados alike will find Gleeson a hard act to replace after she broadcasts her last show, on Christmas Eve. Like getting cards in the post, such an engaging, intelligent programme is a rarity.
Radio Moment of the Week: Europe’s African frontier
The Documentary on One: Perfume Isle's Fatal Lure (RTE Radio 1, Saturday) comes from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean where thousands have drowned trying to reach the insular French department – and thus EU territory – of Mayotte. Producer and narrator Ronan Kelly combines personal testimony with astute social analysis to detail the dire circumstances that prompt migrants to risk their lives in perilous "kwassa kwassa" boats, and the only marginally less desperate situation that awaits them on Mayotte. It's gripping yet depressing, with no easy answers. File under "Puts it all in perspective".