Christmas specials expose the human heart

Christmas specials expose the human heart Katie Taylor featured in RTÉ1’s Life and Soul over the Christmas period

At Christmas there’s usually great stuff on TV and radio, much of it repeats, but with seasonal and family activities it can be hard to make time for more than a select few.

Last Sunday morning’s Life and Soul (RTÉ1) was the fourth episode in this occasional series and it continues to be an excellent show.

It’s a mix of different items and this time there were strong themes of gratitude and hope with a sporting flavour as well – first up was Áine O’Neill’s interview with world champion boxer Katie Taylor who was more forthcoming about her Christian faith than I’ve heard before.

I have reservations about boxing, but Taylor believes this path is the one God intends for her. She was impressed by “what God can do with obedient and humble heart” and thought it was important to have “a grateful heart”.

She became quite emotional when speaking of family difficulties, though with God’s help the worst of this is past – she said they were in “a good spot now”.  She was grateful to have grown up in a Christian household and felt her faith kept her grounded.

Also sporting and also a woman of Faith was Elena Tice of the Olympic-bound Irish hockey team. She also had grown up in a Christian family, went through a time when she wasn’t fully committed, but now didn’t want to live her life without her Christian Faith. She found support among others in the team, which was important to her.


Hotelier and media presenter Francis Brennan gave the most upfront declaration of Catholic Faith I’ve heard in a long time, on or off the media.

He had grown up in a standard Catholic family, but had kept the faith, loves going to Mass, prays every day and regards it as important to be a good employer. He advised young people to consider going to Mass and saying “the odd prayer”.

I agreed with his idea that it was important to keep the Faith “alive and interesting” and his segment ended with him reciting a prayer.

Most touching of all was the item on the L’Arche Community in Cork. The Catholic beginnings of L’Arche led by the late Jean Vanier were outlined, as was the commitment of the community to the dignity of people, especially those with intellectual disabilities. There was wonderful warmth with the residents and presenter Dermot Flynn seemed at ease and at home with them.

The music was fine as usual, with contemporary Christian music from Jason Upton and Benjamin Hastings with the seasonal ‘A Night Full of Promise’ from a choir of young people at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork.

Carols from Kilkenny Castle (RTÉ1, Christmas Eve) was a laid-back and cosy musical event presented by Mary Kennedy. It wasn’t particularly fresh or innovative, but I did like Róisín O’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, and Claudia Boyle’s wonderful ‘O Holy Night’. I wasn’t so sure about Jack L’s ‘Silent Night’ but Hudson Taylor’s ‘How I Know it’s Christmas’ had a certain quirky charm.

The Leap of Faith on Christmas morning (RTÉ Radio 1) was another genial and relaxed affair. I liked the way they made Dickens’ Christmas Carol  a recurring thread as the guests reflected on Christmases past present and future.

Fr Bryan Shortall remembered when he was growing up and money wasn’t plentiful. Scott Evans, Church of Ireland chaplain at UCD talked about the stresses of modern day students and how homelessness was a greater problem than before among the student community.

Author Christine Dwyer Hickey thought we went over the top with Christmas excess and remembered a more low key approach when she was in Italy. Dr Aileen Murtagh, child and adolescent psychiatrist was on hand to comment of wellness and mental health issues that could surround the seasonal pressures while Blanaid Murphy introduced the Continuum Choir – a new venture for graduates from the Palestrina Choir and St Mary’s Girls’ Choir based in the Pro-Cathedral. They contributed some traditional choral carols.


As regards Dickens, I tried out a new three-part adaption of A Christmas Carol (BBC1) broadcast in the days leading up to Christmas. When Scrooge started using the ‘f’-word I knew I was in the wrong shop – time to bail out. Pardon the mixed metaphor. Anyway, life and Christmas are too short and valuable to waste on travesties like this. Is nothing sacred?


Pick of the Week
Life & Soul Christmas Special

RTÉ1, Saturday, January 4, 1.20 pm

Repeat of the show featured in this week’s review, including Francis Brennan, Katie Taylor, Elena Tice and L’Arche in Cork.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

EWTN, Monday, January 6, 9 am

Mass of the Epiphany with Pope Francis from St. Peter’s Basilica.

Arena: American Epic, Blood and Soil

BBC4, Thursday (night), January 9, 1.20 am

Exploring gospel music, the songs of the coal mines and the Mississippi Delta blues.