Ireland's tourism industry is booming like never before; so much of it is the result of the growing profile of the country’s writing, film, TV and acting talent in the wider world.

The past year was a banner one for Irish arts. Cahir O'Doherty looks back at some of the cultural high points.

Writing is the lifeblood of Irish culture. Irish people avidly read and discuss the works of other Irish people because we are always trying to make greater sense of our fractured and fractious history and present.

In 2017 few Irish writers were more feted internationally than the peerless Sebastian Barry, 62, who won the prestigious Walter Scott Prize for the second time in June, just seven years after his first win.

This time the book in question was Days Without End, the stunningly powerful tale of a young Irishman's journey through the most turbulent years of the 19th century in the still emerging United States.

Described as a “glorious and unusual” story by the judges, they praised “the seamlessly interwoven period research and above all … the unfaltering power and authenticity of the narrative voice, a voice no reader is likely to forget.”

Now Barry's award winning novel is being adapted for film, in what could easily become a prize-winning feature in its own right.

Meanwhile, bestselling Irish author Marian Keyes, 54, also won plaudits for her new novel The Break, the brilliantly structured tale of what happens to a middle-aged Irish woman named Amy when her husband Hugh suddenly announces that he's off to tour south east Asia for six months.

Deciding to escape his family, his responsibilities and his wife, Hugh's stab at freedom lights a pilot flame in Amy's chest when she realizes that means she's escaping too. What happens next is brilliant, funny and often deeply moving, and it reminds us why Keyes is one of the country's most celebrated authors.

In film, the year unarguably belonged to Saoirse Ronan, 23. Her breakout performance two years ago in the film version of Colm Toibin's Brooklyn turned out to be a curtain raiser for her luminous turn as a precocious young Catholic high school student in Lady Bird, the riotously funny and very moving new film by writer and director Greta Gerwig.

Onscreen Ronan inhabits her character with so much conviction that she must be bringing much of her own inner life to the role.  Already a formidable screen actress, Lady Bird is the film that critics will turn to in every Ronan retrospective in the years ahead. Like it's director and the actress she hand picked to play the title role, Lady Bird is wise, kind, smart, fall down funny and filled with so much heart that is catches you by surprise and will leave you bawling. It's one of the year's best films.

Irish actor Colin Farrell, 41, is enjoying a career renaissance. As I wrote earlier this year possibly the best thing that ever happened to Farrell was the life changing disaster that was his sword and sandal epic Alexander. On paper it was supposed to be his breakthrough, the film that rocketed him into the stratosphere of leading man celebrity.

But it bombed. Actually bombed is an understatement. The $202 million film lost $71 million after all was said and done. But it also stopped Farrell in his tracks and put his life and career on a much-needed timeout.

He couldn't see it then, but in giving up the rock star trappings of Hollywood fame, Farrell found himself available to pursue scripts that were much closer to his heart, with the added benefit of inspiring performances that have established him as more than a dashing male lead, they have demonstrated he's a formidable artist of the first rank.

Farrell returned to the big screen in 2017 in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the joltingly dark psychological horror film directed by the Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos (who previously cast him in the equally accomplished The Lobster). But this time Farrell played a cardiologist with no heart whose sins unmoor his family.

olin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

olin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

In the film Farrell is having an inexplicable relationship (is it platonic or sexual?) with a 16-year-old boy (played with unsettling menace by Ireland's rising star Barry Keoghan). The film wowed at the Cannes Film Festival and became an instant critical favorite before it opened in November. Meanwhile, Keoghan also won plaudits this year with his turns in Dunkirk.

The gifted Michael Fassbender's pitch for the world's top leading man is being complicated by some of his less than ideal role choices in films like the fast paced horror thriller The Snowman, which opened on October 13 to disastrous reviews. Fassbender has admitted his workaholic schedule has been a factor in his decision making, which means a Farrell-like reassessment might be productive.

Meanwhile Domhnall Gleeson, 34, one of the hardest working Irish film actors, impressed critics with his performance as the beloved author A.A. Milne in the bittersweet biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin. Gleeson also brought some original trilogy mojo back to Star Wars: The Last Jedi as General Hux, the British accented ranting fascist. Gleeson also had a part in director Darren Aronofsky's risible Mother! but the less said of that the better, really.

Domhnall Gleeson in Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Domhnall Gleeson in Goodbye Christopher Robin.

Speaking of Star Wars, Tourism Ireland just saw the kind of publicity they could only have dreamed of this Christmas when The Last Jedi screened, featuring the dramatic scenery of Kerry and Donegal.

The global popularity of Game of Thrones has also added to the ever-increasing tourist bonanza in Northern Ireland, and Vikings (starring Moe Dunford and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has brought a legion of fans to the Republic.

This year Irish film director John Butler took us back to all those classic John Hughes coming of age dramas from the 80’s with Handsome Devil, an Irish version of a feel good crowd pleaser exactly in The Breakfast Club vein.

Focusing on a spirited young teen named Ned (played by gifted newcomer Fionn O’Shea) who’s trying to make his way in a cruel world that won’t listen, the basic plot outline is pure John Hughes (even the film's title is a reference to a classic song by The Smiths).

“I wanted to make a comedy drama about two boys who think they’re different to everyone else and really aren’t,” Butler told the Irish Voice in May. “It kind of springs from my own childhood – I’m gay and I’m really into sport and for a long time I found it really hard to reconcile those two things about myself. I grew up in a place that liked to keep things very black and white so I wanted to make a film about feeling the pressure to be black or white, to pick a side.”

U2 deserve a special mention at year’s end having just released another studio album (Songs of Experience) and dates for a U.S. tour. A force to be reckoned with and still viable stadium gods as they coast toward their sixth decades, they're now the elder statesmen of rock and their work as ambassadors for Ireland cannot be in doubt.