Playwright Brian Friel, best known for his plays “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” and “Dancing at Lughnasa,” passed away on Thursday, aged 86, at his home in County Donegal.
Friel’s career spanned 50 years during which time he carved a place as one of Ireland’s most iconic playwrights. His plays also touched huge numbers of Irish people as they were are part of the Leaving Certificate syllabus.
Some of his other plays include: “The Freedom of the City,” “Aristocrats,” “Faith Healer,” and “Translations.” He was also credited with adaptations of classics by Chekhov, Ibsen and Turgenev among others. His adaptation of “A Month in the Country” finished a run in Dublin’s Gate Theater this August.
Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to the playwright. In a statement he said:
“It is with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Brian Friel who was and will be remembered as one of the giants of Irish Literature, and a great Irishman.
“His is a body of work that will endure. He was familiar to generations of Irish people and others across the globe.”
He added, “He was a man of powerful intellect, great courage and generosity. These were talents that he delivered with great humor, grit and compassion. His legacy to the Irish people is immense.”
Born in Omagh, County Tyrone, on Jan 9 1929, Friel became a teacher, following in his father’s footsteps, after his education at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth and St Joseph’s College in Belfast. Although he wrote throughout his life, it was in 1967 that he became a household name with “Philadelphia, Here I Come.” During his six decade career he completed 30 plays.
Deeply saddened in Galway to hear the death of legendary Brian Friel.Legendary Playwright with an ever-lasting legacy pic.twitter.com/gc3QHVSIqT— Galway 2020 (@galway2020) October 2, 2015
A member of the Royal Society of Literature, the Irish Academy of Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Friel was a publicity-shy figure. However, in 1972 he gave a talk entitled “Self Portrait”.
In it, he said: “I am married, have five children, live in the country, smoke too much, fish a bit, read a lot, worry a lot, get involved in sporadic causes and invariably regret the involvement, and hope that between now and my death I will have acquired a religion, a philosophy, a sense of life that will make the end less frightening than it appears to me at this moment.”
Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny wrote:
“The consummate Irish storyteller, his work spoke to each of us with humor, emotion and authenticity. Like the great WB Yeats, he also served in Seanad Éireann. I would like to send my deepest condolences to his wife Anne and his children. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”
In a statement the Chair of the Arts Council of Ireland, Sheila Pratschke, said “Brian was an inspiration to Irish playwrights, actors, directors and theatre makers. It is the mark of the man and his achievement as a writer that his work is conjured by use of his surname only.”
Brian Friel will forever form part of the canon of greatness in dramatic writing. A consummate storyteller, his work spoke to each of us.— Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD) October 2, 2015
We note with great sadness the passing of playwright Brian Friel: http://t.co/YUFWzF5cA0— Nat Library Ireland (@NLIreland) October 2, 2015
Friel’s death comes just weeks after the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival, a new annual festival in celebration of his his works. The festival, which took place in Donegal and Belfast, with a production of “Dancing At Lughnasa” at center stage.
Grieving the loss of Brian Friel, an extraordinary and major playwright of our times http://t.co/ehiSc7A1hu— Abbey Theatre (@AbbeyTheatre) October 2, 2015
A production of “Dancing At Lughnasa” is due to begin a run in the Dublin Theatre Festival next week.