Taoiseach Enda Kenny describes Brian Friel as a 'giant of theatre'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny describes Brian Friel as a 'giant of theatre'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “The nation and the world have lost one of the giants of theatre" upon hearing the news that Irish playwright Brian Friel has died at the age of 86.

“His mythical stories from Ballybeg reached all corners of the world from Dublin to London to Broadway and on to the silver screen. All of his plays, including Translations, Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Dancing At Lughnasa, will forever form part of the canon of greatness in dramatic writing.

“The consummate Irish storyteller, his work spoke to each of us with humour, emotion and authenticity.”

Dancing at Lughnasa, Translations and Philadelphia, Here I Come are among Friel's best-known works.

Friel was born in Omagh, Co Tyrone in 1929 and moved to Derry in 1939. He attended St Columb's school in Derry, whose alumni includes poet Seamus Heaney, politician John Hume and singer Paul Brady.

He became a teacher, but wrote all through his life - He wrote more than 30 plays in his six decade career.

Friel’s death comes just weeks after the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival, a new annual festival dedicated to his works.

The cross-border celebration, reflecting Friel’s themes, took place in both Donegal and Belfast and a Dancing At Lughnasa production was centre stage.

In a heartfelt tribute, Sheila Pratschke, chairwoman of Ireland’s Arts Council, said Friel earned himself a deserved place at the top table of world playwrights.

“The Irish theatre and arts world generally is devastated by this sad, sad loss,” she 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.”

Friel was born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, Co Tyrone in 1929, and moved with his family to Derry aged 10.

He was educated in St Columb’s College – also the alma mater of Nobel prize winners Seamus Heaney and John Hume.

Friel trained as a teacher and began writing short stories before leaving education for good in 1960 and moving to Greencastle in Co Donegal where he lived the rest of his life.

Some of his other plays included The Gentle Island, The Freedom of the City, Aristocrats, Faith Healer, Translations, Making History, Molly Sweeney, Give Me Your Answer Do! and The Home Place.

He was also credited with adaptations of classics by Chekov, Ibsen and Turgenev among others.

A production of Dancing At Lughnasa will begin a run in the Dublin Theatre Festival next week.

Friel was described as humble and quiet and a man who preferred the company of family, friends and colleagues rather than the limelight.

Ms Pratschke said: “He had a natural, easy and profound understanding of the actor’s craft, and he spoke about how the actor’s public utterance of the playwright’s private words was what made the experience of theatre so unique.

“He said of the process: ’it is a contrived miracle – well a trick of the trade’. Friel will be deeply missed by all of the professional colleagues who had the great fortune to work and collaborate with one of Ireland’s true world talents.”

Senator David Norris said that he was one of the first people to review one of Brian Friel's best known works - Philadelphia, Here I Come - when it was staged.

“I was the first reviewer of that play, it was in the Gate theatre I think,” he said.

“I was involved with Icarus, a Trinity College undergraduate magazine, and I went to the play and I reviewed it glowingly, and when Brian Friel was nominated to the Senate, we had a little chat and he remembered the review.”

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