The people of Glenties lined the streets to say a final farewell to the playwright who put their town on the world stage with such productions as Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations.
Stunning October sunshine lit up the hills, fields, and rivers of Donegal as Friel was taken from his home at Greencastle on the Inishowen Peninsula for the hour and a half long journey to his resting place in Glenties.
His remains, which rested inside a wicker coffin, were carried up the steep, tree-lined avenue from his house and out onto the main road before being put inside the hearse.
Along the way, people in towns and villages, including Muff, Bridgend, Manorcunningham, and Letterkenny, stood and clapped as the funeral cortege with garda escort snaked its way across Donegal.
While he was born in Co Tyrone and raised in Co Derry, Friel’s mother, Mary McLoone, was a native of Glenties and, at one time, worked in the town’s post office.
Mourners were met with a blue and white rowing boat with a sign for Ballybeg, the fictional town in which Friel set many of his works, and which many accept is actually Glenties.
Many locals walked the mile-long journey to the graveyard to say one final farewell to a man who loved to spend his childhood summers in the town.
At the graveyard, faces from the world of theatre, film, and politics awaited the arrival of the funeral cortege.
Mourners at the funeral included actors Stephen Rea and Sean McGinley, former RTÉ chairman Joe Mulholland and politicians such as John Hume and Martin McGuinness.
It is understood that President Michael D Higgins paid a private visit to Mr Friel’s home on Saturday.
Local parish priest Fr Pat Prendergast led the 300 mourners in prayer as Mr Friel was laid to rest.
He said the people of Glenties were “privileged” the playwright had chosen to be buried in the area.
Poet and close friend Tom Paulin recalled Mr Friel’s firm handshake and hugs, and recited from Seamus Heeney’s poem, ‘Sunlight’. Another friend, playwright Thomas Kilroy, also paid tribute. Singer Ruby Philogene-Doran sang one of Mr Friel’s favourite songs, ‘Oft in The Stilly Night’ as well as ‘Dido’s Lament’ from Purcell’s Opera.
The Friel family, including Brian’s beloved wife Anne and his four children, Mary Bateman, Judy Maher, Sally Sultan and son David (Friel was predeceased by daughter Patrica in 2012), gathered around his burial plot in a circle.
Together they dropped red roses onto the coffin of a man who brought so much personal joy to them, and literary joy to Ireland and the world.
Many stood on the hillside graveyard reminiscing about encounters with the legendary playwright.
An invitation was then extended by the Friel family to all to join them in the Highlands Hotel for soup and sandwiches and to once again celebrate the life of a very unique talent.