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Playwright Brian Friel dead at 86

By Ray O’Hanlon

Playwright Brian Friel, a story teller in the greatest Irish tradition and one of the brightest literary lights to ever illuminate a Broadway stage, has died aged 86.

Tributes from around the world were being directed today at the life and legacy of a writer considered one of the greatest dramatists of our time.

Ireland’s Arts Council spoke for all in a statement that spoke of a “remarkable canon of work” left to the world by the Omagh, County Tyrone-born writer who has for decades been most closely associated with Derry City’s Field Day Theatre Company.

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“It is with great sadness that the Arts Council has learned of Brian Friel’s passing. He was, quite simply, a giant, not only of Irish, but of world Theatre. Since his international breakthrough with Philadelphia, Here I Come! in 1964, Friel has earned himself a deserved place at the top table of world playwrights,” said the Arts Council statement.

Sheila Pratschke, Chair of the Arts Council said: “the Irish theatre and arts world generally is devastated by this sad, sad loss. 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. His legacy is a truly remarkable canon of work – work which has already achieved classic status in his lifetime, and which will go on to be produced for many years to come.

“He is one of the great Irish playwrights of our time and has produced a consistently excellent body of work. Brian was a giant of the theatre, and a humble and quiet man, who enjoyed the private company of family, friends and colleagues, but who shunned the spotlight.

“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.”

Brian Friel was born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, Co. Tyrone on January 9, 1929, and moved with his family to Derry at the age of 10. He trained as a teacher and began as a writer of short stories.

In 1960 he left teaching to concentrate full time on his writing.

His plays include: Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Lovers, The Gentle Island, The Freedom of the City, Aristocrats, Faith Healer, Translations, Making History, Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney, Give Me Your Answer Do! and The Home Place, as well as numerous adaptations of classics by Chekov, Ibsen and Turgenev among others.

Indeed, he has often been described as an “Irish Chekhov.”

Friel won numerous awards for his work, including the Tony Award, New York Drama Critic’s Circle and Olivier Award, and the Evening Standard (London) Award.

Friel’s works were repeatedly performed on Broadway and hailed by critics in the U.S. and around the world.