The teacher turned writer, who shunned the spotlight, is best known for Dancing At Lughnasa, which was adapted for a film starring Meryl Streep, and Philadelphia, Here I Come!, an internationally renowned play.
Yet this famously reclusive writer had already committed to a sort of vanishing act so far as the outside world was concerned: for a long time, Friel had let his work speak for itself and what an extraordinarily rich, diverse and elusive utterance that body of plays – around 30 in total – delivered.
Originally from the Tyrone village of Dromore, Friel moved to Derry at the age of 10. Brian Friel found a more welcoming response from American audiences, especially of Irish descent, than in London.
Brian Friel was never a household name, but within the theater world, and especially among Irish actors, the playwright was a beloved figure whose poetically loquacious dramas provided juicy roles and plum character parts for many notable performers, including a young Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea.
“I want to express my very honest condolences to Brian’s family and friends at this hard time”. He became a teacher in 1967 after moving to Donegal.
“When a poet dies, we lose not just his, but the voices of all the people who passed through his life and imagination”.
“The consummate Irish storyteller, his work spoke to each of us with humor, emotion and authenticity”.
Dancing at Lughnasa, a great critical and commercial success in 1990, was another memory play, again set in Ballybeg, told by a man as he remembered spending a summer with his five unmarried aunts, telling of their frustrations, joys and closeness.
“Although he immersed us all in the richness and complexity of life in Ireland, he had that rare ability to imbue local themes with universal resonance, which explains why his masterpieces in particular enjoy such enduring and widespread popularity”.
“He was one of the best playwrights in the world and it was fantastic to see his brilliance emerge in the rehearsal room”, she said.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described Friel as “one of our greatest ever playwrights”.
Beloved of professional and amateur theatre groups, Friel’s work remains extremely popular in Ireland. He was also credited with adaptations of classics by Chekhov, Ibsen and Turgenev among others.
A production of Dancing At Lughnasa was due to begin a run in the Dublin Theatre Festival next week.
Brian Friel wrote plays for over four decades. His other achievements include serving as a senator in the upper house of the Irish parliament (1987-9). The story of a young man on the eve of emigration from a small town in Donegal – our first introduction to Friel’s brilliantly imagined Ballybeg – was hardly radical, but its formal rupture brought a frenetic energy to a familiar glimpse of a depressed Ireland.