Saturday 18 November 2017

Tributes pour in to ‘giant of world theatre’ as Brian Friel dies aged 86

Playwright Brian Friel at the opening night of The Gate theatre production of 'No Man's Land' by Harold Pinter. Photo: Anthony Woods.
Playwright Brian Friel at the opening night of The Gate theatre production of 'No Man's Land' by Harold Pinter. Photo: Anthony Woods.

Warm tributes have been pouring in for legendary playwright Brian Friel, who has died at the age of 86.

Mr Friel was known internationally for his plays Dancing at Lughnasa and Philadelphia, Here I Come!

The writer died peacefully at his home in Greencastle, Co Donegal, this morning surrounded by his family.

During his prolific career, he penned more than 30 plays, and Dancing at Lughnasa won three Tony Awards in 1982.

He was born in January 1929 in Killyclogher, near Omagh, and was educated in St Columb’s College, Derry, where the family had moved to when he was ten.

Theatre director Noel Pearson described him today as “extraordinary”. The two worked frequently together and their best-known collaboration was Dancing at Lughnasa.


“He was extraordinary. Once you were loyal to the script that’s all he cared about. He was such a gentleman, he loved the theatre, he lived for the theatre,” Mr Pearson told Sean O’Rourke on RTE.

“It’s a terrible day, I was up there four or five weeks ago, and he wouldn’t take the chemo because he said he was too far gone and he said: ‘What the hell’, and he lit up a cigar.

“We had a great lunch and a chat about this, that and the other and I said I’d see him in a couple of weeks and now I won’t see him in couple of weeks,” he said.

The Arts Council said that it had learned of his passing with great sadness.

“He was, quite simply, a giant, not only of Irish, but of world theatre,” the body said.

Sheila Pratschke, chair of the Arts Council, said the Irish theatre and arts world was devastated.

“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.”

Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, also described how Friel had become his close friend and mentor.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the nation and the world have lost one of the giants of theatre.

Mr Friel had served in the senate, and former colleague Senator David Norris today paid tribute to him saying he was “one of our greatest  playwrights”.

Speaking about Philadelphia, Here I Come!, first performed in 1964, Mr Norris said he was the first reviewer of that play.

“It was in The Gate Theatre I think and I was involved in Icarus, which was a Trinity

College undergraduate magazine, and I went to the play and I reviewed it glowingly,” Mr Norris told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

Mr Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa will be shown at Gaiety Theatre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, 25 years after it first had its

premiere in the city.

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