Brian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer, and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, is born on January 9, 1929, at Knockmoyle, near Omagh, County Tyrone. Prior to his death, he had been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, and referred to as an “Irish Chekhov” and “the universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared favourably to those of contemporaries such as Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, and Tennessee Williams.
Friel is the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and councillor on Londonderry Corporation, the local city council in Derry. Friel’s mother, Mary McLoone, is postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal. The family moves to Derry when Friel is ten years old. There, he attends St. Columb’s College, the same school attended by Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Seamus Deane, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann, and Paul Brady.
Friel receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48), and qualifies as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Training College in Belfast. He marries Anne Morrison in 1954, with whom he has four daughters and one son. Between 1950 and 1960, he works as a math teacher in the Derry primary and intermediate school system, taking leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer, living off his savings. In the late 1960s, the Friels move from 13 Malborough Street, Derry to Muff, County Donegal, eventually settling outside Greencastle, County Donegal.
Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a more than half-century spanning career that culminates in his election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly featured on Broadway throughout this time. In 1980, Friel co-founds Field Day Theatre Company and his play Translations is the company’s first production. With Field Day, Friel collaborates with Seamus Heaney, 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney and Friel first become friends after Friel sends the young poet a letter following the publication of Death of a Naturalist.
Friel is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature, and the Irish Academy of Letters. He is appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and serves until 1989. In later years, Dancing at Lughnasa reinvigorates Friel’s oeuvre, bringing him Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It is also adapted into a film, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by Frank McGuinness.
After a long illness Friel dies at the age of 86 in the early morning of Friday, October 2, 2015 in Greencastle, County Donegal.