Brian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, dies on October 2, 2015, in Greencastle, County Donegal. He has been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists. He has been likened to an “Irish Chekhov” and described as “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 born in Knockmoyle, close to Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. 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. He receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48).
Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a career of more than a half-century. He is elected to the honorary position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly produced on Broadway in New York City throughout this time, as well as in Ireland and the United Kingdom. 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 publication of his book Death of a Naturalist. Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa wins three Tony Awards in 1992.
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. He is survived by his wife Anne and children Mary, Judy, Sally and David. A daughter, Patricia, predeceases him in 2012.