Legendary Playwright Brian Friel Is Laid To Rest In County Donegal

Brian Friel, pic by Bobbie Hanvey

LEGENDARY playwright Brian Friel was laid to rest at Glenties Cemetery in Co. Donegal as tributes continued to pour in from the world of arts and entertainment.

But one tribute from rising filmmaker Laura Gaynor stood head and shoulders above the celebrity adulation for the Tony Award winning writer.

Born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, Co. Tyrone in 1929, Friel is probably best known for his plays Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Dancing At Lughnasa which were made into movies starring actors such as David Kelly, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon and Rhys Ifans.

Survived by his wife Anne and four of their five children Friel’s career has spanned over five decades.

An intensely private man Friel was known for shying away from media attention.

So much so he even politely turned down his own teenage niece when she requested to interview him about his work.

Filmmaker and writer Laura Gaynor posted a photograph on Twitter of a letter from Brian typed on an old school typewriter in 2011 with fond memories.

She said: “RIP my grand uncle Brian Friel – an amazing playwright. I still have this legendary letter of your interview rejection.”

In the letter Brian wishes her a Happy 17th Birthday, congratulates her on her career successes and apologises, writing: “I’m afraid I must disappoint you. I do no interviews of any kind. All this can be difficult when I have a play opening…but I make no exceptions.”

The former teacher passed away at his home in Greencastle, County Donegal, after a long illness.

Earlier this year Friel was honoured by the arts community at the Lughnasa International Friel Festival held between Donegal and Belfast in August.

Some of the writer’s other works include the The Gentle Island, The Freedom Of The City, Aristocrats, Faith Healer, Making History, Molly Sweeney, Give Me Your Answer Do! and The Home Place.


Les Miserable star Fra Fee credited the writer with inspiring him as a young actor. He called Brian an “Irish literary legend” and added: “his plays made me fall in love with theatre”.

Sweeney Todd actress Jayne Wisener told Twitter and Instagram fans: “Such sad news that Brian Friel has passed away. I’m so grateful to have had the privilege of meeting him. A gentleman and a legendary Irish playwright.”

Former boxer and sportstar Barry McGuigan said: “RIP Brian Friel, very few could articulate the complexities of the Irish mind like Friel could in his plays.”

Hollywood superstar Liam Neeson described Friel as the “Ireland’s Chekhov” saying it was a “joy to say his words” and describing Friel as a “master craftsman”.

Friend and Belfast born star of the stage and screen Stephen Rea said: “My friend’s humanity, connection with his audience and masterly writing made him unique. He is irreplaceable.”

Belfast based actor, director and playwright Dan Gordon said: “We love Friel’s plays the way we love Heaney’s poetry – they opened their homes, their hearts and our eyes.”

Belfast playwright Martin Lynch said: “To have someone who cracked Broadway and the West End, not with populist stuff but with real plays, is huge.
“He was an inspiration in that respect for all Irish writers.”

Belfast comedian Tim McGarry paid his respects by posting on Facebook: “Not sure late great Brian Friel would appreciate @BBCRadio4 calling his play Dancing at Loo NASA.”

Emmy nominated and Derry born actress Roma Downey Tweeted: “‘Say anything at all – I love the sound of your speech.’ – #BrianFriel #RIP”

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Tina Calder
Journalist, commentator, author and content creator specialising in showbiz, entertainment, business, trade, human interest and lifestyle.