About the Playwright: Brian Friel

By Leah Flowers
24 March 2024

 Brian Friel (1929-2015) was an Irish playwright who was sometimes called the “Irish Chekhov” (Moran). Friel was born in Killyclogher, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. His mother was from Glenties, near Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. He spent half of his childhood with his mother’s family which is how he became familiar with his maternal aunts, who were the inspiration for the Mundy sisters. Interestingly, his mother’s maiden name was McLoone and in Donegal, Mundy is a nickname for McLoone (Verdolino).

In 1948 Friel earned his BA from St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, where he first entered as a seminarian, but later chose to pursue teaching instead. He married Anna Morrison in 1954 and together they raised five children. Friel worked as a teacher and wrote short stories in his spare time until 1960 when he was able to move to writing full time. His first play Philadelphia, Here I Come! opened at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, thereafter opening on Broadway and earning six Tony Awards including Best Play.

Friel’s 1973 play The Freedom of the City was a response to what he witnessed firsthand as part of the crowd upon which the British military fired during the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. His best known play, Dancing at Lughnasa, opened in 1990 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and enjoyed runs in London at the National Theatre and in New York on Broadway. He adapted 4 of Chekhov’s plays between 1980-2008, and in 1980 he and friend Stephen Rea co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company in Londonderry, Northern Ireland (Tikkanen).

NOTABLE PLAYS

Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1963)
The Lovers of Cass McGuire (1966)
Crystal and Fox (1968)
The Mundy Scheme (1969)
The Freedom of the City (1973)
Volunteers (1975)
Translations (1980)
Making History (1988)
Dancing at Lughnasa (1990)

AWARDS

1966 Tony Award, Best Play: Philadelphia…
1979 Evening Standard, Best Play: Aristocrats
1979 Drama Critics Circle, Best Foreign Play: Aristocrats
1991 Laurence Olivier, Best Play: Dancing…
1991 Tony Award, Best Play: Dancing…
1991 Drama Critics Circle, Best Play: Dancing…
1995 Drama Critics Circle, Best Foreign Play: Molly Sweeney

Sources:

  1. Moran, Sarah. “Brian Friel (1929-2015).” The Friel Project, Irish Repertory Theatre, 20 July 2023, https://irishrep.org/explore/discover-brian-friel-1929-2015/.
  2. Tikkanen, Amy. “Brian Friel.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 September 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Brian-Friel.
  3. Verdolino, Annette. Personal interview. 3 February 2024.