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Brian Friel leaves a marvellous legacy

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 05/10/2015

Brian Friel was one of Ireland's foremost playwrights
Brian Friel was one of Ireland's foremost playwrights

With the death of Brian Friel another literary giant has left the Northern Ireland stage. An intensely shy man, he let his work speak for him and those words echoed not just throughout Ireland, but also internationally.

His plays, many of them rooted in a rural Ireland struggling to come to terms with the relentless march towards modernity, were performed around the globe to great critical acclaim. Indeed, he was famously regarded as Ireland's Chekhov, such was the regard for his work.

Astonishingly, he was a not only a contemporary of Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney, but also attended the same school in Londonderry, St Columb's College, which numbers Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and writer Seamus Deane among its distinguished past pupils.

It is quite remarkable that one small city in a small province should produce such towering talents, a testament to the creative fire that burns in a city and which earned it the City of Culture title in the recent past.

And it was a city which Friel, who was born in Tyrone and later lived in Donegal, held especially dear.

But it was small-town Ireland that formed the backdrop of some of his best work, which dealt with the big themes of religion, tradition and changing values of modern life.

Not only did he write about those little rural communities, he also helped to bring the arts to them through his creation alongside actor Stephen Rea of the Field Day travelling theatre company, which he regarded as an artistic response to the horrors of the violence that still gripped the province during its formative years.

Many of Northern Ireland's best actors - including Hollywood star Liam Neeson - cut their stage teeth performing Friel's work, and the tributes paid to the playwright since his death at the weekend are a tribute to the standing in which he was held within the theatre world.

He once described himself as the son of a teacher and the grandson of peasants who could neither read nor write.

It may not have seemed the most promising ancestry for a man destined to be one of our greatest ever playwrights, but wherever his literary genes came from he inherited them in spades, creating a legacy of work that will keep his name alive for generations to come.

Belfast Telegraph

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