Order, industry, fixity, and quiet are the hallmarks of Brian Friel’s life. He was born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on January 9, 1929, the son of a teacher. The family lived in Omagh for ten more years before moving to Derry, the second city of Ulster and the place that, along with its County Donegal hinterland, may be properly considered to be Friel’s homeland.
Friel was educated at St. Columb’s College, Derry, and at Maynooth, the Irish national seminary, where he was graduated in 1948, though it was not his intention to study for the priesthood. He attended St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College, Belfast, from 1949 to 1950, and for the next ten years taught in various schools in Derry. In 1954, he married Anne Morrison, with whom he would have four daughters and a son.
During this period, Friel began to write in his spare time, and from the mid-1950’s, he was a regular contributor of short stories to The New Yorker. During this period, he also turned to drama as a form, beginning with two radio plays, which were broadcast in 1958, and at the end of the 1950’s, he branched out into staged drama.
In 1960, Friel resigned from teaching to devote himself to writing. The wisdom of that decision has been confirmed by the continuing string of international successes that has ensued. English and, particularly, American audiences have greeted his plays at least as enthusiastically as...
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According to his birth certificate, Bernard Patrick Friel was born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, Northern Ireland, on January 9, 1929. However, according to the parish register, his name at baptism was Brian Patrick O’Friel, the substitution of the more Anglo version of his name perhaps owing to the Protestant bureaucracy’s habit of discouraging Gaelic names at the time of his birth. He was educated at Long Tower School and Saint Columb’s College in Derry, after which he earned a B.A. degree at St. Patrick’s College in Ireland’s national seminary at Maynooth in Kildare. After training to be a teacher at St. Joseph’s Teacher Training Center in Belfast, he began a ten-year career as an educator in Derry. He married Anne Morrison in 1954 and began publishing short stories in the early 1950’s; within a few years he had secured a contract with The New Yorker.
After having a number of stories published and two radio plays broadcast, Friel retired from teaching in 1960 to write full-time. He spent several months in 1963 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, learning stagecraft; the following year his first major play, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, made a highly successful debut at the Dublin Theatre Festival, followed by another successful run on Broadway in 1966. His well-known play, Translations, was produced in 1980 by the Field Day Theatre Company, established by Friel and actor Stephen Rea. He became one of Ireland’s best-known and most respected living playwrights. Friel, who settled in a rural area of County Donegal, was also a member of the Irish senate.
Brian Friel (freel), born Bernard Patrick Friel, is an important literary figure who secured for himself a place among Ireland’s great dramatists. His writing is always powerful, his characters’ struggles always provocative.
Friel was educated first at Derry’s Long Tower School, where his father taught, and later at St. Columb’s College. He then attended Maynooth College in Kildare until 1948, when he left for St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast. A Derry schoolteacher for ten years, Friel left the profession in 1960 to turn his efforts entirely to writing. During his ten-year teaching stint, however, Friel was writing stories for The New Yorker and radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). His work was met with enthusiasm: He received the Arts Council Macaulay Fellowship, and in 1965 he was appointed shareholder of the Abbey Theatre. Friel has been a member of the Irish Academy of Letters since 1972, and in 1979, he received an honorary degree from the University of Chicago. A founder of the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980, Friel nurtured Irish letters by writing and producing plays and publishing pamphlets that debate aspects of Irish history, politics, and culture.
A Doubtful Paradise is Friel’s first produced play, but the earliest play he regards as successful is The Enemy Within, performed at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1962. Two years later, his highly acclaimed Philadelphia, Here I Come! played at the Dublin Theatre Festival. It was then moved to Broadway, where it enjoyed a long and seasoned run in 1966. A play about the exile of character Gareth O’Donnell from the dreary life of Ballybeg, Ireland, Philadelphia, Here I Come! is centered on the eve of his voyage to the United States at the invitation of his aunt; it is a poignant portrayal of the young man’s coming to terms with the relationships between him and his uncommunicative father, his dead mother, and his lost sweetheart, Kathy Doogan. Arguably one of the classics of contemporary Irish theater, Philadelphia, Here I Come! dramatizes with humor and psychology the leave-taking of an emigrant. It is also the play that introduced Friel to an international public.
Among his most notable plays in the late 1960’s and 1970’s were Crystal and Fox, The Freedom of the City, Volunteers, and the highly acclaimed Faith Healer. In Crystal and Fox, Friel presents the character Fox Melarkey, a traveling showman, through a series of caustic rejections that lead him inevitably to destroy his traveling show in an effort to recover an incomprehensible past.
The Freedom of the City is one of Friel’s more overtly political dramas. Set in Londonderry in 1970, the drama unfolds as an unauthorized civil rights...
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