Brian Friel, widely regarded as Ireland's greatest living playwright, celebrates his 80th birthday today.
Literature lovers, theatre lovers and of course, school-goers both young and old, are no doubt familiar with Friel's many celebrated works, including 'Philadelphia, Here I Come', 'Dancing at Lughnasa', 'Translations', 'Freedom of the City', and 'Faith Healer.' Over the years, his plays have graced stages of theatres throughout the world and been translated into many languages, and the writer now enjoys his well-earned retirement from his home in the picturesque village of Greencastle, Co. Donegal.
Born on January 9, 1929 in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Brian Friel went on to attend St. Columb's College in Derry, St. Patrick's College in Maynooth and later St. Mary's Teaching College in Belfast where he received his teacher's training. From there, he spent a decade teaching maths in Derry's primary and secondary schools, until leaving in 1960 to pursue a career in as a writer. During this time, Friel and his wife, Anne, four daughters and one son, lived in Marlborough Street in the city before moving to Muff in Donegal in 1966 and then onto Greencastle, where they remain to this day.
Derry's Nobel Laureate John Hume praised Friel on the auspicious occasion of his 80th birthday: "I want to congratulate Brian on his 80th birthday and wish him all the best for the future," Mr. Hume told the 'Journal': "Brian is a truly inspirational character and one of the great figures of contemporary Irish literature. He is rightly recognised around the world as one of our country's most distinguished playwrights."
Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness MP, MLA, also expressed his best wishes to the playwright: "It is with great pleasure and admiration that I extend my best wishes to Brian Friel on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Although born in Co. Tyrone, Brian was the son of a Derry father and Donegal mother, a trait shared with many Derry people including myself. Brian is truly cherished for his outstanding literary works and productions, most familiar being his 'Translations' and 'Dancing at Lugnasha'. Derry is rightly proud of his long association with this region and I am certain that the people from here and further afield will wish Brian many more years of providing pleasure, entertainment and employment through his creative genius."
Retired Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, also paid tribute: "Brian Friel is one of the outstanding playwrights of the last half century. His work has been translated into many languages. His plays have been performed everywhere from large prestigious theatres in great cities to small halls in towns and villages around the world. His superb literary style, his creation of character and wonderful dialogue attract the appreciation and admiration of people everywhere. His work will be respected and loved and performed for generations to come.”
As Brian Friel’s acclaimed play ‘Translations’ famously premiered at Derry’s Guildhall and another play ‘Freedom of the City’ was based there, it seems especially fitting that the city’s current Mayor, Colr. Gerard Diver, paid tribute to the playwright and his work.
“Two of my favourite plays are by this amazing playwright and author; ‘Translations’ and ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’. They are quite simply works of art that you could go and see again and again. His plays deeply affect the audience and they stay in the mind long after you have left the theatre.
“I think that Brian Friel’s gift lies in his ability to speak to everyone, irrespective of age, nationality, gender or background; we are honoured that he has a connection with Derry and I believe it is entirely appropriate that the City should seek to honour him and his achievements.”