The Freedom of the City

© By Brian Friel

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The play is set at the hearing into the deaths of three unarmed civilians by security forces in Derry. Flashbacks show the events that led to the killings. Three people attending a civil rights demonstration accidently find themselves in the Mayor’s chamber at the Guildhall in Derry. They are mistakenly believed to be staging an occupation of the office and after a failed escape attempt they are killed by British soldiers when they surrender.

JUDGE: Could you elaborate on that?

CUPPLEY: Well, the 7.62 is a high-velocity bullet which makes a small, clean entry into the body. There’s no difficulty there. But once it’s inside the body, its effect is similar to a tiny explosion in that it shatters the bone and flesh tissue. And then, as it passes out of the body - at the point of exit - it makes a gaping wound and as it exits it brings particles of bone and tissue with it which make the wound even bigger.

JUDGE: I see. And your report states that the deceased died from a total of thirty-four wounds?

CUPPLEY: Forgive me correcting you, my lord, but what I said was-the second paragraph on page two- I think I pointed out that thirty-four was an approximation.

JUDGE: I see that.

CUPPLEY: Because, as I say, with the SLR it’s very difficult to identify individual injuries if they’re close together. But in the case of Fitzgerald there were eight distinct bullet wounds; in the case of the woman Doherty-thirteen; and in the case of Hegarty- twelve, thirteen, fourteen; I couldn’t be sure.

JUDGE: I understand.

CUPPLEY: Fitzgerald’s wounds were in the legs, lower abdomen, the chest and hands. Doherty’s were evenly distributed over the whole body-head, back, chest, abdomen and legs. Hegarty was struck in the legs and arms - two wounds in the left leg, one in each arm; but the majority of the injuries were in the head and neck and shoulders, and the serious mutilation in such a concentrated area made precise identification almost ... guesswork.

JUDGE: I think we have a reasonably clear picture, Professor Cuppley. Thank you.

CUPPLEY: Thank you.

(The JUDGE disappears. CUPPLEY goes off left. DODDS walks on.)

DODDS: All over the world the gulf between the rich and the poor is widening; and to give that statement some definition let me present you with two statistics. In Latin America one per cent of the population owns seventy-two per cent of the land and the vast majority of the farm-labourers receive no wages at all but are paid in kind. And in my own country of ‘magnificent affluence’, the richest country in the history of civilisation, twenty per cent of the population live in extreme poverty.

So the question arises: what of the future? What solutions are the economists and politicians cooking up? Well, the answer to that is that there are about as many solutions as there are theorists, ranging from the theory that the poor are responsible for their own condition and should pull themselves up by their own shoe-strings to the theory that the entire free enterprise system should be totally restructured so that all have equal share of the cake whether they help to bake it or not.

And until these differences are resolved, nothing significant is being done for the poor. New alignments of world powers don’t affect them. Changes of government don’t affect them. They go on as before. They become more numerous. They become more and more estranged from the dominant society. Their position becomes more and more insecure.

They have, in fact, no future. They have only today. And if they fail to cope with today, the only certainty they have is death.

(The three begin tidying up in silence. SKINNER puts on his shoes. LILY puts the flowers back into the vase and the glasses back into the cabinet. MICHAEL arranges the things on the desk (the papers, etc.) and attempts to rub off the cigar-bum on the leather. All the exuberance is gone. They move about as if they were deep in contemplation. MICHAEL goes to the portrait and catches the sword.)

SKINNER: Don’t touch that!

(MICHAEL looks at him, surprised at his intensity; then shrugs and turns away. SKINNER smiles.)

SKINNER: Allow me my gesture.

(The chairs are back in place; the room is as it was when they first entered.)

MICHAEL: That’s everything. I’m going now.

LILY: We’re all going, young fella.

(LILY looks around.)

LILY: I never seen a place I went off as quick.

MICHAEL: It looks right again.

LILY: You can have it.

SKINNER: The Distinguished Visitors’ Book! We haven’t signed it yet! Come on, Lily!

LILY: Will we?

(SKINNER opens the book.)

SKINNER: Of course we will. Aren’t you as distinguished as (Reads) Admiral Howard Ericson, United States Navy?

LILY: Never heard of him. Give us the pen. What do I write?

SKINNER: Just your name. There.

LILY: Get out of my road. I need space to write. ‘Elizabeth M. Doherty’.

SKINNER: What’s the ‘M’ for?

LILY: Marigold. What do I put down over here?


LILY: There. That Sunday we went to Bundoran we all signed the visitors’ book in the hotel we got our tea in and we all writ - you know - remarks and things, about the food and the nice friendly waiters and all. For the food, honest to God, Skinner, it was the nicest I ever eat. I mind I writ ‘God bless the cook.’ Wasn’t that good?

Extract courtesy Brian Friel and Faber and Faber Ltd

The play was started prior to “Bloody Sunday”, when British soldiers killed a dozen civilians after a civil rights march in Derry. Brian Friel was amongst the people taking part in the demonstration and the play was updated to reflect the actual events of the day.

Further Infomation






The play was staged as part of the Derry / Londonderry City of Culture celebrations in 2013


“Friel fleshes the awful, numbing casualty statistics and gives them breath and life” - Sunday Telegraph

“his play is clearly a protest against both the madness of Bloody Sunday and the immiserating poverty in which his characters live—it is the genius of “The Freedom of the City” that Mr. Friel transcends the immediate by rising above politics to portray the killing of Michael, Lily and Skinner not as a mere public event but as a tragedy in the truest, fullest sense.” – The Wall Street Journal