Brian Friel was born on 9th January 1929 in Omagh, County Tyrone. His father was a schoolteacher, and a councillor on Londonderry Corporation (Derry City Council). His mother was postmistress of Glenties, Donegal.
Friel studied at St Columb’s College (Derry), St Patrick’s College (Maynooth) and St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College (Belfast). He taught as a school teacher until becoming a full time writer in 1960. In 1954 he married Anne Morrison.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s Friel wrote plays for a range of theatres, including the Group Theatre (Belfast), the Lyric Theatre (Belfast), the Abbey Theatre (Dublin) as well as being produced on BBC Northern Ireland. His breakthrough came in 1964 with ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come!’ The play is set the night before the central character’s move to America with the public and private thoughts of the character Gar being displayed through the innovative use of two actors for the single role: Gar Public (“the Gar that people see, talk to, talk about”) and Gar Private (“the unseen man, the man within, the conscience”). The play was an immediate success with the public and the critics.
His works have a political and cultural element informed by his experiences. He took part in the civil rights march in Derry in 1972 which ended with the shooting of civilians by the British army. The following year his play ‘The Freedom of the City’ was produced, which explicitly dealt with the “Troubles”, being set at an imagined hearing into the deaths of three unarmed civilians in Derry.
In 1980 Friel co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company with actor Stephen Rea. Their first production was ‘Translations’ starring Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, and Ray MacAnally. The play tackles the issues of differences of language and conflicts between love and cultural identity in an anglo-Irish context. The play was a worldwide critical success, due to the relevance of its themes to conflicts around the globe.
Friel went on to achieve great public and critical success with later works, such as ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’, in 1990, which won several Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It was also turned into a film, in 1998, starring Meryl Streep. The film’s scriptwriter was the acclaimed County Donegal playwright Frank McGuinness.
Friel has received many honours for his work. He was appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and served until 1989. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature, the Irish Academy of Letters and an honorary fellow of the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of Literature by the National University of Ireland. In 2009, Queen’s University Belfast opened the Brian Friel Centre for Theatre Research.
A Sort of Freedom (unpublished radio play), 1958.
To This Hard House (unpublished radio play), 1958.
A Doubtful Paradise (unpublished), 1960.
The Enemy Within,1962.
The Saucer of Larks: Stories of Ireland. New York: Doubleday, 1962.
The Blind Mice (unpublished), 1963
The Founder Members (unpublished TV play), 1964.
Three Fathers, Three Sons (unpublished TV play), 1964.
Philadelphia, Here I Come! New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1965.
The Gold in the Sea. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
The Loves of Cass McGuire. New York: Noonday Press, 1966.
Lovers. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
Crystal and Fox. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
Crystal and Fox and The Mundy Scheme. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970.
The Gentle Island. London: Davis-Poynter, 1973.
Freedom of the City. London: Faber and Faber, 1974.
The Enemy Within. Newark: Proscenium Press, 1975.
Farewell to Ardstraw (unpublished BBC TV play), 1976.
The Next Parish (unpublished BBC TV play), 1976.
Living Quarters. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.
Volunteers. London: Faber and Faber, 1979.
Selected Stories. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1979.
Aristocrats. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1980.
Faith Healer. London: Faber and Faber, 1980.
Translations. London: Faber and Faber, 1981.
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1981.
American Welcome. Best Short Plays 1981. Ed. Stanley Richards. Radnor: Chilton Books, 1981.
The Diviner: Best Stories of Brian Friel. Dublin: O’Brien Press,1983.
The Communication Cord. London: Faber and Faber, 1983.
Fathers and Sons. London: Faber and Faber, 1987.
Making History. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.
Dancing at Lughnasa. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
London Vertigo. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1990.
A Month in the Country. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1992.
Wonderful Tennessee. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1993.
Molly Sweeney. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1994.
Give Me Your Answer, Do!, New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1997.
Uncle Vanya (Chekhov adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1998.
The Yalta Game (one-act Chekhov adaptation), Oldcaste: Gallery Press, 2001.
The Bear (one-act Chekhov adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2002.
Afterplay, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2002.
Performance, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2003.
The Home Place, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2005.
Hedda Gabler (Henrick Ibsen adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2008.