The Loss of A Legend

Glenn Dunlea mourns the loss of one of Ireland’s greatest writers.

Yesterday morning the death of the acclaimed Irish playwright Brian Friel was announced. As tributes continue to pour in from around the globe from acclaimed actors, actresses, directors, and writers, the nation mourns the loss of one of its greatest talents.

Born in Omagh, County Tyrone in 1929, Friel chose to portray the lives of the ordinary Irish in his works. Focusing on the rural lower-classes, now classic pieces such as Philadelphia, Here I Come and Dancing at Lughnasa dealt with family life, and the increasing affects of encroaching globalisation on traditional family life and cultural values.

Fourteen of Friel’s plays are set in the fictional town of “Ballybeg”, which Friel used as a microcosm to represent a changing Ireland.

19 time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep led the tributes from Hollywood. Streep, who starred as Kate Mundy the schoolteacher in Pat O’Connor’s 1998 film version of Friel’s Tony award-winning play Dancing at Lughnasa, described him as a “tender dramatist, an insightful humanist and a lovely man”.

Meryl Streep, Bríd Brennan, and Sophie Thompson in the 1998 film adaptation of 'Dancing at Lughnasa'
Meryl Streep, Bríd Brennan, and Sophie Thompson in the 1998 film adaptation of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’

She added: “I am so sad to hear the world has lost the great Brian Friel; When a poet dies, we lose not just his, but the voices of all the people who passed through his life and imagination. Friel introduced the people of Donegal to us as if we were all members of his family and community,” she said.

“We couldn’t help but recognise the people we loved in our own towns and lives, the people who make us laugh and make us furious.”

During his illustrious career, in which he authored over 40 pieces, Friel won several prestigious awards, including the 1992 Tony Award for Best New Play for Dancing at Lughnasa.

In his passing Ireland mourns the loss of one of our greatest talents, whose legacy will forever been felt throughout generations of scholars, students, and spectators for centuries to come.

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