Brian Friel has died

by Henry on October 2, 2015

The playwright, Brian Friel has died. He had been failing in recent years, but his death is still an enormous loss. I didn’t know him, but I loved his plays. His most famous play was probably Dancing at Lughnasa (which repurposed bits and pieces from a book by my and Maria’s grand-aunt, Maire MacNeill), but it wasn’t his best. That honor surely goes to Faith Healer; the Abbey production, with Donal McCann as the fantastic Francis Hardy, is the most extraordinary play I’ve ever seen. Its depiction of the main character’s embrace of the comforts of failure is in some ways more savage than Beckett, and certainly more intimate. Translations is also very fine, and has considerable social science interest – it’s no coincidence that James Scott uses a snippet of dialogue taken from it as his epigraph for Seeing Like A State. I’m sorry that he’s gone.



Chris Bertram 10.02.15 at 1:27 pm

Thanks for doing this, Henry. I saw his “Living Quarters” only the other evening. I’d actually forgotten what we were going to see, and wasn’t really in the mood (though hearing it was to be a Friel play changed that a bit). As soon as the action started I was captivated. Such a great writer.


DHMCarver 10.02.15 at 3:39 pm

Thanks for the post — sad news. Glad to see you give a mention to “Translations” — an absolutely brilliant play. I saw it in Dublin close to 20 years ago, a production by one of the companies at Trinity College. It still sticks with me. (BTW, I have read your grand-aunt’s “The Festival of Lughnasa” – a fabulous work itself.)


Ronan(rf) 10.03.15 at 1:39 am

“Translations is also very fine, and has considerable social science interest – it’s no coincidence that James Scott uses a snippet of dialogue taken from it as his epigraph for Seeing Like A State. “

Coincidentally, I was (relatively ) recently reading Hugh Dorians memoir of life in 19th century Donegal

which is worth reading on this point.


bad Jim 10.03.15 at 5:16 am

Charles Pierce, at Esquire:

On the downside, the great Irish playwright Brian Friel passed away this week. I was lucky enough to see his Dancing At Lughnasa when the Abbey toured it, and I saw Faith Healer on Broadway with Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones, and the remarkable Ian McDiarmiud who, at the time, was on the nation’s movie screens as the Emperor Palpatine.

Friel was a man of letters, but he was also a man of his time, and a man of political courage. He was at the Bloody Sunday March in Derry in 1972, ducking for cover when the British paratroopers opened up on unarmed civil-rights demonstrators, and his Freedom Of The City was written in a burst of outrage at what he’d seen.

But the Friel play that struck home the hardest was Translations, which I saw when an Irish company was touring it back in the early 1980’s. The play is about the crushing of the native Irish culture and the native Irish language in the form of the Anglicization of the place names in Ireland; the play takes place in Baile Beag, the scene of most of Friel’s plays, which is in the process of being renamed Ballybeg through the kindness of the Crown. But the main characters are language and memory, as the last rusty weapons left with which to fight a kind of cultural imperialism. As one of his characters explains,

“…Yes, it is a rich language, Lieutenant, full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception – a syntax opulent with tomorrows. It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to… inevitabilities.”

​And here are Meryl and the other Mundy sisters in the most beloved scene from Dancing At Lughnasa. The lights are dim tonight in Ballybeg. An chuid eile i síocháin, Brian.

(By the way, writing-wise, “a syntax opulent with tomorrows” is the real shiz-nit.)


bad Jim 10.03.15 at 5:28 am

Sorry! The missing link to the most beloved scene.


Bartholomew 10.03.15 at 10:25 am

The perils of machine translation – the last sentence in that Esquire piece treats a verb as a noun. ‘An chuid eile i síocháin, Brian’, means ‘The remainder [rest] in peace, Brian’ rather than ‘Rest in peace’. ‘Translations’, indeed.


thelastbeatpoet 10.03.15 at 9:22 pm

Another of the greats from St Columb’s College has passed. Brian Friel joins Seamus Heaney and John Hume. He didn’t get a Noble – what playwrights do – but Friel lasted longer than either of them. At least Paul Brady – they would all probably call him a youngster – is still with us. And Phil Coulter, and of course Eamonn McCann – long may they prosper.

What is it about St Columb’s and Derry that produced the likes of them?


bad Jim 10.04.15 at 2:48 am

So should it be “Féadfaidh sé chuid eile i síocháin”, which is how Google translated “Requiescat in pace”?


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 10.04.15 at 8:38 pm

No, that makes a similar error. Google Translate is fairly useless for translations into Irish, they will mostly be wrong. (What it’s produced there means “He can other piece in peace”)

“Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam” is probably the best equivalent.


Louise Farrell 10.05.15 at 8:49 pm

John Hume is still alive !


thelastbeatpoet 10.05.15 at 10:51 pm

Thanks for the clarification Louise. The way I look at it, its’ good news, at last.

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