Brian Friel was one of Ulster’s most outstanding talents

Morning View
Morning View

Brian Friel was one of the greatest creative forces in the history of Northern Ireland.

This brilliant playwright was a talent of global significance, whose name can be mentioned alongside the artists Seamus Heaney and Van Morrison.

His masterpiece was ‘Faith Healer’, a haunting 1979 play about three people and their interlocking memories.

But he had numerous other much loved works to his name, including his first stage success from 1964, ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come!’. It was still being taught in schools decades later.

His later work ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ was filmed, starring Meryl Streep.

Born in Omagh in 1929, Friel was one of those people whose gifts utterly transcended the tribal divide that dominated the Province throughout his long life. He was a deserved appointee to the Irish senate in the 1980s.

The distinguished former Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer said last year: “When Brian Friel is on song I can think of no living dramatist who can outclass him, and precious few who can match him.”

Friel attended St Columb’s College, a grammar school in Londonderry that has arguably the most glittering alumni list of any school in Northern Ireland, with old boys including the aforementioned Heaney, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann, Martin O’Neill, John Hume, the world renowned physicist Prof Raymond Flannery, Prof Seamus Deane, the Rev Dr Edward Daly, the current Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and the current vice chancellor of Queen’s University, Patrick Johnston.

Brian Friel had a penetrating gaze into the human condition, and he translated and expressed his insights to lasting effect.

Northern Ireland was greatly enriched by Friel’s canon, and is diminished by his death.