Playwright Brian Friel dies aged 86

Celebrated Irish playwright Brian Friel has died aged 86 after battling a long illness. He was regarded by many to be one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, known for plays such as 'Philadelphia, Here I Come!' and 'Dancing at Lughnasa'.

Friel was born in Dromore, County Tyrone on 9 January 1929. He trained as a maths teacher in Belfast and worked in Derry before moving to County Donegal in the 1960s.

He began writing short stories for The New Yorker magazine in 1959, alongside writing radio plays for BBC Northern Ireland. His first play 'A Doubtful Paradise' was produced by the Ulster Group Theatre and received poor initial reviews, and he struggled to find work as a writer throughout the early 1960s.

Following a visit to Tyrone Guthrie's theatre in Minneapolis in 1963, Friel wrote his first successful play 'Philadelphia Here I Come!' which found success in Ireland, New York and London. 'Translations' premiered in 1980 at Guildhall, Derry by the Field Day Theatre Company in a production that starred Liam Neeson.

He premiered 'Dancing at Lughnasa' at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1990 which later transferred to London's West End, and then to Broadway, where it won three Tony Awards in 1992 including Best Play. A film adaptation was also made which starred Meryl Streep.

His work as a translator and adaptor have included versions of Chekhov's 'Three Sisters', 'Uncle Vanya' and 'The Yalta Game' as well as Turgenev's 'A Month in the Country'.

Over the course of his career he has won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a Laurence Olivier Award and a Tony Award.

Shiela Pratschke, chairwoman of Ireland's Arts Council, said Friel had earned himself recognition among the world's greatest playwrights:

"The Irish theatre and arts world generally is devastated by this sad, sad loss...Brian was an inspiration to Irish playwrights, actors, directors and theatre makers. It is the mark of the man and his achievement as a writer that his work is conjured by use of his surname only."

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