Statement from Áras an Uachtaráin
It is with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Brian Friel who was and will be remembered as one of the giants of Irish Literature, and a great Irishman.
His is a body of work that will endure. He was familiar to generations of Irish people and others across the globe. While his work has been performed on the professional stage to huge acclaim, it is also widely presented year after year in the amateur drama movement, and in school productions at home and abroad.
His contribution to what one might call ‘the theatre of memory’ is an outstanding legacy. After Brian Friel’s work no one could offer amnesia as an alternative to history. In great works like ‘Translations’ with Field Day and ‘The Great O’Neill’ he addressed the major contradictions in Irish identity and history.
His commitment to the craft of the theatre was total and the body of work carries an attention to detail that has been regarded as classical. I had the privilege of seeing almost all of his work on stage, and some of it many times over; from early plays such as ‘Lovers’ through ‘Philadelphia Here I come!’ and on to ‘Faith Healer’ in which another dear friend, the late Donal McCann delivered a Brien Friel work of brilliance; this led to 'Aristocrats' in more recent times, on the way the works responding to the great Russian classics.
To have had the privilege of knowing Brian Friel as a friend was an immense gift. He was a man of powerful intellect, great courage and generosity. These were talents that he delivered with great humour, grit and compassion. His legacy to the Irish people is immense.
Brian Friel also of course made a very significant public contribution, not only as a member of Seanad Éireann but in terms of the case he made, in public and private, on the importance of arts and culture; and in particular the need to respect the integrity of the artist.
The community of the arts has lost an iconic figure and the people of Ireland a great friend.
Deepest sympathy from Sabina and myself to Anne, his family and friends.