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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

13 - Brian Friel’s sense of place


In Ireland place always matters. Unsurprisingly, place also matters in the plays of Brian Friel, widely regarded as the island's most successful contemporary playwright, both artistically and commercially. His best-known plays are set in or near Ballybeg (Baile Beag, literally 'small town'), an imaginary Donegal town with a significance in Irish literature comparable to the significance of William Faulkner's Yoknapawtapha in American literature. Plays not actually set there usually take place near by. His work maps the northwest corner of Ireland, an area of small towns and rural landscapes, sliced by the border partitioning the island. The plays also map the course of Irish concerns during the late twentieth century. Additionally they map internal, psychic realities of love, family, failure, and the struggle between faith and doubt. Friel picks up the challenge set by the hedge-schoolmaster, Hugh, in Translations (1980): 'We must learn where we live.'

Born in Co. Tyrone (Northern Ireland) in 1929, Friel moved with his family to nearby Derry in 1939. Following his graduation from St Columb’s College in Derry (also the alma mater of Nobel Laureates John Hume and Seamus Heaney), Friel attended St Patrick’s College, Maynooth (in the Irish Republic) and then took teacher-training courses in Belfast. For ten years he taught in Derry. In 1967 he moved six miles from Derry, to Muff, Co. Donegal (in the Republic), and in 1982 he moved further into the Republic, to Greencastle. Throughout the 1980s he was actively involved with the Derry-based Field Day Theatre Company.

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The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Irish Drama
  • Online ISBN: 9780511999567
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