Northern Ireland

Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson among those who pay tribute to Brian Friel

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Media captionBBC News NI Arts Correspondent Robbie Meredith looks back at Brian Friel's career

Hollywood stars have been paying tribute to Irish playwright Brian Friel who has died aged 86.

Friel passed away at his home in Greencastle, County Donegal after a long illness.

The County Tyrone born writer won three Tony Awards for Dancing at Lughnasa in 1992. The play was later made into a film starring Meryl Streep.

"We've lost a tender dramatist, an insightful humanist and a lovely man," she said.

Obituary: Brian Friel

Reflections on a 'literary giant'

"Friel introduced the people of Donegal to us as if we were all members of his family and community," the three-time Oscar winner told BBC News NI.

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Media captionThe audience at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin showed its appreciation for the County Tyrone born writer at the end of a performance on Friday evening

"We couldn't help but recognise the people we loved in our own towns and lives, the people who make us laugh and make us furious."

Actor Liam Neeson, who performed in five of Friel's plays during his early career, told BBC News NI "it was a joy to say his words and to feel secure in the hands of a master craftsman".

"Brian was Ireland's Chekhov," he said.

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Image caption Liam Neeson said Brian Friel was a "master craftsman"

"All his plays touched on the parochial and the universal.

"Their themes described the complexities of the Irish character with enormous wit, grace and love.

"I hope he and Heaney are having a 'wee one' together now and sharing a giggle."

Actor John Hurt tweeted: "Ireland has lost a great playwright, acerbic and brilliant wit and a great humanitarian. Vive Brian Friel! With my love."

'Immense legacy'

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Friel was "one of the giants of Irish literature, and a great Irishman".

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Media captionMeryl Streep and Brian Friel at a screening of the film version of his play Dancing at Lughnasa.

"To have had the privilege of knowing Brian Friel as a friend was an immense gift," he said.

"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."

Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume described Friel as a "genius who lived, breathed and walked amongst us".

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Image caption Liam Neeson (second left) performed in five of Friel's plays, including Philadelphia Here I Come

"His loss will be felt terribly by his family and his fans. However, we can count ourselves lucky that the treasure of his work will be with us forever.

"He had a unique ability to transform the local to the global and bring the past to the present which enthralled people the world over."


Friel was born on either 9 or 10 January 1929, with the precise date never being confirmed.

He began writing while working as a teacher in Derry. In 1954, A Sort of Freedom - his first play - was broadcast by the BBC.

In the same year, he married Anne Morrison and the couple went on to have five children: Mary, Paddy, Judy, Sally and David.

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Image caption Actor Stephen Rea with Brian Friel when they co-founded Field Day in 1980

His major breakthrough came 10 years later when Philadelphia, Here I Come was performed on Broadway.

In 1980, he co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company with actor Stephen Rea.

Their work became known as an artistic response to the violence and politics that divided Northern Ireland at that time.

Previously, Rea had described the writer as being "completely in tune with Irish audiences".

Image caption Brian Friel (back centre) with the other founders of the Field Day Theatre Company (clockwise from top left): Seamus Deane, Stephen Rea, Tom Paulin, David Hammond and Seamus Heaney

"There is something innate in the plays where he speaks very directly to an Irish audience and we found the audience for him."

Apart from his original writing, Friel was also known for his adaptations of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

His other achievements include serving as a senator in the upper house of the Irish parliament between 1987 and 1989 and being elected to Aosdana, the Irish association to honour those who have made an outstanding contribution to the arts, in 1982.

The playwright is due to be laid to rest in Glenties, County Donegal, on Sunday.

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