- (1929 - ) Irish playwright, born in Northern Ireland.The product of a strongly Catholic and Nationalist background, Friel trainedbriefly for the priesthood before becoming a teacher and beginning to write.When the Northern Irish troubles erupted in the late 1960s he moved acrossthe border to Co. Donegal, where much of his work is set. Although his playsgenerally avoid direct political statements, they show a profound concern withthe conflict in the province, particularly with its historicalorigins and the questions of cultural identity it raises. In Philadelphia,Here I Come! (1965), his first major play, and The Gentle Island(1971), Friel explores the plight of those who feel driven to exile fromIreland; The Freedom of the City (1973) and The Volunteers (1975)deal more directly with political violence and its human cost.
Friel's interest in the way in which the same events can be interpreted from widely different perspectives emerges most fully in The Faith Healer (1979). The play uses four interlocking monologues to unfold the story of the title character, an itinerant healer; in doing so it explores wider themes of memory, illusion, belief, and betrayal. Translations (1981) illustrates the clash of Irish and English cultures through the Royal Engineers' attempts to conduct a Survey of Ireland in the 1830s; by the end of the play it is clear that this failure of communication holds the key to Ireland's future problems.In 1980 Friel was a cofounder of the Irish cultural organization Field Day;he was later nominated to the Irish Senate but did not take an active role.
Friel's masterpiece is Dancing at Lughnasa (1990),one of the most acclaimed English-language plays of the last 20 years.A poignant depiction of a family of sisters in pre-war Donegal, itis Friel's fullest treatment of his most distinctive theme - the supreme value but final untrustworthiness of memory. Subsequentplays include Wonderful Tennessee (1993), Give Me Your AnswerDo (1998), the one-act Performances (2003), and The Home Place (2005).