Brian Friel to be honoured at cross-Border festival

Lughnasa International Friel Festival to take place in Donegal, Derry and Belfast

Playwright Brian Friel, described by former US president Bill Clinton "as an Irish treasure for the entire world", will be honoured next month in a cross-Border celebration of his life's work.

The Lughnasa International Friel Festival, directed by Seán Doran, will run from August 20th until August 31st, with plays, talks, music and dance, the organiser promises. It begins with a journey across the Foyle estuary from Magilligan to Greencastle, Co Donegal, where Friel now lives, for four days of events linking the writer with his place.

Irish Times columnist and writer Fintan O'Toole will give the opening lecture at the Guildhall in Derry, which was the setting for Friel's play Freedom of the City, introduced by Gary McKeone.

The Lughnasa Festival, which is to become an annual event, will each year host a new production of one of his works, beginning, appropriately, this year with Dancing at Lughnasa.


Produced by the Lyric Theatre and directed by Annabelle Comyn, the production – marking the 25th anniversary of its opening in Dublin – will feature Charlie Bonner, Catherine McCormack, Vanessa Emme, Mary Murray, Declan Conlon and Catherine Cusack.

Mr Clinton, who has been often linked with the playwright, said that although the plays were “set in his small town of Ballybeg, the themes and issues explored in them – identity, family, and conflict – have a universal appeal.

“It is his extraordinary understanding of people, their motivations and their dreams and their sense of themselves and others that keeps pulling us back to Friel again and again,” Mr Clinton added.

In a letter of support to the festival, President Michael D Higgins said the decision to host the festival on both sides of the Border was "entirely fitting", given the playwright's own life. "In a certain sense, Ballybeg is a metonym for the island of Ireland, if not the wider world – a literary device through which universal questions are addressed by examining the individual and the local," he said.

Born in Omagh, Co Tyrone, in 1929, Friel was educated in St Columb's College, Derry – also the alma mater of poet Seamus Heaney and politician John Hume.

Having become a teacher, Friel moved to Donegal in 1967, three years after his first stage success, Philadelphia, Here I Come, which was followed by a series of internationally regarded successes.

The Lughnasa Festival moves on to Belfast from August 27th-31st, where it will incorporate events spread across the city including classical and traditional music, open-air dancing on five stages, even Belfast’s first kite-flying festival.

One of his works has sparked an all-women talks programme, featuring Shami Chakrabarti, director of UK Liberty; Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator, and Sandi Toksvig, writer, presenter, comedian and politician.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times