Friel receives UCD accolade


Internationally acclaimed playwright Brian Friel celebrated Bloomsday at James Joyce’s alma mater today where he received the university’s highest honour.

As Joyceans across Dublin marked the annual literary event, Mr Friel was presented with the Ulysses Medal at a gala ceremony attended by poet Seamus Heaney.

The accolade is presented to individuals whose work has been recognised and praised across the globe.

Honorary degrees were also conferred on six celebrated individuals including legendary rugby fly-half Jack Kyle, poet Dennis O’Driscoll and Hilary M Weston, philanthropist and widely believed to be Ireland’s richest woman.

Mr Friel said he was shocked to hear he was receiving the award.

“To receive the medal on Bloomsday from the university where Joyce himself studied makes it even more meaningful,” he said.

Mr Heaney was among several people who paid tribute to Mr Friel, a former teacher who turned 80 this year.

Mr Heaney said: “Brian Friel stands in the noble line that began with Abbey playwrights (Lady) Gregory, (John Millington) Synge and (Sean) O’Casey.

“And now he stands as the noble inheritor of that line.

“He’s part of world theatre as well as Irish theatre and as a man he’s a person of complete integrity and a great encouragement to actors and writers in this country.”

Professor Tony Roche from UCD’s Department of English introduced the award and described Mr Friel as not only Ireland’s greatest living playwright, but one of the world’s greatest.

“Each play is written with a high ambition, a self-questioning perfectionism, a ceaseless experimentation and determination to break new ground,” he said.

During a career spanning around four decades, Mr Friel achieved critical acclaim and worldwide success with a raft of plays including Philadelphia, Here I Come (1964), Aristocrats (1979), Translations (1980) and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990).

Born in Co Tyrone, he was educated at St Columb’s College in Derry — the same school attended by Mr Heaney.

The UCD Ulysses Medal is the highest honour that the university can bestow and was inaugurated in 2005 as part of the university’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

It was introduced to highlight the creative brilliance of UCD alumnus James Joyce and is awarded to individuals whose work has made an outstanding global contribution.

Previous recipients include poet Thomas Kinsella, writer Maeve Binchy, Nobel economist Professor James J Heckman, Nobel laureate Dr Phillip Sharp and founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab.

Meanwhile, honorary degrees were presented to six people for outstanding contributions in their fields.

Jack Kyle, the legendary fly-half who inspired generations of players, received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Still widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player, Jack Kyle was the man behind Ireland’s first Grand Slam triumph in 1948.

“(It’s a) wonderful honour to be given an honorary degree from a university — delighted to be here,” Mr Kyle said.

“(It’s) interesting that we are in the O’Reilly Hall. I played with (Sir) Tony (O‘Reilly) when he started playing, we coincided over three maybe four years and it’s nice to be here in this hall.”

Poet Dennis O’Driscoll was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature along with philanthropist and Brown Thomas owner Hilary M Weston whose charitable work supports health research, cultural, community and peace projects.

John Joseph Collins, the world renowned scholar in near-eastern apocalyptic writings, was given an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature while Kieran McGowan, widely recognised for his work with the IDA, was granted an honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.