The following is the text of a short eulogy given by Jimmy Fay, Executive Producer of the Lyric Theatre, following the opening night of Dancing at Lughnasa at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre on Tuesday, October 6 2015, four days after Brian Friel’s death.
On behalf of the Lyric Theatre Belfast, the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Lughnasa International Friel Festival and the Gaiety I want to acknowledge and honour Brian Friel's memory tonight.
Brian Friel was many things to many people. He was the Master. From when he was a schoolteacher in Derry back in the '50s, a teacher of maths, to the time he was recognised as The Master Playwright, the heir to Chekov, to Synge, to O'Casey. Carrying on a tradition of exploring the human condition through personal tragic narrative and alerting us to the political mis-use of language, where the mystery of words was administrated out to flatness. He rescued our collective imaginations by been so detailed in his observance of our human frailties and spirit.
He made the local universal - Ballybeg in all his finely drawn detail became our, the audience’s village of life in its loves, its betrayals.
To me he was a hugely generous spirit from the time, as a young staff director in the Abbey, I first helped him on with his overcoat and found £20 placed in my hand to recently as the Executive Producer of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. He offered sage advice about moving to Belfast and how he felt the Lyric should and could place itself as one of the great Theatres on these islands.
As a northern artist he offered us in the south a way to engage in the complexities of our times.
At a time when the north looked like a great, heartbreaking headache full of bombs and death, Friel and other artists inspired by him, and inspiring to him, offered a different perspective. He rescued the humanity, the great spirit of a people, from the "wrecking ball" of history.
This past summer I have a foot high series of faxes, always dictated by Brian to the wonderful Anne Friel, some "givey out", some full of warm advice. He loved these actors, he loved actors, he was immensely grateful for their great craft and artistry. He was less impressed by directors. But, boy, did he want to direct through them.
I am immensely sad but immensely honoured that the Lyric was the last theatre he was engaged with on a professional level. I am so happy that we, the Lyric, the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Lughnasa international Friel Festival could offer this play, his most autobiographical, a journey that imitated his soul.
In a sense this company of actors, this whole Lyric company, should be bringing it all back home.
Starting in An Grianan Donegal (midway between his home Greencastle and his mother’s birth place, and of Brian's final resting place, Glenties) moving to Belfast the capital of so much that troubled and yet offered creative grit to his theatrical genius and then down here, particularly here, the Gaiety in Dublin where 51 years ago this Autumn during the Dublin Theatre Festival Philadelphia Here I Come! premiered in a production by Hilton Edwards and which launched Brian Friel, the master from the north of Ireland, unto a very grateful theatrical world.
Brian Friel, master playwright, we honour you and miss you but we will always have your amazing plays to perform and be enthralled by. Thank you.
Executive Producer, Lyric Theatre.
6th October 2015