Playwright Brian Friel Celebrated in Inaugural Cross-Border Festival

Organisers behind Enniskillen's Wilde Weekend and Happy Days Beckett Festival honour Ireland's greatest living dramatist with events across Belfast and Co. Donegal this August

A major two-part festival to celebrate Brian Friel, Ireland’s greatest modern playwright, with performances, talks, discussions, music, dance and good food will take place in Belfast and County Donegal between August 20 and 31.

The Lughnasa International Friel Festival, directed by Sean Doran, is a 'Biofestival' with all programming having a clear connection to the artist. It is also the first annual festival to bring both sides of the border together with Donegal, Welcome to Friel Country (August 20 - 26) and Belfast, Here I Come! (August 26 - 31) forming Ireland’s first annually shared cultural event.

At the heart of the festival programme every year will be a signature production of one of Brian Friel’s key plays, presented in both locations. In the first year, it will be a brand new production of Dancing at Lughnasa, produced by the Lyric Theatre from August 26 – September 27 and directed by Annabelle Comyn.

This signature production has inspired the entire festival programme, the Belfast element of which is expected to attract interest from both local and international tourists and has already gained the support of former US President Bill Clinton and the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, as well as backing from Belfast City Council and the Department of Culture Arts & Leisure.

Dancing at Lughnasa

Belfast, Here I Come! will run across the city from August 26 - 31, with celebrations, many of them free, including classical and traditional music, five open air stages for dancing, a harvest food festival and Belfast’s first ever kite flying festival at the Titanic Quarter, Kitetanica.

Amongst Women, curated by Deputy Artistic Director Liam Browne is an all women talks programme featuring amongst others, UK Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti; Pakistani novelist and commentator Kamila Shamsie; comedien and author Kathy Lette; Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif, and writer presenter, comedian and politician Sandi Toksvig. 

Commenting on the festival in his honour, the playwright said: 'If you want a festival that is tame and conventional and mildly entertaining don't ask Sean Doran to organise it. Witness his Beckett Festival in Enniskillen – it is wild and imaginative and creative and riveting. I have total confidence he'll do the same with the Friel Festival.'

'Belfast has a great tradition of celebrating its talent and the Lughnasa International Friel Festival is an opportunity for the city and its visitors to celebrate the works of our greatest living playwright,' Doran added. 'With an ambitious and varied programme the Biofestival will appeal both to the city’s residents and to tourists from abroad.'

Before reaching Belfast the first chapter of the celebration will open on Thursday, August 20 in Donegal with a journey across the Foyle estuary from Magilligan to Greencastle, where Brian Friel lives, launching four days of unique events and performances that evoke the relationship between the writer and the place. 

These include an opening lecture given by Fintan O’Toole at the Guildhall Derry, the setting for Freedom of the City, to be introduced by Gary McKeone, whom Friel dedicated his last and final play The Home Place to. 

Friel

Culture Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said: 'Brian Friel’s rich storytelling prowess has enriched all our lives and it is fitting that one of Ireland's greatest ever playwrights is being honoured in an innovative and exciting manner. I'm sure that this will be a festival to do him proud.'

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins also lent his support, saying: 'It is entirely fitting that this festival is taking place on a cross-border basis, given Friel’s experience of living north and south of the border – experiences which very much shaped his eloquent and thought provoking writings. I have no doubt that the festival will offer its audiences exciting new perspectives on a range of themes, both local and universal.'

International support for the festival has come from Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, who said: 'Friel’s work is an Irish treasure for the entire world. Although many of his plays are 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.' Clinton has been closely associated with Northern Ireland over the past three decades and on occasion has quoted Brian Friel in his speeches.

During the festival Queen’s University Belfast will launch the first Brian Friel Summer School in Redcastle, Inishowen from August 24 - 26, providing opportunities for students to experience the work of the writer right in the heart of 'Friel Country'. Queen’s has the only theatre in the world named after Brian Friel.

Welcoming the new production of Dancing at Lughnasa, Chairman of the Lyric Theatre board Sir Bruce Robinson said: 'We are delighted that our production of Dancing at Lughnasa is the cornerstone event of the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival. The Lyric has had strong ties with Brian Friel for many years.

'At the unveiling of the Threshold Stone of the new theatre he described the Lyric as a “secret land of mystery and of the spirit”. We are very excited to stage the 22nd Friel production at the Lyric and to bring Dancing at Lughnasa to Donegal, his home place.'

The Lughnasa International Friel Festival runs in Donegal and Belfast from August 20 - 31. For more details visit www.lughnasainternationalfrielfestival.com.