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Ireland Celebrates Its Greatest Living Playwright With New Two-Part Festival

The inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival (LIFF) will take place between 20-31st August 2015, in celebration of Ireland’s greatest living playwright, Brian Friel. In what is to become the only cross-border annual cultural festival celebration, the LIFF festival, directed by Sean Doran, will feature an extensive multi-arts and multi-disciplinary programme of performances, talks, discussions, music, dance and food in both Donegal (20-23rd August) and Belfast (27-31st August).

Given our long association with the work of Brian Friel, we at An Grianán Theatre are very pleased to be a partner in this exciting new festival as our director Patricia McBride explains: “I am delighted to see the launch of the inaugural Friel Festival this August. An Grianán Theatre was supportive of the festival from the start and was instrumental in its development. We have enjoyed a very warm relationship with Brian Friel and have produced many of his plays since the theatre first opened and it is a pleasure to see the man and his work honoured in this way.  The Festival will make a wonderful addition to Donegal’s cultural calendar.”

At the heart of the programme every year will be a signature production of one of Friel’s key plays presented in both locations, and from which the themes and tone of the festival will be drawn. This year it will be Dancing At Lughnasa, and the Lyric Theatre Belfast will present a major new production which will premiere in  An Grianán on Thur 20 August and run for four days before transferring to the Lyric in Belfast.

Celebrating the life and work of Friel in the two places most important and most influential to his work, Donegal and Northern Ireland, the two-part festival will respectively be entitled ‘Donegal, Welcome to Friel Country’ and ‘Belfast, Here I Come!’. The physical landscape of these places will be an important element to the overall festival experience with programming in sites including community halls, a pier, a peace wall, an island, a bridge, schools and churches.

President Michael D Higgins said “It is entirely fitting that this festival is taking place on a cross-border basis, given (Brian) Friel’s experience of living north and south of the border. 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.  I wish all those involved in this project every success.”

Ireland celebrates Brian Friel, its greatest living playwright with  new two-part festival:  the Lughnasa International Friel Festival (LIFF),  Donegal and Belfast August 2015.  Photo by Bobbie Hanvey.
Ireland celebrates Brian Friel, its greatest living playwright with new two-part festival: the Lughnasa International Friel Festival (LIFF), Donegal and Belfast August 2015. Photo by Bobbie Hanvey.

Donegal, Welcome to Friel Country

Starting on Thursday 20 August, the first chapter of the celebration will open with a journey across the Foyle estuary from Magilligan to Greencastle, Co Donegal, 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 Friel’s play, Freedom of the City introduced by Gary McKeone*.

Belfast, Here I Come

The festival then moves on to Belfast from 27 – 31 August, with celebrations, many of them free, including classical and traditional music, five open air stages for dancing, a harvest food festival, Belfast’s first ever kite flying festival and Amongst Women. Curated by Deputy Artistic Director, Liam Browne, Amongst Women is an all women talks programme featuring amongst many others, Shami Chakrabarti, Director, UK Liberty; Kamila Shamsie, Pakistani novelist and commentator; Kathy Lette, comedian and author; Mary Portas, retail guru; Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator, and Sandi Toksvig, writer, presenter, comedian and politician.

“universal appeal”

President Bill Clinton, Founder of the Clinton Foundation & 42nd President of the United States who has quoted Friel in his speeches 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.”

During the festival, Queen’s University Belfast will launch the first Brian Friel Summer School in Redcastle, Inishowen, County Donegal from 24 – 26 August, 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.

Cast and crew celebrate the opening night of Translations at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny with its playwright Brian Friel (third from left). November 1999
An Grianán Theatre has a long association with Brian Friel. Pictured is the cast and crew celebrating the opening night of An Grianán’s production of Translations with Brian Friel (third from left) in November 1999.

‘Donegal County Council is delighted to support and to work with the inaugural Lughnasa International Friel Festival to explore, interpret and celebrate the work of one Ireland’s finest living playwrights. A much-loved and valued member of our community, we are proud that he has made his home here. There is no better way to enjoy the plays of Friel than here among the townlands of Donegal, that have so inspired his writing.’  Mícheál Uas. ó hÉanaigh, Director of Service, Community, Culture and Planning Development, Donegal County Council.

Northern Ireland’s Culture Minister Carál Nί Chuilίn said; “It is fitting that one of Ireland’s greatest ever playwrights is being honoured with an annual festival and I congratulate Sean Doran on making this happen in an innovative and exciting manner.  Brian Friel’s rich storytelling prowess has enriched all our lives and I’m sure that this will be a festival that will do him proud.”

Commenting on the festival programme Brian Friel 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.”

Left to right: Miche Doherty, Conleth Hill, Ian McElhinney and Stuart Graham in Brian Friel's 'The Home Place at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny. The Home Place was a co-production with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and was the major drama highlight of our tenth anniversary celebrations. Jan/Feb 2009.Photo: Declan Doherty . All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Left to right: Miche Doherty, Conleth Hill, Ian McElhinney and Stuart Graham in Brian Friel’s ‘The Home Place at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny in Jan 2009. The Home Place was a co-production with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and was the major drama highlight of our tenth anniversary celebrations.  We are delighted to welcome the Lyric back this August with Dancing at Lughnasa. Photo: Declan Doherty. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Follow the festival happenings on Twitter @LughnasalntFF and on Facebook/lughnasainternationalfrielfestival using #LIFF2015


·         Tickets for ‘Donegal, Welcome to Friel Country’ Events

An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny. + 353 (0) 74 9120777.

·         Tickets for ‘Belfast, Here I Come!’ Events

Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, Belfast, + 44 (0) 28 90246609.


FUNDING SUPPORTERS : Donegal County Council, Tourism NI, DHA (Department of Heritage and the Arts ROI), DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development NI), Arts Council Ireland, Arts Council Northern Ireland, An Grianan Theatre, Lyric Theatre Belfast.

*Brian Friel dedicated his last and final play ‘The Home Place’ to Gary McKeone.


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