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The Word on the Week

Brian Friel

The death yesterday of Brian Friel, who was Ireland’s greatest living playwright, has brought forth many tributes. His prolific output over many years justly earned him global acclaim.

At the core of his writings is the notion that our sense of what happened in the past owes more to our imagination than it does to our memory! He is reputed to have said that an autobiographical fact can be pure fiction but added that it is no less reliable for that!

Many of his plays are based on the imaginary village of Ballybeg, located in the Glentees in Donegal. There he was able to draw on his childhood memories and colour them with his vivid imagination to produce the many memorable characters that fill his work.

When he left school at 16 he went to Maynooth College to study for the priesthood. After two and a half years he left describing it as an awful experience which he never talked about. Perhaps it emerged in “Dancing at Lughnasa” where the sister’s brother Fr Jack returned from the mission field in Africa having imbibed the pagan customs of the people. Friel audaciously mixed priestcraft with witchcraft as Fr Jack enthused over the local equivalent, the harvest festival of Lughnasa, jettisoning his priestly duties.

There are recurring themes in Friel’s plays. As one critic put it; somehow it is always Ballybeg, it is always August, the day is always waning, and the world is always ending! His characters were always feeling there way through life, lacking assurance, never certain. There was a sense of the melancholy about them which in the hands of good actors morphed into the struggles of real life.

In Shakespeare’s “As you like it” are the lines; ‘All the world’s a stage and all men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.’

These secular views of playwrights who depict the human condition without God travel through the avenues of time as if Jesus had never been born, lived a perfect life, died in the sinners place, was buried and rose from the dead and is alive for evermore.

For them and their characters the earth is void of certainty, void of salvation. Its as if St John’s heavenly vision where the saint glimpsed the glory to come never happened…”I looked and behold, a great multitude no man could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (Revelation Chapter 7 verses 9/10).

But it has happened! St Paul states categorically that those in Christ will be there “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him in the heavenly place in Christ Jesus,…by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not a result of works so that no one may boast. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians chapter 2 verses 5/10). Amen!