Brian Friel was born in Omagh County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of a primary school teacher and a postmistress. He was educated at St. Columb's College in Derry, and the seminary at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. He proceeded to receive his teacher's training at St. Mary's Training College in Belfast. In 1954, he married Anne Morrison, with whom he has five daughters and one son. He worked for ten years in the Derry primary and intermediate education systems (as a mathematics teacher), until taking leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer.
He began writing short stories for The New Yorker in 1959, and subsequently published two collections. From 1958 - 1964, Friel struggled with obtaining recognition as a playwright. His earliest plays were either marginally successful, or complete failures. Shortly after his return from a short stint as "observer" at Tyrone Guthrie's theater in Minneapolis from April through July 1963, Friel wrote Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964), the play that was to make him immediately famous in Dublin, London, and New York. From that point on, he had little trouble with distinguishing himself from his peers.
He was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1987 and served through 1989. In 1989, BBC Radio launched a "Brian Friel Season," a six-play series of his work, the first living playwright to be so honored. In 1999, Friel's 70th birthday was celebrated in Dublin with the Friel Festival, during which ten of his plays were staged or presented as dramatic readings throughout Dublin. In conjunction with the festival were a conference, National Library exhibition, film screenings, outreach programs, pre-show talks, and the launching of a special issue of The Irish University Review devoted to the playwright. That year, he also received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Times. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the (British) Royal Society of Literature and the Irish Academy of Letters.
A list of his works is as follows:
A Sort of Freedom
To This Hard House
A Doubtful Paradise
The Enemy Within
The Blind Mice
Philadelphia, Here I Come!
The Founder Members
Three Fathers, Three Sons
The Loves of Cass McGuire
Lovers: Winners and Losers
Crystal and Fox
The Mundy Scheme
The Gentle Island
The Freedom of the City
Farewell to Ardstraw
The Next Parish
Aristocrats (Best Play, Evening Standard; Best Foreign Play, New York Drama Critic's Circle)
Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov translation)
The Communication Cord
Three Sons (Ivan Tugenev adaptation)
Dancing at Lughnasa (Best Play, Olivier Award; Best Foreign Play, New York Drama Critic's Circle; Best Play, Tony Award)
The London Vertigo
A Month in the Country
Molly Sweeney (Best Foreign Play, New York Drama Critic's Circle)
Give Me Your Answer, Do!
Uncle Vanya (Anton Chekhov adaptation)
The Yalta Game (Anton Chekhov adaptation)
The Bear (Anton Chekhov adaptation)
The Home Place
Hedda Gabler (Henrik Ibsen adaptation)