The emergence of Brian Friel as Ireland's leading living playwright is easily observable on the billboards of Dublin, Derry, London and New York. These locations are also essential in understanding the range and reach of Friel's theatrical concerns and his projected audience. By examining his work in thematic phases, the Friel phenomenon can be divorced more easily from its commercial success and returned to the specific contexts that are so important to him as a dramatist. From his first major success on the stage, Philadelphia, Here I Come! in 1964, to his most recent play, The Home Place in 2005, Friel is recognizably a local playwright. He is local both in terms of his examination of place as a ‘past-marked prospect’ and in his exploration of specifically Irish concerns and experiences. However, Friel's audience has never been restricted by borders either cultural or political. His hope that drama written ‘at a local, parochial level …will have meaning for people in other countries’ has borne fruit in productions across Eastern and Western Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia. Moreover, with the founding of the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980 and its premiére of Friel's Translations, the playwright has to be considered in political as well as cultural terms. His is a voice quoted on international platforms not necessarily framed by a proscenium arch.
Brian Friel is above all a ‘rooted man’. Born in Killyclogher, Co. Tyrone in January 1929, he grew up in the border city of Derry in a Catholic, nationalist family and witnessed the eruption of civil unrest, and the breakdown of the Northern Irish State after 1969. After a brief ‘disturbing’ period training for the priesthood in Maynooth (an ecclesiastical college), Friel attended St Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast, graduating in 1950. In 1954, Friel married Anne Morrison and from 1950–60, taught in various schools around Derry. In this period, he developed a style and range of themes as a short story writer and in 1960, with a contract at The New Yorker, gave up teaching to concentrate on his writing career.