brian friel

An Grianán Theatre to produce Brian Friel’s The Enemy Within


The monastery at Iona, the setting of The Enemy Within

An Grianán Theatre embarks on its most ambitious production to date later this year, with Caitríona McLaughlin, the newly announced Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, directing a new version of Brian Friel’s The Enemy Within, and Sean McGinley the talented and popular actor originally from Ballyshannon, signed up to star in it.

This production is one of the signature events in the Colmcille 1500 commemorative year.

The Enemy Within is a major early work by Friel and examines a period in the life of Colmcille as a mature man, having worked in his ministry for many years and settled in his monastery in Iona yet still subject to the demands of his turbulent family clan in Donegal.

Rehearsals are planned to take place in Letterkenny throughout October and November, with live performances in An Grianán Theatre in mid November. The show will also be recorded and made available to other venues as a digital production.

This will be the first time that Caitriona McLaughlin has directed a Brian Friel play: “I think this is a beautiful play and as a Donegal woman, I am thrilled at the prospect of getting to direct my first Brian Friel play at home, in Donegal. It feels very special and important both personally and thematically. The themes of exile are all too familiar, just now, and the notion of battling conflicting thoughts, impulses or loyalties is a large part of the human condition, and particularly in Ireland. This forced time of reflection through Covid has had an impact on all of us and this opportunity for an exploration of that part of the human psyche feels timely and valuable right now. Plus of course we get to do this production as part of a Country wide celebration of St. Columba and 1500 years since his birth. A singular figure who has the kind of passion, drive and commitment we see today in the tenacity of our artists and sports heroes.”

Caitríona McLaughlin, director of An Grianán Theatre's The Enemy Within

Caitríona McLaughlin, Director of An Grianán Theatre’s The Enemy Within

Sean McGinley

Actor Sean McGinley, whose c.v. boasts roles in such films as The General, Braveheart, The Butcher Boy, and Gangs of New York, as well as prominent roles in Roddy Doyle’s TV Series The Family, and The Republic of Doyle, will star in An Grianán Theatre’s Production of Brian Friel’s The Enemy Within this November. Originally from Ballyshannon, McGinley started acting with the fledgling Druid company in Galway, while a student there in the late 1970s. It started him on a career that has taken him all over the world, on film and on stage. He was last seen on An Grianán’s stage in The Abbey production of Observe The Sons of Ulster in 2016.

Photo shows Sean McGinley in the Abbey's production of Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme

Sean McGinley & Catríona McLaughlin

Brian Friel

Brian Friel was one of Ireland’s greatest ever playwrights. Born in Omagh and educated at St Columb’s College, Derry, and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where he studied for a career in the priesthood. Instead of going into the church he followed his father’s example into teaching, working at schools in and around Derry in the 1950s. In 1967 he moved to Donegal, where he lived, with his wife Anne, until his passing in October 2015.

His first stage success was in 1964 with Philadelphia, Here I Come! and his plays since then include The Freedom of the City (1973), Volunteers (1975), Translations (1980) Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) and Molly Sweeney (1994). Translations was also the first production for the important and influential Field Day theatre company, which Friel founded with the actor Stephen Rea.

Brian Friel with the cast of Translationss in 1999 – the first of several of his plays produced in-house by An Grianán Theatre.

An Grianán and Friel

An Grianán has a long history of producing Brian Friel’s work, the first An Grianán production was his play Translations, in 1999. Since then they have continued to produce many of his other plays over the years including major productions of Dancing at Lughnasa, Making History as part of the Flight of the Earls Commemorations, and The Home Place to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Caitríona McLaughlin

Caitríona McLaughlin is the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre. Originally from Inishowen in County Donegal, Caitriona studied science at the University of Ulster before moving into theatre. Since 2017 she has been Associate Director at the Abbey Theatre, where her productions include: The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh (with Conall Morrison); Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray (ITTA nomination Best New Play); On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr, (for which she won Best Director at the 2019 ITTA); and Two Pints by Roddy Doyle, which toured widely in Ireland and the USA, and which she brought home to Simpson’s Bar in Carndonagh. She has also worked with theatre and opera companies on both sides of the border, including Wexford Opera, Hot for Theatre, INO, The Local Group, and Landmark, and she was the director on O’Casey in the Estate, a TV documentary shown on RTE.


1500 years ago, one of Ireland’s most famous sons was born in Gartan, Co. Donegal. With strong roots in the North West of Ireland, Colmcille (or St. Columba) went on to blaze a trail of cultural and social change around the world. He became one of Ireland’s three patron saints, the patron saint of Derry and his influence extends to this day.

Colmcille 1500

Donegal County Council and Derry City & Strabane District Council have come together, with support from the North West Development Fund, to commemorate Colmcille’s remarkable life and legacy with a series of events and activities throughout the coming year.


Funding for this show comes from the Arts Council of Ireland, Creative Ireland, Donegal County Council and Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

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DramaCast: Rehearsals

DramaCast is an exciting new initiative created by An Grianán Theatre, and Workhouse Theatre Company,  to bring Shakespeare, and Friel, back into the classroom.

With Covid curtailing all live touring it’s been impossible for schools to take their classes to see plays as normal. DramaCast fills that gap by selecting scenes relevant to the school curriculum and filming them here in An Grianán to distribute to local schools.

Under the direction of Michael Kelly from Letterkenny’s St Eunan’s College and Iarla McGowan of Workhouse Theatre rehearsals got under way in earnest last week, in the fantastic studios at Zona Dance in Letterkenny.


The play excerpts will be from Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Philadelphia Here I Come.

This week the filming will take place on the stage here at An Grianán with Karen Quinn as Director of Photography.



The actors taking part are:

Patrick McBrearty looking thoughtful in rehearsals for Dramacast       
Patrick McBrearty – Macbeth,  and others

Megan Armitage – Lady Macbeth and others
Troy Devaney – Friar Laurence  and others
Aoife Lennon – Juliet and others
Diarmaid Doherty – Romeo and others



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Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh agus a chairde show raised €3000 for charities.

The recent An Grianán Theatre show for Letterkenny Trad Week, Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh agus a chairde, which was streamed online, raised €3000 for charity, €1500 of which went to The Donegal Hospice and €1500 to Donegal Cancer Flights and Services. 

‘When we were organising the show Mairead said she’d like some of the income to go to these charities and we were very happy to be able to facilitate that’, said Patricia McBride, Director of An Grianán Theatre. The shows raised just under €3000, so we rounded it up and shared it among the two charities which Mairead had identified’ 

All the musicians for the show were paid by An Grianán, and the production was organised by The Regional Cultural Centre, An Grianán’s partner in Letterkenny Trad Week. Indeed so impressive was the quality of the production that TG4 are interested in taking the show for broadcast during their St Patrick’s week celebrations this March. 

The online demand for the show demonstrated the global reach of Mairead and Altan, and how they have gained an appreciative audience all across the globe for this music which originated in Donegal. The show was watched by over 1500 people, with bookings from many different countries such as Japan, Australia, Germany and America. 

In the show Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh was joined by special guests including Manus Lunny, members of Altan, and the Harrigan and McGrory families.

An important part of the show was Mairead’s new composition, commissioned by An Grianán, ‘Ré an t-Solais’….’The Era of Light’, inspired by the hope of a new era after the intensity of the pandemic lockdown of 2020. This new music can be purchased at Mairead’s bandcamp page

Letterkenny Trad Week is a collaboration between An Grianán Theatre and the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny and is now in its 7th year. Both organisations receive annual funding from Donegal County Council and The Arts Council. 


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Life, whatever its difficulties, is unquenchable.

Eleanor Methven and Janet Moran in An Grianán Theatre's production of Dancing at Lughnasa, 2002.

“…it is the function of the playwright to slip behind statistics and listen for the other existence, the inner life, the life of the spirit and to pick up its pulse even in the most depleted times.”

In 2002 we were very fortunate to have Brian Friel write a programme note for our production of Dancing at Lughnasa. During these ‘depleted times’ of rolling Lock Downs his words on the importance of art and the inner life of the imagination have a particular resonance today.

It is an accepted belief that Ireland in the Thirties – and counties like Donegal in particular – was a grim and depressed place, a land without hope. And indeed even a casual knowledge of what we call the ‘economic climate’ of that time offers us a dispiriting picture. Emigration was bleeding the country. Money was scarce. A very large portion of the population had a very difficult struggle to make ends meet.

And we have come to believe, too, that the economic climate so overshadowed, so blighted our lives that we became a crabbed, narrow-minded and deeply unhappy people. That we became passive and introspective. That poverty so crushed us that joy became altogether foreign to us. That families merely endured in a kind of dour sulk, silently waiting for the black clouds to break. When we consider the Thirties we think that the whole notion of what it is to be human has to be rethought, redefined.

“Another story, perhaps a truer story, certainly a more comprehensive story, resides in the inner life, the life of the spirit. And that life, whatever its difficulties, is unquenchable.”

It is not the function of a play to take issue with economic facts, but it is the function of the playwright to slip behind statistics and listen for the other existence, the inner life, the life of the spirit and to pick up its pulse even in the most depleted times. Although the Mundy girls were not destitute, they certainly weren’t affluent. An extra penny on the weekly grocery bill is a reason for anxiety. And Maggie’s task of conjuring an adequate meal for eight people out of three eggs doesn’t suggest wealth. And Rose and Aggie, who knitted day and night, still didn’t earn enough to clothe themselves. In economic conditions like these I believe that greater demands are made on the inner life and that it is the responsibility of the spirit – and indeed the imagination – to meet those demands. It is those demands and the responses of the spirit and the imagination to them that are the concerns of the playwright. The Mundy girls (they weren’t girls, of course; they were women; but girls was the language of the time) had no idea they lived in an economic climate of any kind. But they did experience deprivation and depression. And they experienced, too, happiness and great, great joy. And in their brief stage-life each is vibrantly alert to, and uncannily in sympathy with, every nuance of her sister’s thoughts and emotions. They engage with life, all of life. They want to dance, both in defiance and in delight. They give the lie to the belief – the cliché, really – that Ireland in the Thirties was populated only by a suppressed and sullen people. They offer us evidence that the ‘economic climate’ of that time is not the whole story. Another story, perhaps a truer story, certainly a more comprehensive story, resides in the inner life, the life of the spirit. And that life, whatever its difficulties, is unquenchable.

Brian Friel, 2002.

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Brian Friel 1929-2015

[box style=”red” closable=”un-closable”]We welcome members of the public to come and sign the book of condolence. We will pass this on to Brian’s family. If you would like to sign it it please call in to the theatre’s box office.[/box]

We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ireland’s greatest playwright and proud resident of Donegal, Brian Friel. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife Anne and their children and extended family and friends.

We will feel Brian’s loss very deeply.  He was a great friend and patron of An Grianán Theatre.  We admired his work and made it part of our brief to celebrate his close association with the theatre over the years. We took a special pride in producing his many works.  Our first An Grianán production was his play Translations which was part of our opening season in 1999. Since then we have continued to produce many of his other plays over the years including major productions of Dancing at Lughnasa, Making History as part of the Flight of the Earls Commemorations and The Home Place to celebrate his 80th birthday. We have also had productions and readings of many of other plays including Faith Healer and Molly Sweeney, Aristocrats and The Freedom of the City as well as lesser known works such as Volunteers and The Gentle Island.

Cast and crew celebrate the opening night of Translations at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny with its playwright Brian Friel (third from left). November 1999

Cast and crew celebrate the opening night of Translations with its playwright Brian Friel (third from left). November 1999

We were delighted to have had the opportunity this summer with our other arts partners to initiate the first ever Brian Friel Festival, the Lughnasa International Friel Festival,  a unique festival based in both Donegal and Belfast celebrating his life and legacy.  We are so pleased that Brian was able to experience that and to know the high esteem in which we hold him.

Brian Friel with director of An Grianán Theatre, Patricia McBride, at the Donegal Person of the Year Awards in 2010.

Brian Friel with director of An Grianán Theatre, Patricia McBride, at the Donegal Person of the Year Awards in 2010.

We will treasure our memories of Brian and the generous support he gave the theatre and the happy nights he spent here in the company of the theatre staff and actors. He was an inspiration to us in our work and we are proud to have had his friendship. Thank you Brian for the beautiful legacy of work and for putting Donegal on the international stage. “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Patricia McBride,
Director, An Griánan Theatre

* * * * * *

Paul Boyd was kind enough to share  this lovely story of a memorable encounter with Brian shortly after the theatre opened in 1999:

In 1999 I met Brian Friel at An Grianan Theatre. It was the theatre’s inaugural season, and “Translations” was the first in-house production (my “Alice The Musical” was to be its second a month or two later).

I sat next to Brian and his wife Anne at the opening night of “Translations” – we were all skulking at the very back row, in a kind of writers hide.

At one point, Brian stood up, and the brand new seat he was sitting on had such a hair-trigger tip-up that it just wasn’t there when he sat back down again. Anne and I had to discretely pick him up off the floor and much giggling ensued, which lead to our interval and post-show chats.

He was an incredibly gracious man and over the following years when we would be in the same venue at the same time (we shared many a season) he always made a point of saying hello and claimed to be aware of my most recent work; I have no idea if he did, or if he had just scanned the brochure minutes before, but either way it was always an honour and a pleasure to be in his company.

He was our greatest living playwright. Sitting next to him at a function felt akin to sitting next to Beckett or O’Casey – nothing less than an historic privilege.

He always looked exactly how you imagined he would, he spoke fondly of his beloved Donegal, which is possibly why he always looked so much at home at An Grianan, more so than at any other theatre at which I met him.

An Grianan (which has a soft spot in my own heart anyway) will always remind me of Friel. And I can still identify the offending seat in the back row that sent the “Irish Chekov” crashing to the floor that night in 1999. And as it happens, I’m very glad that it did.

Today both Ireland and the global theatre community lost a giant of a man.

Paul Boyd,  via Facebook


(Portrait of Brian Friel ‘Renouncing Chance’ by Colin Davidson, 2010 used by kind permission of the artist for our Rediscovering Friel project for the Earagail Arts Festival, July 2011).

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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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Molly Sweeney, 2012

by Brian Friel
An Grianán Theatre Productions

Brian Friel’s superb “Molly Sweeney” won the 1996 New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The story revolves around a courageous blind Irishwoman Molly Sweeney; Frank, her charmingly enthusiastic husband; and Mr. Rice, the alcoholic eye surgeon who partially restores her sight. In separate speeches, each recalls his or her version of the events leading to Molly’s miraculous cure and the shattering aftermath. Directed by Sean McCormack. Cast: Jean Curran, Donal Kavanagh and Kieran Kelly.

Sat 13 April at 8pm

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