Queen’s University in Belfast has launched the Brian Friel digital archive, a first of its kind resource, providing access to drafts of the acclaimed Irish playwright’s works, including handwritten notes from some of his most iconic plays.
The digital archive is part of the ‘Friel Reimagined’ project led by Dr Paul Murphy from the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s, produced in partnership with the National Library of Ireland and JSTOR, and with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Steel Charitable Trust.
Speaking about the significance of the project, Dr Murphy said: “Friel Reimagined is a unique opportunity for anyone interested in drama to understand how one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th Century created plays that captured the attention of audiences around the world.”
(Pictured above (L-R) are: Laura Sheary, Assistant Archivist for Friel Reimagined; Frances McNally, Investment Manager at The National Lottery Heritage Fund; Dr Conor McCafferty, Friel Reimagined Project and Outreach Manager at Queen’s; Anne Friel, wife of Brian Friel; Dr Paul Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Drama from the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s and Project Lead for Friel Reimagined; and Conor Kerr, Project Archivist for Friel Reimagined.)
The digital archive, based on the Friel Papers held at the National Library of Ireland, is made up of almost 3,000 manuscript pages from five plays: Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964), The Freedom of the City (1973), Faith Healer (1979), Translations (1980), and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990). The handwritten manuscripts reveal how Friel drafted and revised these plays over time. His notes show his reflections on plots, characters, themes and staging.
The actor Ciarán Hinds, who starred in a 2018 National Theatre production of Translations, said: “Those of us who work in the theatre – onstage, backstage, wherever – cannot but be aware of the massive contribution that Brian Friel has made to world drama. And those of us who hail from Ireland carry him close, in our hearts and in our minds – but we are far from being the only ones. There is a whole planet of Ballybegs out there, and I have no doubt that this new Brian Friel Digital Archive will prove invaluable in connecting admirers of Brian’s work the world over.”
The digital archive was launched with an exhibition ‘Friel Reimagined: A Playwright’s Works in Progress’ on Friday 9 December in the McClay Library at Queen’s University.
Newly commissioned essays for the exhibition by international Friel scholars provide insight into Friel’s creative process, and imaginative illustrations by emerging and established artists feature alongside a range of publications on Friel drawn from the University’s Special Collections.
Katherine McSharry, Acting Director of the National Library of Ireland commented: “The National Library of Ireland is privileged to hold the writer’s archive of Brian Friel, donated by the writer and his family in 2000. As our collection offers such a resource for students and lovers of Friel, we were delighted to make digitised copies of drafts for the plays available to the Queen’s ‘Friel Reimagined’ digital archive, sharing them with people all over the world.”
Patricia Corbett, Committee Member at The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland said: “We are thrilled to support the Friel Reimagined project and to see the launch of the digital archive of Brian Friel’s iconic plays alongside this new exhibition at Queen’s University Belfast. Thanks to National Lottery players, this project opens access to unique documents that give an insight into how his work developed, sharing it with more people and a new generation. We would encourage anyone interested in our literary heritage to book a free ticket to this exciting exhibition.”
Bruce Heterick, Senior Vice President, Open Collections and Infrastructure from JSTOR commented: “It’s an honour to play a role in making it possible for scholars, teachers, and students all over the world to access this incredible set of materials on JSTOR. Our memory organisations are vital to deepening our understanding and making connections across places and time. Queen’s is leading the way, bringing people together to learn about Friel’s work both in person and online.”
The exhibition is now running at the McClay Library at Queen’s University Belfast until March 2023 and everyone is welcome to attend. Tickets to the exhibition are free and can be accessed here: https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/friel-reimagined/
Access to the digital archive can be found on the JSTOR website and is open to everyone: https://www.jstor.org/site/qub/brian-friel-digital-archive/?searchkey=1670516719672