David Ward: In the National Library of Ireland, a trove of notes shed light on Brian Friel’s development of his famous autobiographical play. One possible answer is Friel’s use of myth and metaphor (2). Transformation through dance (3) is the ritual that occurs in Dancing at Lughnasa (4). Resonant . It is and harvest time in County Donegal. In a house just outside the village of Ballybeg live the five Mundy sisters, barely making ends meet, their ages.

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O n 31 MayBrian Friel reached for a red A4 hardback notebook and, with a pencil that could have done with a trip to a sharpener, jotted down on the inside front cover nine possible titles for a new play to be produced at the Abbey theatre in Dublin the following year.

He eventually called his family drama Dancing at Lughnasa ; it has since been performed all over the world and a new production opened at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria, on Friday. In search of a programme note, I headed for Dublin to investigate the Friel papers in the National Library of Ireland and discovered that there are more than 3, items on Dancing at Lughnasa.

As I sat by a window in the library’s manuscript room on a soggy Irish morning, soft-footed staff brought the red book and eight other items to my desk. That was enough; after 12 hours inside Friel’s brain I had enough material for a PhD thesis.

Friel scribbled furiously and sometimes illegibly with his blunt pencil in the red book as he began to draft dialogue. During the previous 12 days, he had used his fountain pen to set down on separate sheets eight pages of ideas in black ink. He then gathered his thoughts in a two-page summary that incorporates a note from his diary: Family life — make-believe — remembering and remaking the past — betrayal — groping towards love.


Dancing at Lughnasa – Brian Friel Review | CultureVulture

Really original stuff for me! They become the Mundy girls in the play which is dedicated to the “memory of those five brave Glenties women” and the model for bewildered Father Jack was their brother Bernard — Fr Barney, whose obituary in the Derry Journal also in the Friel papers described him as the “wee Donegal priest” beian had come home “broken in health after 35 years of heroic service in the mission service in Uganda”.

On the 10 sheets and in the red book, Friel repeatedly talks to himself and asks questions, several frifl them fundamental. On 20 May, he wonders “What is the play about?

Dance leaps out of the notes as it does in the play: Memories of dance linger into the final lines of the play as Michael, the narrator, looks back on his years in the sisters’ home, memories in which language seemed to have surrendered to movement “as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary”.

Michael’s final monologue was not Friel’s original idea; the notes suggest he intended to end the play with a ritual dance featuring Father Jack. But on 25 May he jotted down a significant one-line note: By page 23 in the red book, all five Mundy sisters are dancing in a scene that no one who sees it ever forgets; no words are needed as the sisters’ pent-up emotions explode into manic steps on the kitchen floor.


In the red book, Friel says the eldest sister, Kate, “opens her mouth, emits a wild raucous ‘Yaaaaah! The decision frile use a narrator in the play came early but Friel was at first unsure who he was or whether there was only one of him.

Dancing at Lughnasa (film) – Wikipedia

He considered developing a “kind of Under Milk Wood” with “eight actors on chairs” telling the story. On 22 May, he wrote: All these enacted events must have had an adjusting effect on him. Some time later, he added next to that paragraph a note in red ink: Michael, son of Chris, narrates the story as an adult but also speaks the lines of his seven-year-old self without ever taking part in the action.

After a day and half of taking 20 pages of notes in a pencil only slightly sharper than Friel’s, I needed to head for the airport.

Dancing at Lughnasa: the evolution of a masterpiece, step by step

I left the library and, on a whim, bought a hat in a shop opposite Trinity College: Order by qt oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All.

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