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28/04/20 Researching ‘The Laurels’, Glenties & Brian Friel’s Ballybeg

Brian Friel


The Culture Division of Donegal County Council is inviting applications until Friday, May 8 for a study of ‘The Laurels’, playwright Brian Friel’s mother’s ancestral home in Glenties and the inspiration behind his play Dancing at Lughnasa.  The research is being commissioned by Donegal County Council with co-funding from Creative Ireland and The Heritage Council as part of the implementation of the County Donegal Heritage Plan. 


“This is a great opportunity to get involved in a research project that explores the work of Brian Friel, one of County Donegal’s finest ambassadors” explained Joseph Gallagher, County Donegal Heritage Officer.  “The research seeks to bring together what we know about the built heritage of ‘The Laurels’, Brian Friel’s writings on Ballybeg and Glenties, and family history research on the McLoone and Friel families.  In doing so, the research will provide a firm basis to facilitate and inform the conservation of The Laurels that is being led by the Brian Friel Trust.  The conservation of this landmark historic building is a fitting testament to Brian Friel’s work as the building and its inhabitants were the inspiration for his play Dancing at Lughnasa.  These tangible reminders of our literary inheritance are of importance to students, artists, tourists and residents alike.”


Brian Friel (1929-2015) was born in Knockmoyle, near Omagh, County Tyrone.  The family moved to Derry when Brian was ten years old.  He would spend part of his summer holidays at ‘The Laurels’ in Glenties where his aunts, the McLoone sisters lived.  In Self-Portrait (1971), Brian Friel recalled:

“When I was a boy we always spent a portion of our summer holidays in my mother’s old home near the village of Glenties in County Donegal.  I have memories of those holidays that are as pellucid, as intense, as if they happened last week.  I remember in detail the shape of the cups hanging in the scullery, the pattern of flags on the kitchen floor, every knot of wood on the wooden stairway, every door handle, every smell, the shape and texture of every tree around the place.” 


After graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Belfast, he taught in Derry from 1950 until 1960 when he took leave to pursue a career as a writer.  He and his family moved to County Donegal in the late 1960s.  “Brian Friel was the best-known Irish playwright of his generation” said Traolach Ó Fionnáin, Arts Officer, Donegal County Council.  “Although born in County Tyrone, he made County Donegal his home.  His body of work is impressive and his creation of the mythical Ballybeg, based on Glenties, appears in several of his plays including Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964), Translations (1980), Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), and The Home Place (2005).  However, it’s Dancing at Lughnasa that is most closely based on his experiences at ‘The Laurels’ and on the lives of its inhabitants.”


Because of its architecture and its association with Brian Friel, the house is now a ‘Protected Structure’ protected under the Planning & Development Acts.  “The Laurels holds the distinction of being one of the few Protected Structures in County Donegal that are of national significance” said Collette Beattie, Conservation Officer, Donegal County Council.  “The building is considered to be of special architectural, scientific and cultural interest.  This research will complement the conservation report on the house commissioned by Donegal County Council in 2017 and the current efforts by the Brian Friel Trust to conserve the building and its original material fabric and setting.”


The study will involve archival research, analysis of Friel’s literary works and writings, family history research, interviews with key informants and the integration of the built heritage and material culture of ‘The Laurels’ with its social, cultural and historical contexts.  This study may suit a historian, author, artist, folklorist, genealogist, cultural geographer or some combination of these professionals to provide a unique, informed and comprehensive account of ‘The Laurels’, its people, place and prose. 


Further details and information on how to apply for this research project are available here and applications can be submitted by e-mail to [email protected] before the 4 p.m. deadline on Friday, May 8.  If anyone has any information that may be useful to the study, they are encouraged to contact the County Donegal Heritage Office on (074) 917 2576 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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