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Correspondence: Brian Friel

17 December 2015

I found the piece by Raynor Lysaght on the death of Brian Friel interesting. 

One play Rayner does not mention, which had a big impact on me is Freedom in the City.

I mentioned it in my review of Tommy McKearney's book.

"Watching Brian Friel’s play, The Freedom of the City (1973), helped me understand that necessary moment of transition from the Civil Rights Movement to the Republican Movement. Michael, the earnest young civil rights protestor, believes the British army is making a big mistake, as they point their rifles at him, before shooting him dead; unlike Skinner, the young ne’er-do-well, who had up to this point survived on a mixture of quick wits and cynicism, but who now understands what is about to happen to him, and appreciates that an altogether more serious response is needed in the face of what they are up against; whilst the older Lily, drawing on her longer experience of the existing order, realises that they have transgressed and upset the ‘natural order of things’ and, as a result, are going to pay the ultimate price.

This play is not about just any British city council, calling upon the ‘boys in blue’ to get them out ‘a spot of bother’ with the locals. It is about Londonderry City Council, that beachhead of the local Unionist and Orange order, located on the furthest land frontier of the UK state. These locals are not even fully recognised by the authorities as belonging to the same country. This explains the presence not only of the hated RUC and B Specials, but also of the British army, ready to kill to uphold the existing order." (from

Perhaps, Friel appeared more radical to me, because I was looking at the situation from Scotland.


Allan Armstrong

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