Wednesday 23 May 2018

Brian Friel's work translates to just €5

Acclaimed playwright died rich - but his literary estate is worth just €5

Brian Friel. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Brian Friel. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

With his carefully plotted plays, Brian Friel delved into the mysterious world of interpretation and intention...but now the acclaimed Irish playwright has left behind an intriguing mystery of his own with his last will and testament.

According to a document lodged in the Dublin Probate Office last week, the internationally-renowned Donegal-based writer left a specific literary estate which includes "all published and unpublished work of which I am author", with a value of just €5.

Experts say it is almost impossible to gauge the value of a literary estate because it involves future earnings, but if a writer has become wealthy in their lifetime - as Brian Friel did - it is likely that valuable royalties will continue to benefit their estate as long as his plays remain popular.

The author of Philadelphia Here I Come, Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa, which in 1998 was made into a film starring Meryl Streep, left the bulk of his estate to his wife Anne and their children. In his detailed three-page last will and testament dated February 4, 2013, the writer - who died aged 86 on October 2, 2015 - left "the whole of my estate to my wife Anne".

But he also made a number of specific bequests to his children, which contain an affectionate recollection of family holidays spent in the Donegal village of Kincasslagh when they were all much younger.

In his will, Brian Friel left a holiday home and land to his daughter Sally, and another property in the same area, Teach Annie, to another daughter, Mary Bateman.

The will adds: "In view of the strong sentimental attachment of my family to the Kincasslagh area it is my wish that my wife and that Sally should share this house generously with her sisters and their brother David."

The same clause is attached to the house he left to Mary. But the will adds in both cases that this did not impose any "express or implied" legal obligation on either of them to do so. He left his own home - Drumaweir House in Greencastle, Co Donegal - to his son David, and an apartment he owned in Milltown, Co Dublin, to his daughter Sally.

The will also specifies that royalties from his artistic work and the residue of the estate should be divided equally among his children, Mary Bateman, Judy Friel, David Friel and Sally Friel, and that "the children of my daughter Paddy Friel, who predeceased me" should also benefit from this clause.

As one of Ireland's most successful playwrights, Brian Friel accumulated significant wealth during his lifetime and benefited from the tax exemption introduced in the 1969 Finance Act by the then-taoiseach Charles Haughey, which allowed writers, artists and musicians to earn unlimited sums from their creative work.

Born in Knockmoyle near Omagh, Co Tyrone in 1929, Friel qualified as a teacher and while working in Derry met and married Anne Morrison. In 1960 he became a full-time writer, moving to Donegal, where he lived in Muff before purchasing Drumaweir House, where he lived for the rest of his life.

In his will he appointed his wife Anne, along with his long-time school friend - Derry-born Paul Garth (Garry) McKeone, literature director of the Arts Council of England for 10 years - as his literary executors. In that capacity prior approval must be obtained from them for productions of his work in any medium. They also have control over any authorised biography of Brian Friel in terms of the author and access to his material and control of his writings, published and unpublished at the time of his death.

But a clause adds that they shall have no responsibility for administering the financial aspects of his literary estate, nor shall they benefit financially from the estate "except where it confers financial benefit on my wife Anne".

Trustees of Mr Friel's will have also been given an inventory of items of a "personal nature and sentimental value" to distribute among an undisclosed list of people drawn up by the playwright before his death.

Sunday Independent

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