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Brian Friel’s Dancing At Lughnasa- Character Summary September 18, 2009

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in Dancing at Lughnasa.
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Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa is a pivotal drama, based in Ireland. It is a play, narrated by Michael, the main character, as he looks back on a particular summer of his childhood, which revolves around his family of mother, four aunts, uncle, father and himself as a child.

The plot follows the memories of that summer,exploring many themes and ideas, in the iconic realistic style of Mr Friel.

The five sisters live in a small house in a very rural, very Catholic part of Ireland, with Michael and their brother Jack.

Jack was a missionary priest, who has just returned from Africa, confused and ill, he struggles with living at home in Ireland, and adjusting back to English, after years of Swahili.

Kate – the eldest sister- is a school teacher, and the only sister with a reliable income. She is strict and takes the responsibility of the family upon herself as she tries to hold it together, and keep her family right, whilst working all day. Kate is the character I feel the most empathy for, as she, in my opinion, is often written off as bossy and controlling, with her very religious character causing unnecessary strain on the sisters. However, I feel that she is simply a very tired, very loving woman, who has had to grow up before her time, and sacrifice all in order to look after those she loves. Her part in the story is the crucial role of keeping the family together to pull through the never-ending hard times.

Maggie -second in age to Kate – is a cheerful, carefree woman, who hasn;t allowed poverty, or bad luck stop her from being a positive laughing woman. She is the sort of character that brings a smile to your face from just being her. She is very much on the same level as Rose and the childhood Michael, making merriment and telling riddles non stop, she is the most confident, and least inhibited of the sisters. Maggie is the housekeeper for the family, and she works hard all day, every day for little recognition, but she doesn;t need the recognition for she values the love of her family much higher.

Agnes is the sister which Rose looks up to the most, seeing her as a special friend who she admires and wishes to please. In return Agnes is close to Rose, feeling more protective of her than the other sisters, and keeping a close relationship with her.

Agnes is the middle sister, and she knits for a living, knitting gloves she then sells on for a little money. She is quieter than the other sisters, although not by much, but just enough to see that she is a little detached as she is always focused on Rose.

Rose, who, too, knits, is often described as “simple” as she is less aware of the circumstanced they are in than the other sisters, and is often slower to understand what is going on, giving her an almost childlike personality. Rose is loving and loveable, as she tries to do what’s right, and forever is youthful as she doesn’t take on board the responsibilities that her sisters know they must. She is kind and sweet, but childlike and funny. All round, she is the cute character which adds to happiness and purpose to the other’s sisters lives.

Chris is the youngest sister, and Michael’s mother. She is less strict about social etiquette, rules, and approval, as can be seen by her having a child out of wedlock, and her language which is often very blunt. Chris is a harder character, but has soft edges, such as her maternal side. It seems she often needs nothing more than a few kind words in order for her to soften, relax and become youthful; yet her everyday life is harder, as she too shoulders responsibilities (although not as many, due to her feeling less social pressure). Chris has been hurt by love, and lives for Gerry, who she sees rarely but becomes elated when he comes.

Gerry is a care-free, responsibility-free, community-free man. In fact, he has what each of the sisters yearn for inside – freedom. He feels no obligation to Chris, or indeed Michael, and comes and goes as he pleases, as is his attitude to life. To me, I feel that he is not maliscious or cruel, he simply does not think or consider implications. He has happiness and enjoyment on his mind, causing him to overlook his cruelty in the way he treats Chris and Michael.

Actually, he remind sme of Rocky from Chicken Run, in his wild, free way, but, of course, Rocky is much more sensible, brave and noble…

Michael as a child is funny and humorous, reminding the audience/reader of the funny cynical age that children go through. He is spoilt and loved by all his aunts, and extremely creative as he has no nearby friends. His personality often shines through when the sisters interact with him, but he is naiive to all the troubles of their responsibilities.

Michael as the narrator is much more aware, as he looks back, perhaps through rose tinted glasses, on the events of that exceptional summer from his childhood. He is matter of fact and clear in what happens, but conveys much emotion when speaking of the causes and affects of the events.

The final character that I personally believe is a character is “Marconi” the wireless that the sisters own. It is often personified and seems to be almost magical in it’s “pagan” power to control and change to sisters. It is very interesting to explore how Marconi is referred to throughout the text, and very believable that is does have the power of a character in exploring and enhancing the other characters.

That just about sums up the characters within Dancing at Lughnasa




1. Ciara - February 11, 2011

Thanks for this it was really helpful !

2. anon - March 22, 2011

very helpful, thank you

3. Moirecaith - October 11, 2011

life saver!

dude - December 9, 2011

thanks it helped a lot

4. Um - May 14, 2012

Grammar was appalling. Used way too many commars.

Gavin - May 15, 2012

If you’re going to complain about grammar. At least make sure you spell everything properly.

Eimear - April 28, 2013

commars? Your grammar is outrageous.

tamilahimeoka - March 28, 2016

Commas* Apostrophe*
If you’re going to fix someone’s mistakes, do it correctly. Thank you.

5. Merlene - April 26, 2014

This was a very poorly written article. Grammar, spelling, word usage were all appalling. I saw the movie on TV and this review was not a very adequate representation of the plot. Overall, I would give this a grade of C-. KJ, the book girl, I suggest you work on improving your writing before you write any more blogs.

Samantha - May 5, 2014

The movie is far from the actual presentation of the characters in the book and the play, the character description written above is much more accurate based on the book and play. Plus, although the article wasn’t written with amazing literal usage, I found the article to be helpful and it was easy to understand. All of these negative points on the writers grammar and/or spelling is not needed and they writer should be praised for even taking their time to help others understand the characters within the play.

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of him.

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