#OTD in 1923 – Birth of poet and playwright, Brendan Behan, in Dublin.

Much of Brendan Behan’s work was autobiographical, showcasing working class, Republican Dublin. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers and poets of all time. Born in Dublin into a republican family, he became a member of the IRA’s youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. However, there was also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which meant he was steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. His most famous work might be ‘Borstal Boy’, which took its title from the three years Behan spent in Borstal following his failed attempt to plant an IRA bomb in Liverpool.

Behan’s second bout in prison was brought on when he shot at a detective during an IRA parade. This resulted in a fourteen year sentence in Mountjoy prison. Brendan made good use of the time he spent in jail, studying the Irish language and literature. His experiences in Borstal led to the creation of ‘The Bell’ which was published by Seán Ó Faoláin while Behan was in Mountjoy.

Behan would serve more prison sentences after Mountjoy but none were so lengthy. After his release in 1946 Brendan turned to painting and writing verse in Irish.

Behan suffered from the curse of many Irish writers – alcoholism. ‘One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough.’ His drinking resulted in his suffering from diabetes, which ultimately resulted in his death on 20 March 1964. He was given an IRA guard of honour, which escorted his coffin. It was described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.

Brendan Behan wrote a lament to Collins, ‘The Laughing Boy’, at the age of thirteen. The title was from the affectionate nickname Mrs. Behan gave to Collins. Kathleen published her autobiography, ‘Mother of All The Behans’, a collaboration with her son Brian, in 1984.

Behan’s uncle Peadar Kearney wrote the Irish national anthem ‘The Soldier’s Song’. His brother, Dominic Behan, was also a renowned songwriter best known for the song ‘The Patriot Game’; another sibling, Brian Behan, was a prominent radical political activist and public speaker, actor, author, and playwright. Following Brendan’s death, his widow had a child with Cathal Goulding called Paudge Behan; the two men were described as ‘good friends’.

‘The Auld Triangle’
(The Quare Fellow, by Brendan Behan)

A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing
And the mice they were squealing in my prison cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh to start the morning, the warden bawling
Get up out of bed you, and clean out your cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh the screw was peeping and the lag was sleeping
As he lay weeping for his girl Sal
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
On a fine spring evening, the lag lay dreaming
And the seagulls were wheeling high above the wall
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh the wind was sighing, and the day was dying
As the lag lay crying in his prison cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
In the female prison there are seventy women
And I wish it was with them that I did dwell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.

Photo: Brendan Behan, photo credit: Irish Photo Archive

Featured Portrait by Mark Baker

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