Thursday, 9 February 2017

Brendan Behan ( 9/2/23 -20/3/64) - Irish Rebel heart


Brendan Francis Behan  was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both English and Irish. who was born on this day who became one of the most successful Irish dramatists of the 20th century and remains a firm literary favourite of mine. He also happened to be a committed Irish Republican. He was born in inner city Dublin into an educated working class family. At the age of thirteen, he left school to become a house painter, like his father Stephen Behan,  who had been active in the Irish War of Independence,who  read classic literature to the children at bedtime from diverse sources such as Zola, Galsworthy and Maupassant; while his mother Kathleen took them on literary tours of the city.This meant he was steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from a young age. If Brendan Behan’s interest in literature came from his father, then his political beliefs were injected by his mother. She remained politically active all her life, and was a personal friend of the famed Irish republican Michael Collins, hero of Ireland’s 1919-1921 war of independence against Britain,who was assassinated. Brendan Behan wrote  the following wonderful lament to Collins: “The Laughing Boy,” at the age of thirteen.
The laughing boy - Brendan Behan 

T'was on an August morning, all in the dawning hours,
I went to take the warming air, all in the Mouth of Flowers,
And there I saw a maiden, and mournful was her cry,
'Ah what will mend my broken heart, I've lost my Laughing Boy.
So strong, so wild, and brave he was, I'll mourn his loss too sore,
When thinking that I'll hear the laugh or springing step no more.
Ah, curse the times and sad the loss my heart to crucify,
That an Irish son with a rebel gun shot down my Laughing Boy.
Oh had he died by Pearse's side or in the GPO,
Killed by an English bullet from the rifle of the foe,
Or forcibly fed with Ashe lay dead in the dungeons of Mountjoy,
I'd have cried with pride for the way he died, my own dear Laughing Boy.
My princely love, can ageless love do more than tell to you,
Go raibh mile maith agat for all you tried to do,
For all you did, and would have done, my enemies to destroy,
I'll mourn your name and praise your fame, forever, my Laughing Boy.'
Behan's uncle Peadar Kearney wrote the Irish national anthem A Soldier’s Song. His brother, Dominic Behan, was also a renowned songwriter most famous for the song The Patriot Game, while another sibling, Brian Behan, was a prominent radical political activist and public speaker, actor, author and playwright. ’.
 In 1937, the family moved to a new local authority housing scheme in Crumlin, Dublin. Here he became a member of Fianna Eireann, the youth wing of the IRA at the age of 14 and published his first poems and prose in the organization's magazine Fianna: the Voice of Young Ireland.He eventually joined the IRA at sixteen
In 1939 he was arrested in Liverpool with a suitcase full of explosives after an unauthorised mission to blow up the docks. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal Prison (Kent) and did not return to Ireland until 1941. In 1942, he was tried for the attempted murder of two gardai while at a commemoration ceremony for Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He was sent to Mountjoy Prison and later to the Curragh Internment Camp. He was released in 1946 as part of a general amnesty of republican prisoners.  His prison experiences were central to his future writing career. He wrote about these years in his autobiographical novel 'Borstal Boy'. and “Confessions of an Irish Rebel.”  Aside from a short prison sentence that he received in 1947 for his part in trying to break a fellow republican out from a Manchester jail, he effectively left the IRA, though he remained great friends with the future Chief-Of-Staff Cathal Goulding.
While in Mountjoy Prison he wrote his first play, The Landlady, and also began to write short stories and other prose. Some of this work was published in The Bell, the leading Irish literary magazine of the time. He also learned Irish in prison and, after his release in 1946, he spent some time in the Gaeltacht areas of Galway and Kerry, where he started writing poetry in Irish. By the early 1950s he was earning a living as a writer for radio and newspapers and had gained a reputation as something of a character on the streets and in literary circles in Dublin known for his sharp wit and his gift as a raconteur.
His major breakthrough came in 1954 when his play The Quare Fellow, which was based on his experiences in jail, Set in an Irish prison in the 1950s on the day before and the morning of an execution, The Quare Fellow uses music, wit and a keen observation of human behaviour to explore the question of capital punishment. the play ran for six months in the Pike Theatre, Dublin. This was followed by a run at the Theatre Royal, Stafford East, in a production by Joan Littlewood, before moving to the West End, before a trumph on Broadway bought  international fame to the author. In 1957, his Irish language play, An Giall (The Hostage) opened in the Damer Theatre and his autobiographical novel, The Borstal Boy, was published. He was now established as one of the leading Irish writers of his generation.
He found fame difficult to deal with however. He had long been a heavy drinker (describing himself, on one occasion, as "a drinker with a writing problem",) and became known for his drinking as much as for his undoubted literary talents ,this combination resulted in a series of notoriously drunken public appearances, both on stage and television. Behan got notorious publicity after appearing drunk on Malcolm Muggeridge’s Panorama programme on the BBC in 1956. Most of what he said was incoherent, other than a crude remarking about needing “to take a leak”
.Behan was obviously drunk too when he went on Edward R Morrow’s television show Small World on November 8, 1959. He was yanked off the show at the halfway point. He tended to attract attention anywhere he went. On arriving in Spain, he was asked what he would most like to see in the country. “Franco’s funeral,” he replied. Making a spectacle added to his notoriety, because it was what people had come to expect.  “One drink is too many for me,” Behan once lamented, “and a thousand not enough.” and “I only drink on two occasions-when I’m thirsty and when I’m not He was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1960's and his favourite drink of sherry and champagne certainly did not aid him, his health consequently suffered terribly, with diabetic comas and seizures occurring with frightening regularity aggravated by his alcoholism. He found it difficult to write. When the Guinness company commissioned him to write a slogan for them, he sat around for months, drank all the free beer they sent him, and came up with the slogan 'Guinness makes you drunk'.While his faculties may have dimmed a little, and towards the end became the caricature of the drunken Irishman, publicans flinging him out of their premises, his intellect,wit and passion always managed to shine through.and he remained an Irish Republican and a socialist.
He died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin 1964  aged  only 41, his last words were ' Thank you Sister, and may all your sons be bishops'. He was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery where he received a Republican funeral.The IRA, which Behan had once invited to 'shoot him in absentia', accorded him an honour guard, although they waited until the officials from the State funeral had left before firing the traditional farewell salute over his grave. En route to the graveyard, thousands lined the streets.
His wife the painter Beatrice french-Salkeld, his most stabilising influence gave birth to their only child, a daughter, later the same year. His gravestone features the inscription 'Breándan Ó Beacháin File Fiáin Fearúil Feadánach which roughly translates as 'Brendan Behan, wild, manly poet and piper'.
His legacy remains one of tolerance and respect for the humanity in others, and of caring and concern for the plight of those who are victims of history, not its makers. As he once said, 'I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer'..His wit and humor still shines through in the books that he wrote and his stories about the human condition still engage and fortunately the oeuvre Behan managed to produce will be around for years to come. Cheers Brendan Behan.

Brendan Behan sings his brother Dominic's song ; The Auld Triangle

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