The Great Brendan Behan

The Great Brendan Behan                                                    By Alan Finn.

In Ireland we are a country known for our writers and scholars. The writers that Ireland has produced over the years have been great and may I say some outstanding, leaving a big legacy behind them years after they passed on. One of these writers who has made an impact has to be Dubliner Brendan Behan.

Brendan Francis Behan, was born in “Hollies Street maternity hospital here in Dublin, on the 9th February 19-23. His parents, Stephen and Kathleen, went on to have (5) five children including Brendan. Brendan’s brothers and sister were Seamus ,Brian, Dominic, and Carmel his only sister.

Brendan’s family was steeped in, Irish history, and Brendan enjoyed a lively childhood which included Irish story telling and traditional ballad songs. His parents lived in a house, in Russell Street, not far from Mount joy Square, in Dublin City which was owned by Brendan’s grandmother, Christine English, who had several houses in the area. It is believed that Brendan’s father, Stephen played an active role in the war of Independence, in Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising. It is fair to state that the “Behan’s household was a republican family. Brendan’s uncle, Peadar Kearney, had written the original words to the Irish National anthem, The Soldier’s Song, which was aka as (Amhrann na BhFiann, the Irish and original version) As a youngster Brendan and his siblings enjoyed literary tours of, Dublin which his mother often took them on.

At the age of (13) Brendan left school, and began his apprentice of becoming a painter and decorator, following the steps of his father. Brendan also wrote from an early age and it’s believed while he was also (13) thirteen he wrote a story titled, “The Laughing Boy ” which was dedicated to, Micheal Collins, another great Irish man to the Irish people. It’s believed that Micheal was a family’s friend, and a very close friend to Kathleen Behan. Kathleen is also believed to have played her part to the war of Independence, acting as a courier delivering letters to and from various points in and around the city of Dublin. By the age of (14) Brendan had joined a youth movement titled” Fianna Eireann, an organisation ran by the IRA.

When Brendan was (16 ) sixteen he tried to travel to, Manchester in England, to plant a bomb but was stopped at Liverpool’s dock’s and was arrested, in his suitcase Brendan, had equipment to make a bomb. Because of his age he was sent to a borstal prison, at the time hanging was still a punishment given out to offenders. The Borstal was, HM Hollesley bay borstal school, in England. He was sent there for (3) three years. While he was there Brendan took full advantage of the prison’s library and this was the foundation to his book, The Borstal Boy, which in the past few years has been turned in to a movie. In his Autobiography also titled ” The Borstal Boy” Brendan is to have softened his blow about the English in general and he spoke about them with some compassion. He found out the Irish working Catholic’s, and English working protestant’s had a lot in common, a lot more than he ever knew.

On his return to Ireland despite his (3) three year sentence in the UK, Brendan was mixing again with his old roots, and friends the republicans, that he was arrested and sentenced to (14) fourteen years in prison for his involvement to kill two, “Irish Gardai aka Irish Police Officers. He was sent firstly to Mountjoy prison here in Dublin City, then on to the Curragh camp, in Kildare Ireland.

In 1947 he again was sentenced to prison, for a short period of time while he was caught trying to help break free a fellow IRA member who was in prison, in Manchester UK. This was to be the ending of Brendan’s involvement with the republicans. While inside Brendan learned himself how to speak Irish, and he subsequently wrote and produced his first play titled ” The Landlady ” he also had a few short stories published.

Under a general amnesty to all republicans by, Eamon de Valeria, one of Ireland’s first president’s, in 19-46, Brendan was released from prison. Over the next few years Brendan divided his time living in Dublin city, Connemara Kerry Ireland, and once briefly in Paris.

Brendan, was writing and painting houses to help pay his bills. By this stage Brendan was married to Beatrice Salkeld, the daughter of the painter Cecil Salkeld, he married Beatrice in a Catholic church in secret in 19-55. Brendan was an early riser and would jump up in the mornings to write, well before the pub’s opened. Brendan was very fond of the drink.

He once quoted I am a drinker, with a writing problem.

In 1954, a year before he married another  play of his “The Quare Fellow” was staged in the Pike theater in Dublin. The play used it’s settings from “Mountjoy Prison. The play tells a story about a man who was to be hanged in the prison. This man was sentenced to death by hanging and the play focused on the last night this man was alive. The play got a good (6) six month run at the theater before it was picked up and brought to London by, Joan Littlewooods theater Royal, in Stratford, East London UK.

This is where Brendan’s reputation as a writer snow boarded after he also appeared on TV, for a production for BBC, while doing this show he was also drunk. After that interview with a, Malcolm Muggeridge, Brendan was never far out of the media and he happily played his role as the drunken Irish man. The Quare Fellow, also ran on Broadway, and it was said Brendan fell in love with New York. He once said it felt like home from home. Brendan also had another play staged his Irish play titled “An Gail” was commissioned by Gale Linn, the Irish language organisation. It was first preformed in Dublin’s Damer Theater, it tells the story of a British solider been held captured by the IRA, in the run up to the planned execution of an IRA volunteer, in Northern Ireland. He then translated the play in to an English version and again it was brought over to East London by the, Joan’s Littlewoods production titled ” The Hostage” which led to a huge success in London and again in New York.

Brendan was now making decent money, and earning decent royalties from various play’s, short stories. He stopped painting and began to write more.

Brendan was also having bad health problems. Having been diagnosed with diabetes, in 19-56, which in some cases caused him to have seizures and comas.

In “19-63, he became a dad to a daughter, Blanaid. Although he dotted on his daughter he couldn’t stop drinking. Now a huge star in his own right’s and money coming steadily in, Brendan became a frequent visitor to pubs where ever he went. After years of heavy drinking, seizures, Brendan collapsed in a Dublin pub, called “The Harbor Lights ” on March 20th, 1964,  he was then brought to the Meath hospital in Dublin City, where he later died. Brendan was only 41 years old when he died. He is buried in a cemetery called ” Glassnevin ” a famous graveyard itself just north of Dublin City. According to his wife’s Beatrice, the day he was brought in his hearse to be buried hundreds, if not thousands of people, lined the streets of Dublin, to pay their last respect to this wonderful writer who made his way to his resting place here in Glassnevin Cemetery

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