He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers of all time. 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. Behan eventually joined the IRA at sixteen, which led to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom and he was also imprisoned in Ireland.
Secret of a love affair that united Behan and Hemingway as family
During this time, he took it upon himself to study and he became a fluent speaker of the Irish language. It was well received; however, it was the production at Joan Littlewood 's Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gained Behan a wider reputation. Behan's autobiographical novel , Borstal Boy , was published the same year and became a worldwide best-seller and by , Behan had married Beatrice ffrench Salkeld , with whom he later had a daughter Blanaid Behan in By the early s, Behan reached the peak of his fame.
He spent increasing amounts of time in New York, famously declaring, "To America, my new found land: The man that hates you hates the human race. He even turned down his invitation to the inauguration of John F.
However, this newfound fame did nothing to aid his health or his work, with his medical condition continuing to deteriorate: Brendan Behan's New York and Confessions of an Irish Rebel received little praise. He briefly attempted to combat this by a sober stretch while staying at Chelsea Hotel in New York, but once again turned back to drink. Behan died on the 20th of March, after collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar in Dublin. He was given a full IRA guard of honour, which escorted his coffin.
It was described by several newspapers as the biggest Irish funeral of all time after those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell. Behan was born in the inner city of Dublin at Holles Street Hospital on 9 February into an educated working-class family.
Brendan's father Stephen Behan , a house painter who had been active in the Irish War of Independence , read classic literature to the children at bedtime from sources including Zola , Galsworthy , and Maupassant ; his mother, Kathleen , took them on literary tours of the city. If Behan's interest in literature came from his father, his political beliefs came from his mother.
She remained politically active all her life and was a personal friend of the Irish republican Michael Collins. 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 A biographer, Ulick O'Connor , recounts that one day, at age eight, Brendan was returning home with his granny and a crony from a drinking session.
A passer-by remarked, "Oh, my! Isn't it terrible ma'am to see such a beautiful child deformed? Behan left school at 13 to follow in his father's footsteps as a house painter. In , the family moved to a new local council housing scheme in Crumlin.
He published his first poems and prose in the organisation's magazine, Fianna: the Voice of Young Ireland. In he also became the youngest contributor to be published in the Irish Press with his poem "Reply of Young Boy to Pro-English verses". At sixteen, Behan joined the IRA and embarked on an unauthorised solo mission to England to blow up the Liverpool docks.
He was arrested and found in possession of explosives. Behan was sentenced to three years in a borstal Hollesley Bay ,  once under the care of Cyril Joyce  and did not return to Ireland until He wrote about these years in his autobiography, Borstal Boy.
The assassinations were to take place in Dublin at a commemoration ceremony for Wolfe Tone , the father of Irish Republicanism. Sentenced to fourteen years in prison, Behan was incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison and the Curragh Camp. These experiences were recalled in Confessions of an Irish Rebel. Released under a general amnesty for IRA prisoners and internees in , his activist career was over by the age of twenty-three.
Aside from a short prison sentence he received in for his part in trying to break a fellow IRA member out of a Manchester prison, he effectively left the IRA, though he remained great friends with Cathal Goulding.
Behan's prison experiences were central to his future writing career. In Mountjoy he wrote his first play, The Landlady , and also began to write short stories and other prose. It was a literary magazine called Envoy A Review of Literature and Art , founded by John Ryan , that first published Behan's short stories and his first poem.
Some of his early work was also published in The Bell , the leading Irish literary magazine of the time. He also learned Irish in prison and, after his release in , he spent some time in the Gaeltacht areas of Galway and Kerry , where he started writing poetry in Irish.
He left Ireland and all its perceived social pressures to live in Paris in the early s.
There he felt he could lose himself and release the artist within. Although he still drank heavily, he managed to earn a living, supposedly by writing pornography. By the time he returned to Ireland, he had become a writer who drank too much, rather than a drinker who talked about what he was going to write.
He had also developed the knowledge that to succeed, he would have to discipline himself. Throughout the rest of his writing career, he would rise at seven in the morning and work until noon—when the pubs opened. He began to write for various newspapers, such as The Irish Times , and also for radio, which broadcast a play of his entitled "The Leaving Party". Additionally he cultivated a reputation as carouser-in-chief, and swayed shoulder-to-shoulder with other literati of the day that he had got to know through Envoy and who used the pub McDaid's as their base: Flann O'Brien , Patrick Kavanagh , Patrick Swift , Anthony Cronin , J.
For unknown reasons Behan had a major falling-out with Kavanagh, who reportedly would visibly shudder at the mention of Behan's name and who referred to Behan as "evil incarnate". Behan's fortunes changed in with the appearance of his play The Quare Fellow —his major breakthrough at last.
Originally called The Twisting of Another Rope and influenced by his time spent in jail, it chronicles the vicissitudes of prison life leading up to the execution of "the quare fellow"—a character who is never seen. The prison dialogue is vivid and laced with satire, but reveals to the reader the human detritus that surrounds capital punishment.
It was produced in the Pike Theatre in Dublin. The play ran for six months. Subsequently it transferred to the West End. The English, relatively unaccustomed to public drunkenness in authors, took him to their hearts. A fellow guest on the show, Irish-American actor Jackie Gleason , reportedly said about the incident: "It wasn't an act of God, but an act of Guinness! Behan loved the story of how, walking along the street in London shortly after this episode, a Cockney approached him and exclaimed that he understood every word he had said—drunk or not—but had not a clue what "that bugger Muggeridge was on about!
The transfer of the play to Broadway provided Behan with international recognition. Littlewood remained a supporter, visiting him in Dublin in Reminiscent of Frank O'Connor's Guests of the Nation , it portrays the detention, in a teeming Dublin house in the late s, of a British conscript soldier seized by the IRA as a hostage pending the scheduled execution in Northern Ireland of an imprisoned IRA volunteer.
The hostage falls in love with an Irish convent girl, Teresa, working as a maid in the house. Their innocent world of love is incongruous among their surroundings—the house also serves as a brothel. In the end, the hostage dies accidentally during a bungled police raid, revealing the human cost of war—a universal suffering.
The subsequent English-language version The Hostage , reflecting Behan's own translation from the Irish, but also much influenced by Joan Littlewood during a troubled collaboration with Behan, is a bawdy, slapstick play that adds a number of flamboyantly gay characters and bears only a limited resemblance to the original Irish-language version.
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His autobiographical novel Borstal Boy followed in An original voice in Irish literature boomed out from its pages. The language is both acerbic and delicate, the portrayal of inmates and "screws" cerebral. For a Republican, though, it is not a vitriolic attack on Britain; it delineates Behan's move away from violence.
In one account an inmate strives to entice Behan in chanting political slogans with him.
Behan curses and damns him in his mind, hoping he would cease his rantings-hardly the sign of a troublesome prisoner. By the end the idealistic boy rebel emerges as a realistic young man who recognises the truth: violence, especially political violence, is futile. Kenneth Tynan , the s literary critic said: "While other writers hoard words like misers, Behan sends them out on a spree, ribald, flushed, and spoiling for a fight.
He learned to speak Irish at the home of the Nolan family in the Gaeltacht area of County Galway in the late s. Drs Sinead and Maureen Nolan daughters of the house never heard a disrespectful word or a hint of obscenity from him during that time.
He was much loved and revered by their deeply religious parents, who recognized his genius for language early. They saw his theatrics for what it was: a device to conceal an exquisitely sensitive nature.
Behan found fame difficult. He had long been a heavy drinker describing himself, on one occasion, as "a drinker with a writing problem" and claiming "I only drink on two occasions—when I'm thirsty and when I'm not" and developed diabetes in the early s but this was not diagnosed until This combination resulted in a series of famously drunken public appearances, on both stage and television.
Behan's favourite drink a lethal combination for a diabetic was champagne and sherry.
Behan saw that it paid to be drunk; the public wanted the witty, iconoclastic, genial "broth of a boy", and he gave that to them in abundance, once exclaiming: "There's no bad publicity except an obituary. The public who once extended their arms now closed ranks against him; publicans flung him from their premises. Although Behan cried out that he was a writer, inside he knew his fears had materialised—he was unable to generate another classic.
His books, Brendan Behan's Island , Brendan Behan's New York and Confessions of an Irish Rebel , published in and , were dictated into a tape recorder because he was no longer able to write or type for long enough to be able to finish them. Behan had married Beatrice Salkeld daughter of the painter Cecil Salkeld in A daughter, Blanaid, was born in By early March , the end was in sight.
Collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar, he was transferred to the Meath Hospital in central Dublin, where he died, aged Behan had a one-night stand in with Valerie Danby-Smith   , who was Ernest Hemingway's personal assistant and later married his son, Dr.
Gregory Hemingway . Nine months later, Valerie gave birth to a son she named Brendan. Brendan Behan died two years later having never met his son. Behan is frequently mentioned in works of popular culture.
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His work has been a significant influence in the writings of Shane MacGowan , and he is the subject of "Streams of Whiskey", a song by The Pogues. Behan is also referenced in Damien Dempsey 's 'Jar Song'. Shortly after Behan's death a young student, Fred Geis, wrote the song "Lament for Brendan Behan" and passed it on to the Clancy Brothers , who sang it on their album Recorded Live in Ireland the same year.