Irish poet, novelist, playwright, revolutionary, convict, and alcoholic, 1923 - 1964.

Behan was arrested at age sixteen for his involvement in IRA activities. He spent two years in "borstal" in England. His release was followed by more hijinks related to the lingering animosity which followed the Irish Civil War (which followed the Irish War of Independence, which followed eight centuries of arm-waving and reductionism), and another five years in prison in Ireland.

His great play The Quare Fellow is about life in prison, and his novel Borstal Boy is about just what it says it's about. His play The Hostage is less fabulous, and his last play, Richard's Cork Leg, is damned odd but worth reading. There's a collection of stories floating around called After the Wake. Read it. There's also a somewhat fragmentary memoir, picking up where Borstal Boy leaves off, entitled Confessions of an Irish Rebel.

Behan was by turns hilarious and sentimental, one of those Irish writers; but dammit, he was a good one, one who got well beyond schtick. And what the hell's wrong with sentimentality, anyway? Eh?

The Pogues recorded Behan's song "The Auld Triangle" (from The Quare Fellow) on their Red Roses for Me album.

Behan's work seems mostly to be out of print in the USA (as of this writing, December 2000), but I'm told that can set you up with some Behanical goodness.

Brendan Behan b.1923 d.1964 was a famous and sometimes infamous writer, wit, storyteller and drunk .

He was born into a loving family in the tenements of Russell Street, Dublin in 1923. This street is just off the North Circular Road, near Croke Park, Dublin

Most Irish people will know his name but very little else about him. His fame caught on just as televison became popular and so he is oft remembered for his drunken appearances, where he was very funny. He did a lot of writing in pubs around Dublin and there is a picture in existence today of him sitting in the corner of McDaids Public House in Harry Street, Dublin; typewriter in front of him, cigerette in mouth, pint of Stout at the ready.

In 1948 he went to live in Paris. Here, in the postwar years, writing was really a great occupation and he was in the company of the likes of Sartre and Camus. This did him no harm and he learned the basics of the writing trade.

He married Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld, in 1955. She was from the other side of the tracks, being the daughter of Cecil Salkeld, a well known painter of the time who lived in Morehampton Road. They were married at the church in Westland Row, Dublin and although he broke her heart on many occasions, they had a happy marrige and travelled the world together.

His plays include "Borstal Boy", "The Quare Fellow" and "The Hostage".

Brendan Behans contempraries included Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh, and Flann O'Brien

He died in the Meath Hospital in March 1964 with Beatrice at his side, and his death was announced all over the world. The following was an obituary which appeared in the Daily Express in England. It was written by Rene MacColl:

What a sad waste of an enormous talent. This was the story of F.Scott Fitzgerald all over again, story of a Brilliant writer who simply couldn't keep off the bottle. If Brendan had slowed down a little, paced his drinking into something approaching normal intake, he should have been good for another ten or twelve outstanding plays, another five or six absorbing books. If ever a man did himself in as sure as though he had picked up a revolver and blew his brains out, it was Brendan. Too young to die, but too drunk to live.
There's a tiny, dark and foul-smelling pub in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood named after Brendan Behan. It serves one of the best tasting and cheapest pints of Guinness in the city, both superlatives probably due to high sales volume. The Brendan Behan is owned by Gerry Brennan, and hosts live Irish music jam sessions Thursday nights. When there's nothing live, they often play outstanding electronic music.

In my highly subjective opinion, it's one of the best pubs in Boston. Boston Magazine agrees, and rated it the Best Irish Bar in Boston for 1990, 1991, and 1994.

The Behan was used as a set for the film The Patriot, according to Yankee Brew News (

Brendan Behan first wrote the play The Hostage in the Irish language, as An Giall. This version is much less comical than the English version, which is, according to Declan Kiberd's notes, a music-hall adaptation: Kiberd calls An Giall "an austere and moving tragedy", and as such, something quite distinct from The Hostage. The play has been published in Irish by the Gallery Press as "Poems and a Play in Irish", together with his poems and songs in the language. Behan's Irish is, despite some minor quirks, not bad at all for a non-native speaker of the language: for instance, he is quite able to pun in Irish.

Irish Wit, Writer, Lush, Revolutionist, Tyrants Foe...

Some quotes and epigrams:

I am a drinker with writing problems.

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.

If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks.
This one is like a polish joke, but for the sake of completeness...

Shakespeare said pretty well everything and what he left out, James Joyce, with a judge from meself, put in.

The Bible was a consolation to a fellow alone in the old cell. The lovely thin paper with a bit of matress stuffing in it, if you could get a match, was as good a smoke as I ever tasted.

The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less.

The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.

There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.

When I came back to Dublin I was court-martialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.

New York is my Lourdes, where I go for spiritual refreshment . . . a place where you're least likely to be bitten by a wild goat..

It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.

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.

I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse.
a personal favorite

Brendan Behan told the story of how he got a job in London with a street repair gang. The first job he went to they were down in a hole singing Happy Birthday around the foreman. "Is it the foreman's birthday?" asked Brendan.

"No, Brendan. It's the third anniversary of the hole."

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