BRENDAN BEHAN

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Brendan Behan

Biography

Biography
Two views courtesy of two European sites.
(We could find little from Ireland and no Official/Behan Society site??)

Brendan Behan (9 February, 1923-20 March, 1964)
was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English. He was also a committed Irish Republican. Behan was one of the most successful Irish dramatists of the 20th century.

Early Life
Behan was born in inner-city Dublin into an educated working class family. The house the Behan family lived in belonged to his grandmother, who owned a number of properties in the area. His father, a housepainter who had been active in the Irish War of Independence, read classic English writers to the children at bedtime and his mother took them on literary tours of the city. Behan's uncle, Peadar Kearney, wrote the Irish National Anthem. At the age of thirteen, Behan left school to follow his father's footsteps in the housepainting business.

Republican Activities
In 1937, the family moved to a new local authority housing scheme in Crumlin. Here, Behan became a member of Fianna Eireann, the youth organization generally sympathetic to the IRA and published his first poems and prose in the organization's magazine Fianna: the Voice of Young Ireland. In 1939, Behan was arrested in Liverpool in possession of explosives for use in a planned IRA bombing campaign. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal Prison (Kent) and did not return to Ireland until 1941. In 1942, Behan was tried for the attempted murder of two detectives and sentenced to fourteen years. Behan 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. In 1947, he spent a short time in prison in Manchester for helping a fellow republican to escape from jail.

Behan the Writer
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. 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.

His major breakthrough came in 1954 when his play The Quare Fellow , which was based on his experiences in jail, was produced in the Pike Theatre in Dublin. The play ran for six months. In May 1956, The Quare Fellow opened in the Theatre Royal, Stratford in a production by Joan Littlewood, bringing international fame to the author. In 1957, his Irish language play, An Giall (The Hostage) opened in the Damer Theatre and his autobiographical novel Borstal Boy was published. Behan was now established as one of the leading Irish writers of his generation.

By far the most famous Irish writer of his time he was once hired to write an advertising slogan for Guinness. As part of his payment for this the company offered him half a dozen kegs of their drink. After a month the company asked Behan what he had came up with, Behan had already managed to drink all of the beer they had given him and produced the famous slogan 'Guinness makes you drunk'.

Decline and Death
Behan found fame difficult to deal with. He had long been a heavy drinker (describing himself, on one occasion, as "a drinker with a writing problem",) and developed diabetes in the early 1960s. This combination resulted in a series of notoriously drunken public appearances, both on stage and television. After 1957, his books consisted of transcriptions of tape recorded conversation or of works written long before that date. He died in the Meath Hospital , Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Brendan Francis Behan (1923-1964)

Irish author noted for his powerful political views and earthy satire. While not in jail or in pubs, Behan worked in odd jobs and wrote plays and stories that colorfully depicted the life of the ordinary working men. Several of his books were banned in Ireland. Behan spent most of the years from 1939 to 1946 in English and Irish penal institutions on political charges. However, his writings are lively, full of humor and do not show much signs of anger or polemical fervour.

"... it was not really the length of sentence that worried me - for I had always believed that if a fellow went into the I.R.A. at all he should be prepared to throw the handle after the hatchet, die dog or shite the licence - but that I'd sooner be with Charlie and Ginger and Browny in Borstal than with my own comrades and countrymen any place else. It seemed a bit disloyal to me, that I should prefer to be with boys from English cities than with my own countrymen and comrades from Ireland's hills and glens." (from Borstal Boy, 1958)

Brendan Behan was born in Dublin and lived his childhood in the slums of the city. In spite of the surroundings, he did not become an unlettered slum lad, but had an alert and incisive mind. His family on both sides was traditionally anti-British. At Behan's birth, his father was in a British compound because of involvement in the Irish uprising of 1916-1922. Behan attended Catholic schools. He also owed much of his education to his family, well-read, and of strong Republican sympathies. Behan left school at the age of 14 and worked as a house painter. From the age of nine he had served in a youth organization connected with the IRA, and in the late 1930s he was IRA's messenger boy.

In 1939 Behan was arrested on a sabotage mission in England and sentenced to three years in Borstal in a reform school for attempting to blow up a battleship in Liverpool harbour. After release Behan returned to Ireland, but in 1942 he was sentenced to 14 years for the attempted murder of two detectives. He served at Mountjoy Prison and at the Curragh Military Camp. In 1946 he was released under a general amnesty. He was in prison again in Manchester in 1947, serving a short term for allegedly helping an IRA prisoner to escape. During his years in prison, Behan started to write, mainly short stories in an inventive stylization of Dublin vernacular. In 1952 he was deported to France. Later he lived in Paris and Dublin, writing for Radio Telefis and for the Irish Press. Behan's best-known novel, BORSTAL BOY (1958), drew its material from his experiences in the Liverpool jail and Borstal school (reform school). The young narrator moves from rebellious bravado to greater understanding of himself and the world: "There were few Catholics in this part of the world and the priest had a forlorn sort of a job but Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love." .

Behan also sailed intermittently on ships - he had become a certified seaman in 1949. Behan's first play, THE QUARE FELLOW, was based on his prison experiences. It was presented at an avant-garde club in 1956 and gained critical success. The events were set during the twenty-four hours preceding an execution. Behan attacked capital punishment, but also false piety behind public attitudes toward such matters as sex, politics, and religion. His other plays include THE BIG HOUSE (1957) and THE HOSTAGE (1958), written in Gaelic under the title An Giall and set in a disreputable Dublin lodging house - or a brothel - owned by a former IRA commander. The play was acclaimed in London, Paris, and New York. It depicts events that surround the execution of an eighteen-year-old IRA member in a Belfast jail. The audience never sees him - he has been accused of killing an Ulster policeman and sentenced to be hanged. A young British soldier, Leslie Williams, is held hostage in the brothel. After the IRA prisoner has been executed Leslie is eventually killed in a gunfire, when the police attack the place. Before it a love story develops between Leslie and Teresa, a young girl, who promises never to forget him. In the finale Leslie's corpse rises and sings:
The bells of hell
Go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.
Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Or grave thy victory?

In his dramas Behan used song, dance, and direct addresses to the audience, which showed the influence of Bertolt Brech. These methods were typical of the style of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, which staged several of his Behan's. Littlewood viewed the theater as a collective and revised much of his script for The Hostage - the author himself approved all changes. Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, which gained a huge success and left deep impact on modern theatrical style, disbanded in 1973.

Notoriety and critical attention came to Behan in the mid-1950s and contributed to his downfall and death. "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." His irresolute discipline collapsed into prolonged drinking bouts, and self-destructive incidents. The Hostage was Behan's last major drama - his last books were compilations of anecdotes transcribed from tape recordings. Like Dylan Thomas, he was lionized to death in the United States. A lifelong battle with alcoholism ended Behan's career in a Dublin hospital on March 20, in 1964, at the age of 41. - Behan's works have been translated into several languages, among them Stücke fürs Theater (1962) by Heinrich Böll.



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