Behan (left) with American comedian Jackie Gleason in 1960

Brendan Behan

1923 - 1964 Irish Writer, Poet and Story Teller

BRENDAN BEHAN was born in Russell Street in Dublin, which is close to Mountjoy Square and not far from the Royal Canal. His father was a house painter and his whole extended family had a keen interest in intellectual, political and artistic matters. Brendan left school at 13 to take up his father's profession. He became involved with the Republican movement almost immediately and by the time he was 16 he was a member of the IRA. However, he seems to have had some problems with the disciplinary structures of the IRA and he was also a freelance activist. He was captured in possession of explosives while apparently attempting to blow up Liverpool Docks. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal, an English detention centre for juvenile offenders.

This was to be the fist of many custodial sentences. In 1942 he was arrested for the attempted murder of two detectives. He was jailed in Mountjoy and the Curragh and this proved to be a very formative period in his life. By the time he was released under a general amnesty in 1946 he had lost his enthusiasm for the armed struggle, learnt fluent Irish and decided to devote his life to literature. He was only 23 when this change took place.

On his release he spent a lot of time in the Gaeltacht areas of Kerry and Connemara and a period living the artistic life in Paris in the early 1950s. After that he returned to the boozy, pub centred literary life of Dublin in the fifties. His breakthrough came in 1954 with the staging of 'The Quare Fellow', his play about prison life. When the play opened in London he promoted it with a notorious drunken interview on BBC television and several other publicity stunts.

In 1957 his play 'An Giall' opened in Dublin's Damer Theatre and was soon translated and transferred to the West End as 'The Hostage'. Behan's London theatre productions were heavily influenced by the producer Joan Littlewood. In 1958 he produced an autobiographical novel called 'Borstal Boy'.

Behan is said to have described himself as 'a drinker with a writing problem' and alcohol now began to dominate his life and work. His drinking habits had changed with his new found fame and fortune and he was now partial to a cocktail of champagne and sherry. As he was a diabetic, this was a lethal combination. In 1964 he collapsed in a bar and was taken to hospital, where he subsequently died.


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Brendan Behan

Brendan Behan in Episode One

Dick speaks to Ulick O'Connor in episode one of the series, 'The Auld Triangle'. Ulick recounts humorous anecdotes and stories from Behans colourful life. Dick also visits Mount Joy Prison where his famous song, 'The Auld Triangle', was conceived.

Read More About Episode One »