A typical ‘Paddy’ with drink and writing woes

Brendan Behan: his image didn't do justice to his writings.
Brendan Behan: his image didn't do justice to his writings.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

One morning last week as I listened to Marty Whelan on the way to work he played a rare song from Brendan Behan about St. Kevin of Glendalough and the efforts of a local harlot to seduce him by entering his little abode under the guise of polishing up his crockery. St. Kevin though wasn’t for turning, rejecting her advances ,and promptly drowning her in the nearby lake, according to the song.

That little piece of Behan devilment, recorded on an unknown date, probably sometime back in the late 1950s or the early 1960s, was played as a birthday remembrance for a man who was born on February 9, 1923 and who passed away quite prematurely at the age of 41 in 1964 suffering from a diabetes that came about pretty directly as a result of over-indulgence in ‘the drink’.

As children, we came across occasional images of Behan as a drunken bowsy prone to giving interviews on radio television when to use an expression he was familiar with himself, he was ‘well and truly flutered’.

Four of five years back, as I wandered through some second hand bookshop, I picked up a copy of Borstal Boy, with the intention of maybe browsing through a few of the pages, but what a treat it proved to be.

Even though Behan described himself as ‘a drinker with writing problems’, he was the most entertaining, insightful and colourful of writers, and anyone who starts Bortstal Boy won’t feel like putting it down until they’ve reached the last cover.

Behan was born into a hard core Republican family in Dublin’s inner-city and was a fully-fledged member of the IRA by the time he was 16.

There was no shortage of ambition with Behan in the late 1930s when he hatched up an outrageous but hopeless plot to blow up Liverpool Docks. He was intercepted by the British Police before he could light a match and incarcerated for three years following a court appearance in Liverpool.

Behan was apparently found with potassium chlorate in his luggage and his creative excuse that ‘the chemical was to treat an ear condition’ he had developed, cut no ice at all with the British judge, who was in fact quite lenient with the three year sentence on the basis of Behan’s youth – by then just days short of his 17th birthday.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.