Brendan Behan

(09/02/1923 - 20/03/1964)

Brendan Francis Aidan Behan,  born in Holles Street Hospital on 9th February 1923 was  a renowned writer, novelist, playwright, and Irish Republican.

He lived with his family at 13 Russell Street near Mountjoy Square in the heart of Dublin city, a house owned by his grandmother, who also owned several other tenement buildings in the area. The family relocated in 1937 to 70 Kildare Road , Crumlin in as part of the Corporation of Dublin Housing scheme which saw tenants moved from overcrowded tenements to the then countryside based on the idealised garden city movement in the UK.

The eldest of five children, he grew up in a home steeped in Irish culture and history. His father Stephen fought in the war of Independence, and his Uncle Peadar Kearney wrote the Irish National anthem, “Amhrán na bhFiann” “A Soldier’s Song”. The house at 70 Kildare Road is known as the ‘Crumlin Kremlin‘.

His childhood was filled with literary tours of the city with his mother and bedtime stories consisting of literary classics from Dickens, Zola, Galsworthy and Maupassant with his father, but it was a short stint in prison that ignited his writing career.

Behan grew up in a deeply Republican family and became a member of the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) youth organisation Fianna Éireann at 14 and then into the IRA at 16. It was this association that landed him in a Borstal youth Prison in Hollesley Bay, Suffolk, England for three years.  During his detention, he studied and became a fluent Irish speaker. He later penned the Borstal Boy (1958), an autobiographical account where he claimed to have lost his “naivety” during his sentence. He returned to Ireland in 1941 where he was tried for the attempted murder of two detective Gardai and sentenced in 1942 to 14 years in Mountjoy Prison and the Curragh Camp.  He served 4 years and was released under a general amnesty for IRA prisoners in 1946.

Interestingly in 1950, finding himself between paramilitary and literary careers Brendan was hired by the Irish Lights company to paint St. John’s Lighthouse in Co. Down. However, it didn’t last long as he was deemed incapable of the task and the Principal Keeper pleaded with the head Office for his dismissal stating that Behan was wasteful and “not amenable to any law or order”.

Following this failed painting career, he began writing with more focus and wrote in both Irish and English.

Behan is notorious for frequenting Dublin pubs due to his alcoholism but in his short life he achieved great literary success with the publication of 6 plays and 7 books.

“I am a drinker with writing problems.”

Behan was an astonishing character, a renowned writer, poet, and playwright. Some of his famous works include his plays The Quare Fellow (1954), An Giall (The Hostage) (1958) Behan wrote the play in Irish, and then translated it to English and his books included Borstal Boy (1958).

The Quare Fellow, Brendan’s first play debuted in in Dublin 1954. In 1958 An Giall debuted at the Damer Theatre in Dublin, while the English version The Hostage received international acclaim.

His other works included: Brendan Behan’s Island (1962), Hold Your Hour and Have Another (1963), Brendan Behan’s New York (1964), Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), The Scarperer (1963) and After The Wake: Twenty-One prose works including (published posthumously in 1981).

In 1955 Brendan married Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld and they had one daughter, Blanaid Behan. In 1959, he did a live interview with the BBC in which he appeared drunk, which added to his legend as a larger-than-life figure, both revered and reviled for his irreverent charm and unapologetic demeanour.

After his stay in prison Brendan spent time living all over Ireland: Dublin, Kerry, Connemara; then Paris and in New York in the 1960’s.

Behan died suddenly at the age of 41 after collapsing in the former Harbour Lights Bar, now Harkin’s Harbour Bar on Echlin Street, Dublin, having suffered with diabetes from drinking, living behind a legacy of literary brilliance and unfulfilled potential.

Today, Brendan Behan’s name endures as a symbol of Irish literary excellence and rebellious spirit, a testament to the power of words to transcend adversity and capture the essence of the human experience. As he rests in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, his memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those who continue to be inspired by his remarkable life and work.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Write who lived on Kildare Road, Crumlin.