Brendan Behan was a hard-drinking Dubliner born in 1923 and who died in 1964. Although in the IRA’s young wing of the Fianna from an early time, it was at the impetuous age of 16 that Behan joined the IRA and took himself off to England with only a suitcase full of explosives for company, determined to free Ireland by blowing the shit out of England.
Needless to say, his daring plan failed, and he ended up in a borstal which provided some experiences he later penned in his autobiography, The Borstal Boy.
Behan was a fluent Gaelic speaker from a staunch Republican family. His uncle wrote the Irish national anthem.
It was his drinking that eventually killed him at the age of 41. His funeral was one the largest ever witnessed in Dublin. He had one daughter. His songs and plays are still widely popular and critically acclaimed today.
What follows are some of his best known quotes, and may explain why the likes of a young Bob Dylan was in awe of him during his stay in New York, residing in the famous Chelsea Hotel, popularized in song by Leonard Cohen.
There is also included here one of his poems, The Laughing Boy. It is a tribute to Michael Collins who died an ignominious death at the hands of Republicans who correctly felt that he had sold out the cause of Irish freedom and abandoned hundreds of thousands of Nationalists in the Occupied Six Counties to decades of oppression under a brutal Unionist regime. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Collins did not live long enough to avail of it.
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.
If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks.
I am a daylight atheist.
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.
One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough.
The Laughing Boy
T’was on an August morning, all in the dawning hours,
I went to take the warming air, all in the Mouth of Flowers,
And there I saw a maiden, and mournful was her cry,
‘Ah what will mend my broken heart, I’ve lost my Laughing Boy.
So strong, so wild, and brave he was, I’ll mourn his loss too sore,
When thinking that I’ll hear the laugh or springing step no more.
Ah, curse the times and sad the loss my heart to crucify,
That an Irish son with a rebel gun shot down my Laughing Boy.
Oh had he died by Pearse’s side or in the GPO,
Killed by an English bullet from the rifle of the foe,
Or forcibly fed with Ashe lay dead in the dungeons of Mountjoy,
I’d have cried with pride for the way he died, my own dear Laughing Boy.
My princely love, can ageless love do more than tell to you,
Go raibh mile maith agat for all you tried to do,
For all you did, and would have done, my enemies to destroy,
I’ll mourn your name and praise your fame, forever, my Laughing Boy.
A few more quotes:
I am a drinker with writing problems.
The Bible was a consolation to a fellow alone in the old cell. The lovely thin paper with a bit of mattress 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.
All publicity is good, except an obituary notice.
Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They’re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’t do it themselves.
The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.
– If you care, give it a share –
The only Brendan Behan poem I could find in the whole internet.
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Aye, there’s a dearth of them.
Laughing Boy, The Taste of Blackberries, Springtime and Red Envoy can be found online but it would be nice to see more
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