Brendan Behan – Red Envoy – Poem By 16-Year-Old Irish Rebel

Ireland is a nation that has raised many rebels. Generation after generation have sacrificed everything to try to free their land from colonial rule. That war goes on. One of the best known Irish rebels was the writer, playwright and poet, Brendan Behan.

At 16, Behan set off for England with a suitcase of explosives to wage a campaign against his enemies. He didn’t get far and was arrested to spend time in a borstal. This period of his life prompted the writing of his book, Borstal Boy.

The following poem was also penned by Behan when he was 16. It’s an indication of how deeply he felt about social issues. Most of us, at that age, were interested in other, more light-hearted and fickle pursuits. Yet Brendan Behan was fully immersed in social and political activism, to the extent whereby he risked his life. Foolish? Misguided? Perhaps. Brave? Certainly. Admirable? Without a doubt. Rebel Voice hopes you enjoy this socialist offering from a young Irish lad of promise, and the determination to realize at least some of his dreams.


I bring no songs of rolling drums
Of pennons flying gaily
I sing of filth and dirty slums
Gaunt man with hunger crazy
Canticles, not of virtue bright, nor holy austere lives.

I chronicle consumption’s blight
And the haggard face of wives
Who gaze on children, pale and wan
Who see no flowers nor hear birds song.

I see no beauty rave in dreams of justice, unto those
Who keep the wheels of old earth moving
And oil them with their woes
Of burning towns and brimstone red
A phoenix from the ashes dead
Our city, truth and justice wed arise.

I see this old bad order die
In a great swift blaze of fire
A structure, clear and mighty high
Born in its funeral pyre
Worker, know the world’s for thee
Were thou to raise the servile knee
From off the ground.

Brendan Behan.

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