“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; 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.” 

Brendan Francis Behan was a novelist, poet, playwright, songwriter and short-story writer. His writing depicts the life of ordinary men and women.

He was noted for his powerful political views, earthy satire, humour and heavy drinking.

Behan was born in Dublin’s inner city into an educated working-class family with strong Republican sympathies. His father Stephen was involved in the Irish War of Independence; his mother, Kathleen was a friend of Michael Collins whom she affectionately named ‘the laughing boy’ and his uncle Peadar Kearney was author of the Irish national anthem, ‘Soldier’s Song’.

“The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less.”

Behan spent most of the years from 1939 to 1946 in penal institutions on political charges. It was during these years that he began to write.  His first play, ‘The Quare Fellow’ (1954), depicted events twenty-four hours preceding an execution; it attacked capital punishment and public attitudes toward sex, politics, and religion. Although it was turned down by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin it eventually gained critical success. Behan’s best-known novel, ‘Borstal Boy’ (1958), drew its material from his own experiences in prison and reform schools. Other dramas include, ‘The Big House’ (1957), and ‘The Hostage’ (1958). In his plays, Behan used song, dance, and direct addresses to the audience.

“I am a drinker with writing problems”

In 1955, Behan married Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, a painter, and the daughter of a noted Dublin artist, Cecil Salkeld.  Critical attention came Behan’s way along with noteriety. During the 1950s he received a rapturous welcome in the United States. But he suffered from poor health fueled by his prolonged drinking bouts and he died in a Dublin hospital on March 20, 1964, aged only 41.

“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”


Brendan Behan (1923-1964)

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