Brendan Behan was born 9 February 1923 in Holles St. Hospital, Dublin, the eldest of five children of Frank Behan, a house painter, and Kathleen Behan. His father did not go to the hospital as he was in gaol, serving time for Republican activities. And Kathleen’s brother was Peadar Kearney who wrote the lyrics of ‘The soldier’s song’, which in 1926 was adopted by the new Irish Free State as the National Anthem.
Beginning in 1928 Behan attended St Vincent’s School in North William St. before later attending St Canice’s CBS on the North Circular Road. Aged fourteen he was apprenticed to his father’s trade and studied in Bolton St. technical school.
It had been noted from an early age that he had a talent for telling stories, recitation and singing. He did manage to get work as a painter, but his ambition was always to become a writer.
Aged 16 he went to Liverpool where he was arrested while in possession of explosives and was sentenced to three years’ Borstal detention. Back in Dublin in 1941 he was again in trouble, for trying to shoot a policeman, this time being handed a fourteen-year sentence, of which he served only five years.
Soon afterwards he had some poems and short stories published, and in 1954, the year that was married to Beatrice Salkeld, his play The Quare Fellow met with international success. Although acclaimed for his writing Behan also liked to be seen as a hard-drinking, fun loving character, something that he enjoyed but which took him away from his beloved writing.
In 1958 his most famous work, Borstal boy, was published to great acclaim, and this, sadly, was his final completed work. The sadness of his last years was tough to handle being as they were spent so much in the public eye. Not devoting himself to his writing made him feel bad, leading to more heavy drinking. And as a diabetic he knew only too well how it all would end.
He died in the Meath Hospital in Dublin on 20 March 1964.