Brendan Behan is one of my heroes, and he was a flawed human just like me. It is probably because of him that I wanted to become a writer. I first became aware of Brendan’s work during my early teens. Somebody put a copy of Borstal Boy in my hands and nothing was ever quite the same afterwards. This memoir completely captivated me from the first page. It played with my emotions in a way that I had never experienced with any other book.
Brendan Behan forced me into a world that existed decades before my birth. He made me endure every feeling along with him. I cried and laughed, and when I reached the end of the book he made me go right back to page one and begin the story all over again. Brendan didn’t tell you how he felt but instead made you feel it with him – something only a truly talented writer can achieve.
Growing Up In Brendan Behan’s Dublin
Of course, I had heard of Brendan Behan before I read his books. I grew up in Dublin, so it would be impossible to avoid hearing about him. My grandfather had worked for Johnston Mooney & O’Brien’s in Ballsbridge. He would entertain me with stories of meeting Brendan in the local pubs. The writer would often turn up to the bar with his typewriter and rarely left without making a drunken scene. I laughed at this. I liked the idea of Brendan writing his books while also spending the day getting stupid-drunk.
The more I read of Brendan Behan the greater his affect on me. His way with words was just so special. He could come across as a right git one minute, but have you almost crying for his misfortune the next. He would be rebel-rousing in one chapter, and acting like the most hardened-Republican, but the next he would be pointing out our common humanity. His story of going to bomb the Brits because of his early hatred of them developed to an understanding that we were all deep down suffering from the same common condition. Brendan taught me at the age of thirteen that things weren’t simply black and white – especially people.
I remember reading his biography and stories of how he was such a voracious reader as a child. One day there was no books nearby so he started reading bus tickets – I was like that too. My father worried that I read too much as a child and would chase me out of the house.
Brendan Behan Has a Lot to Teach Us about Terrorism
When he was sixteen years old, Brendan tried to plant bombs in England. He was caught and sent to borstal. Despite his earlier terrorist activities his work was later well received in the UK. In fact, many of the old enemy fell in love with this drunken Irishman. His books and plays provided a more complex view of the human race – it wasn’t simply about good and evil. His play ‘The Quare Fellow’ showed capital punishment for what it was – a barbaric act. Borstal Boy showed how we can all be driven by our cultural or religious influences but at a deep level we are still the same. This message is something that is so sorely needed in an age when so many people are trying to demonize other groups. To simply call our enemies evil didn’t work back then and it doesn’t work now.
Brendan Behan and Me
Of course, there was no ignoring Brendan’s alcohol addiction, but in my teens this just made him all the more glamorous. I loved the story of how he was sent to England by the IRA to fetch an escaped prisoner and bring him back to Ireland. Even though Brendan had been banned from entering the UK he got hopelessly drunk on the ferry over. The escaped republican had to carry Brendan onto the boat and the two of them nearly got caught. It was only the fact that Brendan was starting to become famous that he wasn’t shot by his own people. As a teenager this just made Brendan seem more of a hero. I didn’t realize that it just meant he was out of control.
I followed Brendan Behan into addiction. I stayed there for almost two decades, but unlike him I escaped. All these years later and Brendan’s alcoholism no longer seems like a sign of great artistic depth. I can now see the reality. Addiction stole everything from him. His talent didn’t come from a bottle but instead that is where he lost it -such a waste. Brendan was 41 when he died, and this is the same age that I’m now.
In some ways my early fascination with Behan was naive. He wasn’t quite the great man that I thought him to be. All the same though, he sure had a way with words. He had a talent that only a few people possess – not only the ability to write, but the ability to see human nature at its core. For a tragically short period. he could put his observations in written form and they still remain for us to enjoy – the drink couldn’t steal that from him.
I sometimes wonder what my hero might think of me. Maybe he would see me as a bit of a traitor because I don’t share his Irish Republican sympathies (those ideas didn’t make it past my teens). He probably wouldn’t have even considered me a real Dubliner because I grew up in the suburbs. Most of all though I wonder what Brendan would have thought about my adopted home – Thailand. He wrote two travel books; Brendan Behan’s Island and Brendan Behan’s New York. Imagine if there had been a Brendan Behan’s Thailand – now that would be a cracking read.
Buy Borstal Boy in Amazon US
Buy Borstal Boy in Amazon UK
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