Brendan Francis Behan (1923-1964) poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright was born at 13 Russell Street in Dublin’s north inner city into a republican family. He wrote in both English and Irish. He was also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.
Behan joined the IRA at sixteen, which led to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in England and was also imprisoned in Republic of Ireland. During this time, he took it upon himself to study and he became a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moved between homes in Dublin, Kerry and Connemara and also resided in Paris for a period.
In 1954, Behan’s first play The Quare Fellow was produced in Dublin. It was well received; however, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gained Behan a wider reputation – this was helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language An Giall had its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre.
Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English-language adaptation of An Giall, met with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, was published the same year and became a worldwide best-seller. Behan was known for his drinking problem, which resulted in his suffering from diabetes, which ultimately resulted in his death on 20 March 1964. He was given an IRA guard of honour which escorted his coffin and it was described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.