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Dublin’s Most Famous Literary Figure

Published on 11th Apr 2020 at 17:12 by Antóin Ó Lochraigh

This accolade could fit a number of people in the world of literature past and present. Indeed the list is potentially endless. How does one quantify or indeed arrive at a consensus to this inexplicable question. We can list the usual luminaries, everyone has a favourite. The names slip off the tongue whether it is: Wilde, Yeats, Shaw, etc. etc. However. If one were to delve into what it means to be the personification of a Dub or Dublin person who happens or happened to be a dramatist, might we find ourselves arriving at a consensus of sorts when we think about the man himself, or the ‘Quare fella’ the redoubtable Brendan Behan? This assertion will no doubt cause great consternation to some people who prefer to leave colourful language, to put it mildly, to with Brendan might oft times resort, to the confines of the literary side lines. He was a painter by trade and throughout his life fought with the demon alcohol to which he would eventually succumb. He for his part is quoted as saying that he was a drinker with a writing problem, in typical Dublin wit.

I found myself recently singing a verse or two of a song that many people connect with Behan that being ‘The Auld Triangle’, a famous Dublin ditty. Indeed it was Dominick Behan, Brendan’s brother who penned the song for the staging of ‘The Quare Fella ‘a play about life in Mount joy Jail in Dublin by Brendan. There have been many versions of the song recorded by many great artists over the years to which we will return. The word hell raiser is another word that is closely associated with his memory. Because of his activities with certain prescribed organisations he fell foul of the Irish hierarchy and was excommunicated and indeed sampled the Irish prison system at first hand. He also travelled widely following on from productions of his plays in such places as New York, Toronto and Paris. One of his most memorable quotes according to some sources is connected with the fact that he was accused of bringing the aforementioned prescribed organisation into disrepute. As a consequence he was sentenced to death. Brendan’s retort to the sentence apparently was;

“When I came back to Dublin, I was court-martialled in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence”.

Alas alcohol would finally take its toll and Brendan had to depart the stage. In Dublin he was remembered fondly by some and perhaps not so fondly by others. In the many literary watering holes in the city oft times frequented by the troubled genius, fellow writers waited anxiously for news of his demise as he spent the last months of his life in the city of his birth. Ultimately when that fateful day did finally come it was left to a fellow writer Flann O’Brien, on hearing of Brendan’s death in March 1964 who remarked: ‘The streets of Dublin are strangely silent tonight ‘. In memory of Brendan and indeed to the many who succumbed to the work of this talented but troubled genius it is only fitting to listen to his version of this famous song ‘The Auld Triangle’.

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