BRENDAN BEHAN STANDS UP
By Tom O’Brien
A bar. Brendan is entertaining the customers. A glass of milk sits on the table.
BRENDAN: (sings) Oh a hungry feelin’ came oe’r me stealin’
And the mice were squealin’ in my prison cell
And the auld triangle went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the RoyalCanal
That’s from The Quare Fella. Do yous know who he was- The Quare Fella? Bernard Canavan was his name. He was in Mountjoy jail waiting to be strung up by Pierrepoint for chopping his brother up into little pieces and feeding him to the pigs. Not a very brotherly thing to do, was it. Mind you, he was a culchie. Still, I shouldn’t complain – it kept me in ‘stamps’ for a long time.
I love New York. New York is my Lourdes, where I go for spiritual refreshment, a place where you’re least likely to be bitten by a wild goat And New York likes Irish people. Not like England. But to be fair to the English, they only dislike some Irish – the same Irish that the Irish themselves dislike, Irish writers. Well, the ones like meself anyway – the ones that think
He takes a naggin from his pocket and takes a swig
Dublin is a jealous city. Not a bit like New York. Back there it’s hard to find a writer to admit that a fellow writer can put two words together. Becket was right when he said he’d rather France at war than Ireland at peace any day of the week.
There! Can yous hear Patrick Kavanagh?. The Monahan wanker himself! I was goin’ up in the world till I met him.- after that it was downhill all the way.
I told Kavanagh he was The Last Ploughboy of The Western World. I mean…you should see the state of him. When the Lord made us he matched us – his face and my arse. Like a bloody orangutang. Spittin’ and gobbin’ his way through Dublin. And whinging. Bejaysus, if ever there’s a begrudgery Olympics in Dublin he’d clear the board in every event. Twenty years on he’s still sittin’ in the corner of McDaids, or wherever, telling people to either buy him a pint or fuck off. You know the greatest thing he ever wrote? A fucking cheque that didn’t bounce
. (sings) On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I would one day rue
That’s a song Kavanagh wrote about Hilda Moriarty. The ‘love’ of his life. Or so he believed. I bet he never even threaded her…But let me tell you sumthin’ for nothin’ – there’s plenty that did
(sings) Ah But love is teasing and love is pleasing
And love is a pleasure when first it is new
But as it grows older love grows colder
And fades away like the morning dew.
I had the pleasure of Hilda’s company last year. Down in Limerick, the capital of culchieland. I think it was the monsoon season down there..Anyway, there I was, drying meself off in the bar of Dooley’s Hotel, when over she comes over. The belle of every ball in Dublin!
I heard Paddy followed you to Dingle for the Christmas last year, I said to her, and you never even gave him a turkey sandwich.
He wasn’t invited, she said. I thought you were his mot, says I.
I was never his…mot, as you so elegantly put it, she replied.
Well, you live and learn. Anyway, what she wanted was for me to lay of Paddy. He hasn’t been well lately, she said
Sure, he hasn’t been well all his life! He’s a fucken head case. And besides, he can fight his own fucken battles. Kavanagh’s a culchie. And I hate all culchies.Then she accused me of throwing him into the Royal canal.
Not guilty, your honor! But someone did throw him in.
Oh, they did that. Bejaysus they did! Head-first!
No, I didn’t throw him in – but I’ll tell you wha – I’d like to get hold of the bollix that pulled him out.
(sings- to the air of Galway Bay) Oh the wind that blows across the fields from Mucker
Brings a perfume that the city does not know
And the culchie in McDaids that’s drinking porter
Spakes a language that us townies do not know
Kavanagh wasn’t good enough for Hilda. A doctor’s daughter, studying medicine at UCD, and he a small farmer studying droppings on a dunghill!
How could she take that yoke home to meet mama and papa? He had a face like a horse. Not that she was short of other suiters. A little while later she married Donncha O’Malley . Thanks be to jaysus she had some bit of sense anyway. Mind you, he was another culchie…
Oh stony grey soil of Monaghan.
The laugh from my loved you thieved.
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-concieved
If he loved his stony grey soil so much why didn’t he fucken stay there. And save us all a fortune.
He picks up the glass of milk, sniffs it and puts it down again
(sings) On the eighteenth day of November
Outside the town of Macroom
The Tans in the big Crossley tender
Were driving along to their doom
But the boys of the brigade were waiting
With hand grenades primed on the spot
And The Irish Republican Army
Made shite of the whole fucken’ lot
Aren’t the Brits wonderful itself? First they put me in jail and then they made me a rich man.
I done me porridge in England.And what for? I didn’t get very far in Liverpool did ? I was goin’ to drop a peggy’s leg down the funnel of a battleship in the docks and pretend it was Guy Fawkes night. The peelers nabbed me before I even left me room. Three years Borstal. I went in a boy and came out a man. And an atheist to boot.
They said that the ruination of my country has been caused by our over-fondness for drink. As a nation, I mean. I can think of many things that caused the ruination of our country – and they had fuck-all to do with the gargle. Cromwell, The Penal Laws, Partition, to name but a few.
Any country that can send a gunboat up the Liffey, to defeat six hundred men, when she already has thirty thousand soldiers pounding the bejaysus out’a them, can’t call it cricket. With a few more guns ourselves we’d have riveted a lot more of their brave boys to the railings around O’Connell Street.
Did I not tell yous I was in the IRA? The Dublin Brigade. The elite of the Irish Republican Army. We might not have fancy guns and uniforms, but bejasus we wiped the smiles off a lot of faces with what we did have. The ould conjurers trick of potash, chloride and sulphuric acid worked wonders…
He dips his fingers in the milk and tastes it
Then I had that bit of bother in Glasnevin and I lost touch for with real life for another few years. It was my jailing for the attempted murder of a Special Branch man in Glasnevin cemetery during the Easter Rising commemoration service.
I did fire a couple of shots at the Special Branchers, but jaysus, they were firin’ at me! I went on the run, but me own side weren’t too happy. I’d taken the gun with me you see – IRA property – and I heard that they sentenced me to death in me absence. I sent them a nice letter asking them could they carry out the sentence in me absence too!
Ah, it all blew over eventually.
He pours from the naggin into the glass of milk then drinks from it. He burps in satisfaction
My ould fella wouldn’t be seen dead inside a church. But he’d call us every Sunday morning; ‘Go out and meet your God you lazy pack of hounds’
Once a priest called to get up a collection for the Fascists in Spain – and we starvin’ with the cold and hunger ourselves. Da fucked him off and the priest told we’d burn in hell for eternity. ‘At least we’ll be fucking warm’, Da shouted. All that talk about damnation. We were damned all right – like all the poor in this country. Damned with hunger.
Prayer and masturbation. The Catholic Church’s answer to promiscuity. Well, they’re fifty percent right. Sex and religion, that’s what has Ireland banjaxed. Not enough of the first and too much of the other Or is it the other way round? Ma, now, she had no interest in sex. All she did was lie back and count the pawn tickets.
During my Borstal Boy days the prison chaplain wouldn’t let me attend Mass if I didn’t renounce the IRA. I told him to fuck off. Wasn’t I in good company. Weren’t the rebels in ’98 excommunicated, wasn’t De Valera and ten thousand others ex-communicated in 1922 – me own father included? The Bishops of Ireland would ex-communicate their own mothers, given the chance – the poxy fucken’ druids.
He marches about the stage,singing
BRENDAN: (sings) My name is Brendan Behan
I’m the leader of the banned
Now that Borstal Boy
Is banned throughout the land
Banned in me own country! What do you think of that? ! I didn’t mind so much when Australia banned it – they can’t read there anyway – but me own fucking country. Sure the place is full of begrudgers.
They say my plays are a disgrace and a slander on the Irish people. They also say I had no right to put prostitutes on the stage – when veryone knows there’s not a prostitute in Ireland. I suppose St Patrick drove them out too – like the snakes!
(sings) Never throw stones at your mother
You’ll be sorry when she’s dead
Never throw stones at your mother
Throw bricks at your father instead..
(Takes a swig from his bottle) Up the Republic! Up…my arse. D’you know something? I have no politics. I make them up as I go along. Communism, Socialism, Rheumatism – they’re all the fucking same..(Swigs again) Up Dev!
Ah yes, De Valera, the fucken Spaniard. I spent four years in the Curragh at his pleasure. The scrawny bastard. It was because of him we were neutral in the war. Where England is concerned, Ireland can never be neutral. You’re either for them or against them.
They say De Valera fought against the English. But he fought against his own people too. Should we praise him for that? Brother against brother, father against son. Ireland lost some of her finest sons in that little disagreement.
(sings)‘Twas on an August morning, all in the morning hours
I went to take the morning air all in the month of flowers
there I saw a maiden and heard her mournful cry
‘Oh, what will mend my broken heart, I’ve lost my laughing boy’.
Now Michael Collins…he was the flower of the flock. No doubt about that. Do you know what, instead of executing Pierce, Connolly and the rest of them they should have charged them with disturbing the peace and given them seven days, and that would have been the end of the republican movement…
We hear music, THE BLACKBIRD, and Brendan does a little dance to it, then sings a verse of THE PATRIOT GAME
(sings) Come all you young rebels and list while I sing
For love of one’s country is a terrible thing
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame
And makes us all part of the patriot game
My brother Dominic wrote that shite…Dom the Com…He was the communist in our house…A right bleedin’ …genius he was…(laughs) One genius in the family is enough…
Brendan now imagines he is at confession. He kneels down and bless himself
BRENDAN: Excuse me now while I go to confession. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been more than twenty years since my last confession. I was ex-communicated, Father. A sixteen year-old boy ex-communicated. But, sure wasn’t I in good company? De Valera and twenty thousand IRA men were ex-communicated during the troubles. Me own father included.
Tell me, Father, is your ould racket paying well these days? I often thought I might have made a good priest. (laughs) But then, I’d have to change me religion. You don’t need to spend a lifetime studying theology to see that the Church was always against Ireland and for the British Empire. They say I am a communist, Father. They also say communism is no better than Devil-worship. Do you know wha? Pound notes are the
best religion in the world.
I’ll let you into a secret, Father. I’m only a daylight atheist. I don’t want to die for anyone – Ireland, Russia, or Abyssinia. I want to die in bed, with a mountain of pillows behind me, forty priests and a hundred nuns praying fervently that I’ll get to heaven.
(laughs) You know, when I was in goal my one consolation was the bible. Not that I read the bible. But I smoked my way through half the book of Genesis. Very good paper for the roll-ups, I found. Ah, sure you have to laugh. Do you know the only thing a priest likes better than a good conundrum? A good nun under him!
Did you know that we Irish are mentioned in the bible? Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
I’m sorry, Father. I know this is a confession box, not the Arthur Askey Show. It’s just that I haven’t done this for a long time. Still, I suppose it’s like riding a bicycle. You never forget.
Now, where shall I begin…? I suppose I should start with the drinking. Mind you, I always do. I suppose it’s a sin? Gluttony. One of the seven deadly sins. I’m a glutton for the drink alright, Father. Morning, noon and night. I just can’t stop myself.
Sure, I thought whiskey was tae till I was nearly in long trousers….Granny English kept her whiskey in the teapot. Naturally, I became a great tae drinker And later on I got a taste for the Guinness. When she’d send me along to the pub for a jug. I‘d drink half on the way back and top it up with water. You could say I was weaned on the stuff. My family have a lot to answer for. But so have the Guinness family.
(Pause) Would you say I wasted my talent, Father? Or merely squandered it. Gave it away, when I should have been charging for it. But I wanted to be liked…you know, loved.
But as soon as I became famous, I was ‘that bollix, Behan’.
Everyone should be famous for a week – and then get on with the rest of their lives. They say fame changes a body – too bloody right, it does!
I had money in me pocket for a start. Trouble was, everyone wanted to put their hand in it along with me! And I found myself asking – did they love me, or just my money? I know my family love me. And Beatrice, my wife, loves me. But do I love her enough? Tell me, Father, what’s enough? When you’re somebody, everybody is throwing themselves at you. Men and women…
Did you ever wake up in the still of the night? And there’s nobody there – only you and the empty bottle? It’s the loneliest feeling in the world. A couple of hours ago you were the toast of New York. People falling over themselves to clap you on the back. And you lookin’ the mirror in your bedroom at 3 am and you see what you really are. Jaysus Father, all
I wanted was a bit of company.
(Pause) I always wanted a bit of that. I wasn’t fussy about the nationality – or the sex – of the particular company. If you get my drift…
(Pause ) Shure I know that homosexuality is a sin. A grievous sin. That’s why I’m here. The forgiveness bit. That’s your department, Father. Whaa? Am I a practicing homosexual? What fucken practice do you need? It’s like riding a bicycle. (laughs) Well, maybe that’s not the right metaphor.
(Rubs his hands together) Now, how many Haily Marys are you goin’ to give me? Sure, I know it’s not as simple as that. The church frowns on same sex relationships. Except I’m not a fucken homosexual. I just like riding men as well as women.
Now are you goin to give me absolution. – or are you goin’ to ex-communicate me like your brothers in Christ twenty odd years ago? Or will you have to consult with the Bishop on this one…
Brendan gets off his knees and helps himself to some more drink.
BRENDAN: Hah! I’m not Brendan Behan. Just someone pretending to be him. The great pretender. Brendan got lost somewhere between Borstal and Borstal Boy. And I‘ve never been able to find him since
(takes more drink) I’m not a violent man. Not really. Don’t laugh, but I renounced violence a long time ago. Oh not because I became famous or anything like that.
(pause) A lad I’d known set off a bomb in Manchester, and all he succeeded in doing was killing a mother and her baby. Jesus, she was a young girl, younger than meself. Herself and the child. That finished me with the IRA. Ah, I still made the right noises, but my heart wasn’t in it. So when they kind’a disowned me a few years later, in a way I was glad.
Oh, they paid lip service. They would come and see my plays. Some of my first nights were more like Republican meetings than literary gatherings. But they were the rank and file. Foot soldiers like meself. And they only came because it was free tickets – and free booze.
But to the…high-ups, I was always a loose cannon. They didn’t know what I was goin’ to say or do. Sure, how could they, when I didn’t know meself half the time!
The only one I had any real respect for was Cathal. Cathal Goulding – we grew up together around Russell Street, long before I ever heard tell of the IRA. And we were together in The Fianna.
But there you go; I came out older but no wiser for all my time inside. And if I learnt anything, it was this: You can starve just as easy under a green flag as any other fucken colour. So that’s why the Republicanism took a back seat. Besides, I was too busy writing and …
(he waves a drink) gargling, to give a fiddlers fuck any more. And now even that’s deserted me. Well, the writin’ anyway. Do you know what I’m doin’? Lying down and dictating into a machine all day. Val takes it all away at the end of the session and types it up, trying to makes sense of the shagging thing. Brendan Behan’s Island; the ramblings of a fucking lunatic, that’s what they should call it. You could get a monkey to do the same thing. I’m finished as a writer…
(He turns to the barman) Give us a double half one, Mick, a vic. And one for the child. No. My fucken child! She was born last night. She was bigger than meself. Weighed in at seventeen pounds. Beatrice will be happy, anyway.
(drinks) In the midst of life we are in death, wha? (pause) I’m talking about the death of a fine American you seldom-fed culchie. Shot down in the streets of Dallas the other night. Like he was in some fucken cowboy film. Maybe it’s the best way to go. (To a barman) Here, Mick, set ‘em up again..Of course I got money…What the fuck do you think this is…? (he waves a fistful of money at the barman)
I met him, you know. John Fitzgerald. He wanted to know how many bombs I planted in all. Not half enough, I told him. I told him I always carried gelignite ‘Why’s that?’ He asked me.
Well, Jaysus,’ I said, ‘sure everyone knows dynamite isn’t safe.’
We had a good laugh over that one. ….You don’t believe me? I’ve met more presidents than you’ve had rides. Mind you, lookin’ at the head on you haven’t had many of those…
(sings) A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in their prison cells
And the old triangle went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the royal canal.
He keels over clutching his head
BRENDAN: Oh, me head. Jaysus, me head…Will someone get Beatrice and tell her…tell her I…
He gets up after a moment, sees the remainder of the milk, pours some from his naggin in and takes a swig, then sings.
BRENDAN: (Sings) She loves you yeah, yeah,
She loves you yeah, yeah
I heard that song on the wireless the other day. It’s a bunch of scousers called The Beatles. The next big thing, they say. The next best thing? They won’t get far with a name like that, singing fucking rubbish like that.
A few years ago I was the next big thing. Look at me now…
She loves you yeah, yeah
She loves you yeah, yeah
End © Tom O’Brien