Brendan Behan was born February 9, 1923, in Dublin, Ireland, the first child of Stephen and Kathleen (Kearney) Behan, though his mother had two sons by a previous marriage. Born into a family with radical political leanings, Behan was reared on a double dose of IRA propaganda and Catholicism. The radical Left was part of his genetic makeup. His grandmother and a grandfather were jailed for their roles in the revolution, the former for illegal possession of explosives when she was seventy years old and the latter for his part in the murder of Lord Cavendish. Both of Behan’s parents fought in the Irish Revolution and in the Troubles. Ultimately jailed for his participation in the violence, Behan’s father saw his son for the first time through prison bars.
Behan was a precocious child whose reverence for writers was spawned by his father’s readings of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens,Émile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, and various polemical treatises to his children. By Behan’s own account, his home was filled with reading, song, and revolution. Juxtaposed to this violent heritage was Behan’s conservative religious training. He attended schools run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where he was a favorite, and another operated by the Irish Christian Brothers, where he found himself in constant disfavor. His militant disposition surfaced early, when at the age of nine he joined the Fianna Éireann, the junior wing of the IRA. Most of his early adult years were spent in prison. Arrested in Liverpool at the age of sixteen for participating in IRA bombings in England, Behan spent three years in the Borstal, the English correctional institution for juvenile delinquents. Released in 1941 and deported to Ireland, Behan was again incarcerated the following year for shooting at a police officer. He had served four years of a fourteen-year sentence when he was released in 1946. Additional stays in jail followed throughout his life.
The worldview projected in Behan’s works recalls the environment in which he matured, one dominated by a radical family and by his prison experience. Cradled in the romance of revolution, Behan was cultured in a more traditional sense. Kathleen and Stephen Behan reared their children with a love for music and literature. Nurtured with a reverential attitude toward...
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