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Tom O’Brien

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(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 Royal Canal

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 (more drink) Well, fuck the begrudgers, that’s what I say…

Do yous know one British critic asked me? “Mr Behan, what message is in

your writing.”“Message”, says I. “What the hell do you think I am, a bloody postman!”

Although saying that, Spain takes the biscuit. The only time I ever visited that kip

I was mobbed by a pack of hyenas – well, reporters.

Anyway, one of them, asked me what I would most like to see on my visit. Franco’s

funeral, says I. Well, before you could say Hiel Hitler, the Fascist bastards threw me

in goal. And then threw me out’a the country

(takes a swig) I saw a sign the other day which said ‘Drink Canada Dry’. Well, as you can see, I’ve made a start – this side of the border anyways.

(listens) What do I think of Canada? Ah, sure it’ll be grand when it finished.

(listens) Wha? Ah the Irish God help the Irish, if twas raining soup they’d be out there with knives and forks.

O’Casey once said it was a great place to get a letter from – Ireland I mean. Not if it’s from the fucken taxman!

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.

(sings)Behan, Cronin and John Ryan

Went to Rome with One pound nine

. While Kavanagh was on the scrounge

Every night in the Palace Bar lounge…

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

How many West End premieres has Kavanagh had? Or Broadway shows? Princess Margaret saw the The Hostage and nearly died laughing. They’d praise my balls these days if I hung them high enough.

.(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 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!

You want suspects? How about half of Dublin.

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)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

Anyway, 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 to 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

Clod concieved!

If he loved his stony grey soil so much why didn’t he fucken stay there. And save us all a fortune.

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(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? All I was going to do was stick a few Peggys Legs 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.

‘To Hell or to Connaught’. That was Cromwell’s advice to all Irish Catholics.

''Under penalty of death, no Irish man, woman, or child, is to let himself, herself, itself be found east of the River Shannon after May 1st 1654'

Ah yes, a very civilized nation the English were back then. Not that they had improved much by 1916 – or 1946

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…

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.

(sings)All round my hat I will wear a three-colour-ribbon-oh

All round my hat till death comes to me.

And if anyone ask me why I do wear it

I will say for my true love whom I ne’er more shall see.


An’ as for the oul’ religion. 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.

I didn’t want to die for anybody. I wanted to die when I was ninety, with a mountain of pillows behind me head and sixty priests and forty nuns praying fervently that I’d go to Heaven. (laughs) I’m what you’d call a daylight atheist.


(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. I just hope ‘they’ paid for their seats. 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!

(Takes a drink) They also say I’m a writer with drinking problems. But they’re wrong. I’m a drinker with writing problems. Some people comfort the afflicted; I afflict the comfortable. (he waves the naggin) This is my oxygen. If I can’t have it, I’ll suffocate.

A kleptomaniac is someone who helps himself, because he can’t help himself. I can’t help myself. I’m a kleptomaniac. An alcoholical kleptomaniac. Jaysus, there’s a mouthful…as the nun said to the nuncio

There’s only one thing worse than dying, and that’s thinking about it.


(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.

Dev should have contacted his friend Mr Hitler and asked to borrow a couple of his

doodlebugs. Then a couple of us could have dropped them on the House Of Commons

under the cover of darkness and blown the shaggin lot to kingdom come.

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

And 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…


I The slums might be gone but the poor were still with us. (laughs)

The other night a bunch of us turned up at this Hospice one night, mistakenly thinking it was a shebeen. That’s how drunk we were. “This place is for the dying” says this ould dickey-dodger to me. “I am dying”, says I. “And if I’m not dying now I will be in the morning”.

Ah Jaysus, you have to laugh. Otherwise you’d wind up crying.

(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…

Ah jaysus, sure none of this ‘geniusness’ put food on the table. My Granny English was a slum landlord – landlady – and we all lived in the pigsty together. Herself included. Someone once called us snobs. Maybe we are, said granny, but we’re working class snobs - the best kind. And Northsiders. The Northsiders and the fighting poor of Dublin are my people. There was a saying in Russell Street that to get enough to eat was a struggle, but to get drunk was an achievement. The slums might be gone now, but the poor are still with us.

Let me tell yous. A few of us were painting a big house once…up in the Dublin hills…and all you could see for miles around was grass…and cows. We were short of milk for the tae one day, and we thought we’d borrow a drop from one of the cows. Well, jaysus, what did we know about cows? That’s for culchies. Anyway, to cut a long story short the one I picked was the wrong sex, and took exception to me prodding and poking it. It was a fucken bull! I ran alright – all the way back to Russell St. And I’ve been allergic to the countryside ever since.

Ah, sure, every cripple has its own way of walking. But I don’t think I’ll ever have the

pleasure of the country. Or want it.

(Brendan takes a swig) Aw, maybe yous think I should get off the stage. Maybe yous think I’m nothing but a drunken bum! Well why should I? I wrote this shaggin’ thing. An author can be in his own play, can’t he? And as for the rest of the cast. Look at them! They don’t know what to do now! What’s the next line? Do any of yous know?


Well, do you want to know the truth? It’s all a load of fucking crap anyway Now I’ll say

goodbye to you. I have a confession to go to.


(He kneels) Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been more than twenty years

since my last confession, Father 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, Father, 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,


But as soon as I became famous, I was ‘that bollix, Behan’.

Everyone should be famous for a week – and then be let get on with the rest of their lives.

They say fame changes a body - too fucking 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 look

in 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…


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


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.

When others our age were being trained to be altar boys we were marching in the woods outside Dublin with imitation guns on our shoulders. A right pair of little maneens we were, I can tell you!

And, bejaysus, if blood is thicker than water, then so are the bonds of childhood. We didn’t do time together, but sometimes I wished we had, because, to be honest, some of the fellas I had to mix with gave places like Bally-go-backwards a good name.

And the fact that I preferred English muckers like Ginger and Charlie in Borstal, rather than my own comrades and countrymen from the hills and glens, seemed a bit disloyal.

Little things like that worried me more than the sentence – I always believed that if a fella

went into the IRA at all he should be prepared to throw the handle after the hatchet.

(laughs) Or as me ould fella would say: “die dog or shite the license”.

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) Oh me head. Jaysus, me head…

(He gets ups after a moment and takes a swig)

(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

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