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Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Brendan Behan (1923-1964)

Brendan Behan, nephew of Peadar Kearney and cousin of Cathal Goulding, was born and educated in Dublin where he became a house-painter. Behan joined the IRA at age fifteen and contributed articles to the United Irishman newspaper. In 1939 he was arrested in possession of explosives in Liverpool and was imprisoned in Walton Goal while awaiting trial in February, 1940 when he was sentenced to three years in borstal.
In 1941 Behan was deported to Ireland and in 1942 he began contributing to The Bell, then under the editorship of Peadar O'Donnell.
After the Easter Sunday Commemoration march in Dublin on April 5th, 1942, Behan was involved in a shooting incident with the Gardaí Special Branch. He evaded arrest until April 10th when he was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer. He was tried on April 25th, 1942 and sentenced to fourteen years penal servitude. Behan was imprisoned in Mountjoy and Arbour Hill Gaols until September, 1943 when he was transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp. He was released in the General Amnesty at the end of December, 1946.
Behan's play The Quare Fellow was produced at The Pike Theatre, Dublin in November, 1954 and at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London in 1956. His second play An Giall was produced at The Damer Theatre, Dublin in June, 1958. He then translated the play into English and The Hostage received its premiere at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London in October, 1958. In the same year Behan published his autobiographical novel Borstal Boy. Behan subsequently published Brendan Behan's Island (1962) and Hold Your Hour, and Have Another (1963).
Behan, essentially a shy man, played the rollicking Irish stereotype of his fiction and his public life ended dramatically with his premature death in 1964.
Brendan Behan's New York and The Confession of an Irish Rebel were published posthumously. Behan's poem The Dead March Past commemorates IRA volunteers who died in the period 1936-1946.©



Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan

The Dead March Past

Behind the files of Easter Week
And rank, battalioned tread of twenty-one
Close behind the lime-stained dead of twenty-two
Sean Russell* at their head they come.

The two that swung in Birmingham, with ordered step
from off the gallows floor,
Now march beside McGrath and Harte, and the boys blown up at Castlefin,
Its fiery roar lights the wasted flesh of D'Arcy and McNeela,
Kelly, Reynolds, McCafferty made whole again to join in strict array
this dead march past on Easter Day.

Come now the lonely ones, all solitary they pass,
Maurice O'Neill, Dick Goss, George Plant, young Williams, Casey, Glynn, O'Callaghan,
On Jackey Griffith's right, comes Paddy Dermody,
So quick avenged by one as dear to us - tho' not as yet departed to the Columns of the Night.
'Rocky' Burns rises up from Chapel Lane, Charlie Kerins lives, and laughs again.
Perry and Malone from Parkhurst come to march beside McCaughey and greet the Easter dawn.

Behind the files of Easter Week,
And all the gallant dead of yesteryear they come,
Their step a hope, a dread salute
To you who march their way,
And pledge your word this Easter Day.


*References:
'Sean Russell', former Chief of Staff of the IRA, died aboard a German U Boat bound for Ireland on August 14th, 1940; 'The two that swung in Birmingham' were Peter Barnes and James McCormack who were executed by hanging on February 7th, 1940; 'McGrath and Harte', refers to IRA men Tommy Harte and Patrick McGrath sentenced to death by a Free State Military Tribunal and executed on September 6th, 1940 in Mountjoy Gaol, Dublin; 'the boys blown up at Castlefin' refers to IRA volunteers Jimmy Joe Reynolds, John James Kelly and Charles McCafferty who were killed while preparing explosives to blow up border posts on November 28th, 1938; 'D'Arcy and McNeela' refers to Tony D'Arcy and Jack McNeela who died on hunger-strike for political status in Mountjoy Gaol on April 16th and April 19th, 1940 respectively; 'Maurice O'Neill', an IRA volunteer, was executed by hanging on November 12th, 1942 after a Free State Military Tribunal sentenced him to death for allegedly killing Detective Mordaunt of the Dublin Special Branch; 'Dick Goss', an IRA Commandant, was sentenced to death by shooting by a Free State Military Tribunal for shooting at police and soldiers in County Longford. No police or soldiers died in the exchange yet Goss was executed by firing squad in Portlaoise Prison on August 9th, 1941; 'George Plant', an IRA volunteer, was executed by Free State firing squad on March 5th, 1942; 'Young Williams' refers to Tom Williams, acting Commanding Officer of C Company of the IRA in Belfast, who was hanged by the Northern Ireland Government on September 1st, 1942; 'Casey' refers to IRA Commandant Bernard Casey who was shot dead by Free State military police in the Curragh Internment Camp on December 16th, 1940; 'Glynn' was IRA Volunteer, Sean Glynn, who committed suicide in Arbour Hill Prison on September 13th, 1936 after enduring solitary confinement and being forbidden to speak to anyone for several months; 'O'Callaghan' refers to IRA Volunteer Gerry O'Callaghan who was shot dead by the RUC on August 15th, 1942; 'Jackie Griffith', an IRA volunteer who had escaped from prison, was shot dead by Gardaí in Dublin on July 4th, 1943; 'Paddy Dermody', an IRA volunteer, was shot dead by the Special Branch on September 30th, 1942; Seamus 'Rocky Burns', an IRA volunteer, was shot dead by the RUC on February 11th, 1944; 'Paddy Kerins', IRA Chief-of-Staff, was sentenced to death by a Free State Military Tribunal and executed by hanging on December 1st, 1944; 'Perry and Malone' refers to Terrie Perry, an IRA Volunteer who died in Parkhurst Prison as a result of illness on July 7th, 1942 and Joe Malone who died after an operation performed on his stomach in Parkhurst Prison on January 21st, 1941, Malone had been force-fed on hunger-strike a year previously and had never recovered his health; 'McCaughey' refers to Sean McCaughey who died on May 11th, 1946 after 31 days on hunger-strike for his unconditional release from Portlaoise Prison.
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20th Century Ireland (1939-1946)    20th Century Irish Writing
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