Brendan Behan

Borstal Boy
  • Borstal Boy

  • 'I have him bitched, balloxed and bewildered, for there's a system and a science in taking the piss out of a screw and I'm a well-trained man at it.'

    So writes Brendan Behan, poet, writer and literary legend, of the episode that coloured his life. Arrested in Liverpool as an agitator for the IRA, he was tried and sent to reform school. He was sixteen years old.

    The world he entered was brutal and coldly indifferent. Conditions were primitive, and violence simmered just below the surface. Yet Brendan Behan found something more positive than hate in Borstal: friendship, solidarity and healing flashes of kindness. Extraordinarily vivid, fluent, and moving, this is a superb and unforgettable piece of writing. Borstal Boy was adapted into a film in 2000.

Brendan Behan was born in Dublin in 1923. A member of the IRA, he was sentenced to three years in Borstal in 1939 and a further fourteen years in 1942. He became a dominant literary figure almost overnight with the 1956 production of his play The Quare Fellow, based on his prison experiences. This recognition was reinforced by the success of Borstal Boy and his second play, The Hostage. Brendan Behan described his recreations as 'drinking, talking, and swimming' but no factual description could do justice to his flamboyant, larger-than-life character. Generally regarded as irreverent and unpredictable if not actually dangerous, there was nonetheless no publicity which ever obscured his marked talents or his great understanding of human nature. A man whose contemporaries include Flann O'Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and Anthony Cronin, Behan was a key part of Ireland's great modern literary tradition. Brendan Behan died in 1964.