Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies

Journal of Irish Studies: Belated Behan: Brendan Behan and the cultural politics of memory

Belated Behan: Brendan Behan and the cultural politics of memory

John Brannigan

ON the evening of 30 November 1939, Brendan Behan went to his family home, 70 Kildare Road in Dublin, and packed a suitcase. The suitcase contained chlorate of potash and paraffin wax, which was mixed with gelignite to form an explosive compound. It also contained ampoules of sulfuric acid, which, when inserted into wax-filled condoms, would corrode and ignite the explosives. While Behan packed his case, his tense, disapproving family gathered around his father at the fireside, who was reading aloud from a favorite book of Behan’s childhood, Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers. Behan left the house with familiar tales of Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle ringing in his ears. He arrived in Liverpool the following morning, where he went to a lodging house and began to prepare his bombs. He was arrested that afternoon by Liverpool detectives before he could carry out his plans. According to different accounts, he was preparing to bomb either British navy ships at Cammell Lairds dock-yards or a department store in the center of Liverpool.

Almost twenty years later, on 3 April 1959, Behan sat in the back of a car being driven around Paris by a chauffeur, on the occasion of the run of his play The Hostage, representing Great Britain in the Theatre de Nations festival. Behan noticed that the Union Jack was flying on one side of the car. He leaned forward to the driver and told him that if he stuck another Union Jack on the other side, he might drum up a bit more trade for the play.

I begin with these two anecdotes from Brendan Behan’s life because of the narratives that seem to resonate between them–narratives of nationalism and betrayal, of commitment and compromise, of militancy and recalcitrance, and indeed of violence and writing. The critical reputation of Behan’s writings is conventionally determined by the oppositions and hierarchies suggested by these anecdotes: that Behan was a Republican who deserted his political commitments for the attractions of literary fame in England; that he turned from cultural nationalism to cultural anomie; that he allowed his writings to become the vehicles of stage-Irish amusements for the metropolitan audiences of London’s West End. (1) In this article, I argue for an alternative conception of Behan’s work, in which these oppositions and hierarchies are inverted, in which writing enabled Behan to articulate dissident and critical perspectives on cultural nationalism in mid-century Ireland. I will argue that Behan’s writings participate in the emergence of revisionist and postcolonial critiques of modern nationalism, even, and especially, at the point at which these literary productions are indebted to nationalist discourses and iconographies. This is the case in each of Behan’s major writings, as it is the case in his lesser known works. I draw largely on his weekly column for The Irish Press, to which he contributed from 1954 to 1956, when for the first time in his writing career and at a critical moment in the nation’s literary history Behan had access to a nationwide Irish audience.

There is, then, an alternative narrative between the two moments of Behan’s life sketched above that I want to pursue in the course of this essay, a narrative that has both particular pertinence for Behan’s writings, and general significance for the relationship between literature and nationalism. My argument follows that of Simon During in an essay published initially in Homi Bhabha’s 1990 collection, Nation and Narration. There During contends that literature acts “as other to, or resistance against” discourses of nationalism, (2) constructing his argument as a sympathetic revision of Edward Said’s notion that literature “belongs to, gains coherence from, and in a sense emanates out of, the concepts of nation, nationality and even of race.” (3) Although During accepts that literature can and frequently does function in ways that legitimize national identities and indeed the nation-state, he argues that literature exceeds the discursive and representational demands of nationalism and belongs more closely to a “civil imaginary” than the cultural constructions of nationalism. (4) At its simplest level, During’s argument is no more ambitious than to suggest that “literature has operated in different social spaces than nationalism, employing different signifying practices.” (5) His implications, however, are more significant: namely, that literature might embody, to adapt Fredric Jameson’s phrase, the cultural and “political unconscious” of nationalism.

During’s is an argument with particular resonance for the relationship between literature and nationalism in mid-century Ireland, as similar positions were rehearsed in the debates surrounding the emergence of Irish literary studies during Behan’s lifetime. Behan arrived on the Irish literary scene in the midst of contentious argument about the condition and shape of Irish literary criticism, and indeed about the “social mission” (to borrow Chris Baldick’s term (6)) of criticism in Irish society more generally. The intervention of the Irish state in cultural production, the most obvious manifestation being the censorship program introduced in 1929, attempted to yoke culture into the service of defining and policing state ideology. In contrast, the prevailing tendencies of Irish literature after independence tended toward revisionist politics. Sean O’Faolain, who Behan facetiously referred to as his “father confessor, nursemaid, and prison visitor,” (7) argued in The Bell that the time for nationalist symbols had passed: “these belong,” he wrote, “to the time when we growled in defeat and dreamed of the future.” (8) Behan shared O’Faolain’s sense of indignation at the process by which the nation-state attempted to dictate and delimit the meaning of Irishness, to define some cultural expressions as native and natural and others as foreign and corrupt. In The Irish Press, Behan argued that the Irish-Ireland movement of the revival had worked by a process of exclusion and fabrication, obliterating the folk-culture of working-class Dubliners in order to replace it with a phoney, Gaelic League-sanctioned culture. (9) These “Irish-Irelands,” Behan argues, “practically killed the old ballads of Dublin forty years ago with the rise of the Gaelic League.” (10)

The critical debates of this period, I would argue, were staging a struggle between alternative conceptions of Irish cultural identity. In this sense, there was an explicit acknowledgment of the constitutive role of literature in exercising what During calls the “civil imaginary”–in practice, a form of struggle between competing versions of cultural memory, in which “memory” became the site of cultural and political contention. Whereas the state nationalism of “the age of de Valera” emphasized the memorial project of recovering an Irishness that was Gaelic, rural, and Catholic, the literary and historical revisionism of the 1940s and 1950s engaged in what Peter Burger calls “dialectical criticism,” which, the author explains, “enters into the substance of the theory to be criticized and derives decisive stimuli from its gaps and contradictions.” (11) Such criticism is necessarily belated, returning to the theories and writings of the past in order to effect its own interventions and revisions. O’Faolain gave expression to literary revisionism in The Bell, in which his editorials persistently returned to the failure of modern Irish politics to progress beyond an atavistic and myopic nationalist agenda, and his contributors were invited to present Ireland within a counter-nationalist discourse of plurality and paradox. Equally, the emergence of modern historiography in Ireland in the 1930s was constructed “in conscious reaction against the excesses of nationalist history, then politically embodied in de Valera’s constitution that declared Ireland as Gaelic, Catholic and indivisible.” (12) The revisionist debates of the mid-century were embroiled in the cultural politics of Irish memory, in which incitements to memory and commemoration were imbricated within contested notions of Irishness.

Behan’s writings, I would argue, are inseparable from these debates, and themselves counterpose the amnesia of state nationalism by bearing witness to that which nationalism excludes and forgets–the executed of The Quare Fellow, for example, or the discontents of Behan’s working-class Dublin. For Behan, memory played a crucial role in grounding identity, and this is the subject of his belated engagement with the nationalist mythologies of the revival.

In contrast to the cultural nationalism of his youth, Behan’s writings frequently counter the logic of cultural anomaly and exclusivity by interrogating the analogous cultural experiences of Irish and English peoples. In The Hostage, this commonality is symbolized in the cultural rapport that develops between the English hostage, Leslie, and his Irish captors or indeed, at a formal level in his reworking of the common cultural forms of “music hall,” shared between Behan’s Dublin upbringing and that of his audiences in London’s East End. In Borstal Boy, Behan comments on the common class identifications he shares with working-class English boys:

I had the same rearing as most of them, Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester,

Glasgow, London. All our mothers had all done the pawn-pledging on Monday,

releasing on Saturday. We all knew the chip shop and the picture house and

the fourpenny rush of a Saturday afternoon, and the summer swimming in the

canal and being chased along the railway by the cops. (13)

Behan’s description of this common working-class culture is, I would suggest, aware of the degree to which such a culture had gained considerable authority and prestige in the literary marketplace in England in the 1950s. Borstal Boy shares with works by Alan Sillitoe, Frank Norman, and Colin MacInnes themes of juvenile delinquency, political disillusionment, and self-conscious masculinity that marked the emergence of what Alan Sillitoe described at the time as the new proletarian novel. (14) But Behan was not just plugging into the demands and fashions of the literary markets in England, for he had also begun to delineate the contours of an Anglophone urban Ireland in his earlier writings for The Irish Press. Perhaps the most important point here is that he gave full credence to the legacy of British army culture among the Dublin working class:

On Wednesdays and I a child, there were great gatherings of British Army

pensioners and pensionesses up on the corner of the North Circular, in


When the singing got well under way, there’d be old fellows climbing up and

down Spion Kop till further orders and other men getting fished out of the

Battle of Jutland, and while one old fellow would be telling of how the

Munsters kicked the football across the German lines at the Battle of the

Somme, there’d be a keening of chorused mourners crying from under their

black shawls over poor Jemser or poor Mickser that was lost at the

Dardanelles. (15)

The subculture Behan depicts in these sketches includes not just the folk songs and stories of British army experiences, which returned images and anecdotes of India, South Africa, the Dardanelles, and the Somme to the purview of Behan’s “ordinary Dubliners,’ but it also acknowledges the significant value of British army pensions to the economic conditions of post-independence Dublin. (16) Such a vibrant subculture found itself, in Behan’s depictions at least, diverging from the rhetoric of self-sufficiency that pervaded “the age of de Valera,” and thus indicated ways in which Behan’s representations of cultural hybridity in post-independence Dublin could imply critical perspectives on the state and its cultural agenda.

In the course of his writings for The Irish Press, Behan frequently returns to the persistence of British army influence in working-class Dublin culture, juxtaposing the sense of a Republican tradition with the history of participation in the British army. In March 1956, he describes how scenes from the Great War, as much as the 1916 Rising, dominated the imagination of his Dublin. “I’m now going to give my eyewitness account of my father’s death in action at the Dardanelles,” he begins, and then describes a scene in which he sat among army widows as they watched a documentary film, Gallipoli, or Tell England, as it was called when shown in England:

The picture got off to a good start, with the fellow in the orchestral

stalls knocking hell out of his drum during the bombardment of the shore

batteries. The next thing we saw was what we were waiting for–the soldiers

charging down the gang-planks of the landing-craft. From every part of the

gods the screeches went up, “Oh, there’s our Mickser.” Other old ones

screeched: “Oh, take me out, I can’t stick it. There’s me husband in the

water.” Granny Carmody was not to be bested and let a roar out of her that

you’d hear in Gallipoli, “Oh, me own sweet onion, there he is, me poor

first husband’s brother.” As the face that appeared close up that moment

was that of a bearded Indian, I was very much impressed by the Granny’s

relations. (17)

Behan then proceeds to let out his own roar, claiming to see his father being killed in the picture, “for the good reason,” he says, “that you might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.” (18) As Behan’s suspicion of his granny’s relations and his own dubious vision of his father being killed suggest, there is some cause to doubt whether the expressions of grief voiced in the picture house are entirely genuine. Like other scenarios Behan depicts in his Irish Press column, these outcries might be another attempt by Behan’s outcast Dubliners to forge the illusion of remembrance in order to arrogate some degree of attention and authority to themselves. Most interesting, however, is not just the object of memory, but the implications, repeatedly professed by Behan and his contemporaries, that their own time is infinitely impoverished compared to that of the generations immediately preceding them.

“We in Ireland are all in a sense children of the revolution,” wrote F.S.L. Lyons. (19) His point registers both the indebtedness of state nationalism to the insurgents, and indeed the obsession with the mythology of revolution, that Fintan O’Toole evokes in his childhood memories of Ireland during the 1966 commemoration ceremonies. (20) Behan demonstrates the mesmeric hold of the 1916 Rising in his short sketch for The Irish Press, “The family was in the Rising.” (21) He begins by quoting Yeats’s “Sixteen Dead Men,” which itself gives voice to the notion that the death of the insurgents should induce silence among the living. Instead, in Behan’s pub scenes, the living do nothing but talk of the 1916 Rising and, more importantly, their various highly fictionalized roles in it. Behan’s sketch acknowledges the 1916 Rising as a potent mythical event, a piece of pure theatre that, as Yeats’s poetic representations suggest, owed more to the aesthetic than the political imagination:

“To take as a headquarters the most prominent target in the whole city,”

said a man in a middle-aged growl, “what ridiculous strategy.”

Old George Roberts took the tumbler from his little full lips and stroked

on his beard. “But what taste–what impeccable taste,” said he.

“Me life on you,” said I: for I knew what he meant. Hadn’t I stood in the

Queen’s Theatre, with the frenzied Saturday night crowd, for the

“Transformation Scene: Burning GPO,” while the very amplifiers carrying

Pearse’s oration over the grave of Rossa were deafened in a mad roar of

cheering that went on till the darkness came down and we had till the end

of the next act to compose our features and look at our neighbours without

embarrassment? (22)

The 1916 Rising, replayed scene by scene in the popular theatres of Dublin, forms a cathartic night of frenzied entertainment for Behan and his fellow theatregoers, who, it seems, are transformed themselves by the “Transformation Scene.” Behan describes this theatrical event as an experience of dislocation, from which the audiences have to recover in order to compose themselves. As such it dramatizes the temporal dislocation of the post-independence generation, which, steeped in the association of Irishness with the mythology of sacrifice and struggle, can only watch the moment at which Irish national identity is affirmed and fulfilled through the medium of melodrama.

“There was nothing remote about it,” writes Behan, reflecting on the paradoxical currency of the 1916 Rising with his own time: (23

When I was nine years old I could have given you a complete account of what

happened from Mount Street Bridge out to the Battle of Ashbourne, where I

was giving Tom Ashe and Dick Mulcahy a hand. I could tell you how Sean

Russell and I stopped them at Fairview, and could have given you a fuller

description of Easter, 1916 than many an older man. You see, they were

mostly confined to one garrison–I had fought at them all. (24)

Behan’s recollection of his heroic role in the Rising is anamnesis, par excellence, of course. “I have learned enough arithmetic to know that I could not possibly have taken part in the Rising, which happened seven years before I was born,” he writes, yet still he can recall the events of the 1916 Rising more vividly than its actual participants. (25) His representation of “total recall” of the Easter Rising is indicative of what might be called a “memory crisis” in the nationalist discourses of the mid-century. On the one hand, memory functions characteristically to distance its referent and to register loss or absence. On the other hand, the continual evocation of the formative events in the evolution of state nationalism produces the effect of constant presence. Such a crisis is particularly evident when, as Francis Mulhern argues, the bankruptcy of official nationalist ideologies under de Valera “meant, in effect, the obsolescence of `the Irish nation’ as a sustainable cardinal value.” (26) De Valera’s failure to “complete” the nationalist revolution, and more importantly his legitimizing embrace of the counter-revolutionary ideologies of state nationalism, left cultural nationalism in the mid-century with nothing but its memories. As Homi Bhabha argues of the nation-state in general, “the language of culture and community is poised on the fissures of the present becoming the rhetorical figures of a national past.” (27) Bhabha suggests, as indeed does Richard Terdiman, that the displacement enacted in such communal experiences of memory serves to “bring the entire problem of representation into focus.” (28)

The anamnetic imagination of the 1916 Rising, then, points to the constitutive failure of modern nationalism; in situating nationalist heroism ambivalently and insecurely in the past, Behan implies the instability of the nationalist project. Through these recurring themes of memory and anamnesis, Behan articulates dissident and critical perspectives on the forces and ideologies of nationalism in post-independence Ireland. In The Hostage, for example, the nationalist characters are figured as anachronistic, particularly in the character of Monsewer who, perhaps like Behan in his sketch, believes that he is still fighting in the war of independence. The hanging of “the quare fellow,” in the play of that title, figures the tragic, indeed amnesiac, repetition of the social, political, and cultural structures of colonialism under the nationalist state, and so brings into focus the process by which nationalism fails to inaugurate a new time, fails to enact the temporal logic of revolution. In Borstal Boy Behan is constructed initially through the memorial iconography of the “dead generations” of nationalism. He compares himself to Thomas Clarke and Terence MacSwiney and follows the conventions of the nationalist prison narrative, but by the end of his autobiographical novel, Behan has learned to love the English and simultaneously recognizes the ideological limitations of nationalism as an emancipatory discourse. This recognition, one could argue, entails either an active forgetting of his nationalism or, alternatively, a remembrance of his hybridity.

Each of Behan’s major writings enters into a belated exchange with the literary and cultural legacies of the Irish nationalist revival–evident, for example, in The Quare Fellow, which can be read in intertextual dialogue with Douglas Hyde’s The Twisting of the Rope. In its original title, The Quare Fellow was written to borrow from, and respond to, Douglas Hyde’s Casadh an tSugain (The Twisting of the Rope); Behan wrote the play originally in Gaelic as Casadh Sugain Eile (The Twisting of Another Rope). Michael O’Sullivan suggests that Behan’s motive in alluding to Hyde’s play was to win favor with Ernest Blythe’s notoriously narrow-gauge Irish-Ireland agenda via a deliberate reference to the founder of the Gaelic League. But I want to suggest that there was more at stake in Behan’s allusion to Hyde. Hyde’s dramatic version of an Irish myth of banishment was transformed in the play, eventually performed as The Quare Fellow, into a stinging indictment of the practices of capital punishment endorsed by the Irish Republic–of which, of course, Hyde was president from 1938 to 1945.

As a piece of anti-hanging propaganda, The Quare Fellow (29) works by exposing the dehumanizing effects of execution and imprisonment. It builds and sustains the atmosphere of hypocrisy and guilt among the prison authorities, as well as the callous indifference of the prisoners. The only indication that the prisoners share sympathy for the condemned man occurs when, at the moment of execution, they cry out a mocking parody of the warders: “One off, one away, one off, one away” (121). Such a unanimous piece of disturbing mimicry by the prisoners clearly enrages the warders, playing on their sense of guilt and shame. In this moment, the prisoners reveal the complex interplay of emotions and ideologies that underpins the relationship between captors and captives and threatens to expose the anomalous existence of capital punishment within a nominally liberal society.

In its original title Behan’s play does not just allude to Hyde’s Casadh an tSugain, but imposes itself more forcefully into the interpretive grid and allegorical codes of Hyde’s play. Hyde’s work tells the story of how a group of villagers, fearful of the power of the poet Hanrahan who attends their dance, set out to banish him by tricking him into twisting a rope, an action that takes him outside. Twice in the play, the rope is associated with hanging, while on another occasion the banishment of Hanrahan is represented as a form of exile. Hanrahan’s expulsion from the house dance is associated metaphorically, then, with hanging and exile, the twin forms of expulsion most familiar to nineteenth-century Irish nationalism. As a parable of exclusion, The Quare Fellow engages productively with Hyde’s play, offering a virulently revisionist panacea to cultural nationalist utopianism. Whereas Hyde offered his turn-of-the-century audiences a nationalist play that elicited humor from the provincial rivalries of Connacht and Munster, The Quare Fellow hardens those rivalries into political and class-based factions within a nationalist state. Political and religious elites coalesce to form a powerful, conservative orthodoxy, symbolized in The Quare Fellow by state officials who talk of God “so as you’d think God was in another department, but not long off the Bog” (63)–by men who attempt to conceal their failures through hypocrisy and neglect. The prison setting of the play is an obvious dystopian site, and, like the various representations of emigration and poverty in writings contemporaneous with The Quare Fellow, serves as a strong counterpoint to the self-serving narrative of progress and contentment proffered in post-independence political discourse. Casadh an tSugain emphasized the divisions and debates within nationalism, whereas through heavy irony Behan’s play belatedly reveals the tragi-comic incoherence of nationalist ideologies. Dunlavin tells us that “the Free State didn’t change anything more than the badge on the warder’s caps,” despite his belief that when the Free State came into being the prisoners would get feather beds to replace their mattresses (59). The Free State is no feather bed, Behan implies, its prisons full of murderers–the thieves and the corrupt politicians foolish enough to get caught. The most ardent defense of the state comes from a prisoner who, it turns out, is a politician imprisoned for embezzlement, yet whose powerful nationalist connections have enabled him to send his nephew to the British military academy at Sandhurst (94). Such ironies abound in The Quare Fellow, in which the inclusivist, cosy rhetoric of nationalist political discourse is consistently undermined by reminders of failure, corruption, and a routine acceptance of surviving colonial disciplinary practices.

Hyde was President of the Irish Republic when Behan began to write The Quare Fellow, or Casadh Sugain Eile, as it was then titled. Indeed, Hyde had signed, albeit with some hesitation, the Emergency Powers Act, legislation giving de Valera’s government sweeping powers to intern, arrest, convict, and execute Behan’s I.R.A. comrades without the right to proper legal defense. The play avoids any suggestion that its critique of the nationalist state reproduces the terms of civil war conflict between the partitionist “Staters” and the Republican idealists. To focus on the execution of an I.R.A. prisoner would have rendered Behan’s revisionist critique crudely partisan. Instead, the play features the more sensational hanging of a man who killed his brother with a “meat-chopper”–a “real bog-man act,” as Dunlavin tells us (42)–itself an ironic twist on the pastoral emphasis of de Valera’s political visions. Establishing both continuity and dialogue with Hyde’s own classic play, however, deftly shifted the grounds of Behan’s critique to a re-consideration of the formative discourses and representations of cultural nationalism. Behan attempts to appropriate the authority of Hyde’s play for his dystopian vision of what Frantz Fanon called the “sterile formalism” that would “imprison national consciousness” in the post-independence state. (30)

The maneuver of producing critiques of state nationalism through a belated engagement with its foundational cultural texts occurs throughout Behan’s writing. An Giall and its London translation, The Hostage, are constructed through the conventions of Irish political melodrama, as well as through an early-twentieth-century music hall culture common to both Dublin and London. Borstal Boy, on the other hand, suggests an indebtedness to the forms and tropes of Irish nationalist prison narratives, such as John Mitchel’s Jail Journal and Thomas Clarke’s Glimpses of an Irish Felon’s Prison Life. Behan’s autobiographical novel imitates the conventions of this genre in its depiction of prison topography and alludes to the symbolic iconography of nationalism-martyrdom, hunger strike, defiance, and separatism. But the ideology of nationalist subjectivity is interrupted in Behan’s narrative by several contending discourses–those of social class, homoerotic sexualities, and Anglophone urban cultures. Read through the revisionary lenses of Behan’s writings, formative texts and genres of cultural nationalism begin to register a crisis in the representation of nationalism itself.

To return to During’s argument, literature can participate in the construction of nationalism or work to counter nationalism–or indeed can function in ways discrete from and oblivious to the demands of nationalism. Writing, as Jean-Francois Lyotard argues, is a technology for remembering, for producing the past as “an available, presentable and reactualizable memory,” (31) and thus serves as a site of political and cultural contest. I have been arguing that in mid-century Ireland, writing constituted a representational space in which the grounding of national identity and culture was subject to what Lyotard calls “anamnesiac resistance.” (32) Behan’s writings, like those of many of his contemporaries, were engaged in contentious dialogue between specific forms and practices of memory, in which the belatedness of his time gave rise to crises of memory and consequently crises of representation. By focusing attention on the subcultural heterogeneity of mid-century Ireland, Behan began to delineate the imaginative space for an Irishness that exceeded and weakened the claims of nationalism. In revisiting nationalism as a process of exclusion and amnesia, his writings bear witness to culture as a contested zone of memory and identity. By presenting life in modern, independent Dublin as analogous to the ex-army popular cultures of London or Liverpool, Behan was countering the exclusivist logic of nationalism with representations of the complex interplay of Irish and English cultures. “The two nations are inextricably mixed up and little in the way of national characteristics divide them,” Behan wrote. “If you go into a pub in Manchester, Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool or London, you will hear people sing one song which might almost be their National Anthem: I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, and their second favourite is Nellie Dean.” (33)

His own career made this impression forcibly and indelibly. Behan was absorbed into the literary culture and media frenzy of the Angry Young Men in England in the 1950s. His plays reflected and extended themes that featured persistently in contemporary English theater. But his successful adoption into English literary culture perhaps exaggerated the ambivalence with which he was treated in Ireland. The Abbey Theatre, as Alan Simpson notes with some resentment, produced Behan’s plays only after he had become a commercial and critical success in Stratford East and the West End in London. (34) His writings and plays earned the critical acclaim of some of the most revered writers and critics of their time; in England and North America, Kenneth Tynan, Nancy Mitford, Norman Mailer, Christopher Ricks, Al Alvarez, Colin MacInnes, Cyril Connolly, Richard Ellmann, and Harold Hobson were among those reviewers and critics who championed Behan’s work. In contrast, as Ted Boyle argues, while Behan “yearned for Irish approval; he received only a very grudging acceptance.” (35)

His stage-Irish persona undoubtedly had much to do with the ambivalence with which Behan was received in Ireland. His alcoholism, exuberance, and profanity perhaps offended the sensibilities of a modernizing, middle-class Ireland, eager to show the world the signs of its maturity and respectability. His writings, moreover, were also deeply contentious, and interrogated Ireland for its varieties of cultural identities and its recalcitrant strands of irreverence. Behan’s writings began with imitations of nationalist ballads, but increasingly came to articulate dissident and subaltern perspectives on the nationalist state and its ideological foundations. His belated engagements with revival nationalism sought to disentangle the myths of Irishness fostered in the cultural nationalist hegemony of his time, and to remind Ireland of its variety, its hybridity, and its modernity. In so doing, Behan became a controversial beacon of dissidence and criticism for his own and later generations.

(1) See Ulick O’Connor, Brendan Behan (1970; reprinted London: Abacus, 1993); Michael O’Sullivan, Brendan Behan: A Life (Dublin: Blackwater, 1997); Ted Boyle, Brendan Behan (New York: Twayne, 1969); Colbert Kearney, The Writings of Brendan Behan (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1977); Declan Kiberd, “The Fall of the Stage Irishman,” Genre 12 (Winter 1979), 451-72; Richard Wall, “An Giall and The Hostage compared,” Modern Drama 18 (1975), 165-72; Philomena Muinzer, “Evacuating the Museum: the Crisis of Play-writing in Ulster,” New Theatre Quarterly 3:9 (Feb. 1987), 44-46.

(2) Simon During, “Literature–Nationalism’s other? The case for revision,” in Homi Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990), 138-53.

(3) Edward Said, The World the Text, and the Critic (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 169.

(4) During uses the term “civil imaginary” to describe “representations of social existence,” specifically prose writings since the eighteenth century which express a system of social ethics and customs. It forms for During the idea of a secular social order quite distinct from narratives of nationhood.

(5) During, “Literature–Nationalism’s other?”, 138.

(6) Chris Baldick, The Social Mission of English Criticism, 1848-1932 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).

(7) Brendan Behan, “Sermons in Cats, Dogs and Mice,” Hold Your Hour and Have Another (London: Corgi, 1988), 188.

(8) Sean O’Faolain, “Editorial: This is Your Magazine,” The Bell 1:1 (October 1940), 5.

(9) Brendan Behan, “Up the Ballad Singers,” Hold Your Hour and Have Another, 31-34. Originally published in The Irish Press, 1 October 1955.

(10) Ibid., 31.

(11) Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), liv.

(12) John Hutchinson, “Irish Nationalism,” in D. George Boyce and Alan O’Day (eds.), The Making of Modern Irish History: Revisionism and the Revisionist Controversy (London: Routledge, 1996), 101.

(13) Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy (London: Hutchinson, 1958), 241.

(14) Alan Sillitoe, “Proletarian Novelists,” Books and Bookmen (August 1959), 13.

(15) Brendan Behan, “Up and Down Spion Kop,” Hold Your Hour, 85. Originally published in The Irish Press, 10 March 1956.

(16) Sean O’Faolain recorded statistics from a Banking Commission in 1938 that two of Ireland’s largest sources of income were emigrants’ remittances and British pensions. British pensions were worth 3.25 million [pounds sterling] in 1931 and just below 3 million [pounds sterling] in 1935. See O’Faolain, “Editorial: New Wine in Old Bottles,” The Bell 4:6 (Sept. 1942), 382.

(17) Brendan Behan, “My Father Died in War,” Hold Your Hour and Have Another, 89. Originally published in The Irish Press, 24 March 1956.

(18) Ibid., 91.

(19) F.S.L. Lyons, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland, 1890-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 1.

(20) Fintan O’Toole, “The Southern Question,” Letters from the New Island, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1991), 15.

(21) Brendan Behan, “The family was in the Rising,” The Dubbalin Man (Dublin: A. & A. Farmar, 1997), 75-78. Originally published in The Irish Press, 11 April 1955.

(22) Ibid., 75.

(23) Ibid., 75.

(24) Ibid., 75.

(25) Ibid., 75.

(26) Francis Mulhern, “A Nation, Yet Again,” The Present Lasts a Long Time: Essays in Cultural Politics (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998), 157.

(27) Homi Bhabha, “DissemiNation: time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation, Nation and Narration, 294.

(28) Richard Terdiman, Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 70.

(29) Brendan Behan, “The Quare Fellow,” The Complete Plays (London: Methuen, 1978), 35-125.

(30) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (London: Penguin, 1967), 165.

(31) Ibid., 48.

(32) Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), 57.

(33) Brendan Behan, Brendan Behan’s Island (London: Corgi, 1965), 75.

(34) Alan Simpson, Beckett and Behan and a Theatre in Dublin (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), 56.

(35) Ted E. Boyle, Brendan Behan (New York: Twayne, 1969), 35-36.

JOHN BRANNIGAN teaches English at Trinity College, Dublin, and Queen’s University Belfast. He is the author of New Historicism and Cultural Materialism (1998); Brendan Behan: Cultural Nationalism and the Revisionist Writer (2002); Literature, Culture and Society in England, 1945-1965 (forthcoming); and Orwell to the Present: Literature in England, 1945-2000 (forthcoming). Brannigan is currently working on a book-length study of the novels of Pat Barker.

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