RUSSELL STREET WHERE BRENDAN BEHAN GREW UP
According to Brendan Behan when describing Russell Street, where he grew up, young girls ashamed of their homes would walk miles out of their way so as not to let others know where they lived.
Behan was born in the inner city of Dublin at Holles Street Hospital [where I was born] on 9 February 1923 into an educated working-class family. He lived in a house on Russell Street near Mountjoy Square owned by his grandmother, Christine English, who owned a number of properties in the area. Brendan’s father Stephen Behan, a house painter who had been active in the Irish War of Independence, read classic literature to the children at bedtime from sources including Zola, Galsworthy, and Maupassant; his mother, Kathleen, took them on literary tours of the city.
If Behan’s interest in literature came from his father, his political beliefs came from his mother. She remained politically active all her life and was a personal friend of the Irish republican Michael Collins. Brendan Behan wrote a lament to Collins, “The Laughing Boy”, at the age of thirteen. The title was from the affectionate nickname Mrs. Behan gave to Collins. Kathleen published her autobiography, “Mother of All The Behans”, a collaboration with her son Brian, in 1984.
Behan’s uncle Peadar Kearney wrote the Irish national anthem “The Soldier’s Song”. His brother, Dominic Behan, was also a renowned songwriter best known for the song “The Patriot Game”; another sibling, Brian Behan, was a prominent radical political activist and public speaker, actor, author, and playwright. Following Brendan’s death, his widow had a child with Cathal Goulding called Paudge Behan; the two men were described as “good friends”.
A biographer, Ulick O’Connor, recounts that one day, at age eight, Brendan was returning home with his granny and a crony from a drinking session. A passer-by remarked, “Oh, my! Isn’t it terrible ma’am to see such a beautiful child deformed?” “How dare you,” said his granny. “He’s not deformed, he’s just drunk!”