Dominic Behan (Irish: Doiminic Ó Beacháin, 22 October 1928 – 3 August 1989) was an Irish songwriter, short story writer, novelist and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English. He was also a committed socialist and Irish Republican. Born into a literary family, Dominic Behan was one of the most influential Irish songwriters of the 20th century.
Behan was born in inner-city Dublin into an educated working-class family. His father, Stephen Behan, fought for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Anglo-Irish War. Dominic was the brother of Brendan Behan. His mother, Kathleen, a collector of songs and stories, took the boys on literary tours of the city. Behan's maternal uncle, Peadar Kearney, wrote "A Soldier's Song", the song the Irish National Anthem was based on. Another brother, Brian was also a playwright and writer.
At the age of thirteen, Dominic left school to follow in his father's footsteps in the housepainting business. The family house in which Behan lived was the property of Christine English, Dominic's grandmother, who owned several properties in the city. His father Stephen, was a member of the IRA and had been one of Michael Collins' "Twelve Apostles", who were responsible for the deaths of several officers from the British Army during the Irish War of Independence. He was banned from a professional future career for refusing to swear allegiance to the British Crown after the Irish civil war.
Republican and political activities
In 1937, the family moved to a new local authority housing scheme in Crumlin. Here, Behan became a member of Fianna Éireann, the youth organization of the IRA and published his first poems and prose in the organization's magazine Fianna: the Voice of Young Ireland. In 1952, Behan was arrested in Dublin for leading a civil disobedience campaign in protest against the ruling government's failure to tackle unemployment and other critical economic issues. Behan was subsequently jailed for his part in other campaigns protesting the government's treatment of the working class in Ireland.
Behan, the writer
On release from jail, Dominic Behan married Josephine Quinn, the daughter of John Quinn, a cabinet maker from Glasgow. The Quinns were active in the Communist Party and other left-wing organisations in Glasgow. They emigrated to Britain where Behan had been working for the BBC, writing radio scripts, mainly for the Third Programme. His play Posterity Be Damned, produced in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, in 1959, dealt with republican activity after the Civil War of 1922–23. An autobiographical novel Teems of Times (1961) was received to critical acclaim, particularly by Kenneth Tynan, and dramatized on television in 1977 by RTÉ. His autobiography, Tell Dublin I Miss Her, was also published in 1961. A biography of his brother, Brendan Behan, appeared in 1965, My Brother Brendan.
During the 1960s and 1970s Behan wrote a number of television plays for British television in showcases such as Play for Today and Armchair Theatre. One of these plays, The Folk Singer (1972), was restructured for the theatre and presented during the height of the Troubles at Belfast's Lyric Theatre starring a young Ken Stott.
Arguably, it was as a songwriter that Behan excelled. He was a prolific composer and had more than 450 songs published during his lifetime. His songs were very popular in Ireland and also among the Irish living in Britain, especially "The Patriot Game", "McAlpine's Fusiliers", "Avondale", and "Liverpool Lou". In 1958, he released The Singing Streets: Childhood Memories of Ireland and Scotland on Folkways Records along with fellow folksinger Ewan MacColl.
Some of his songs have been translated into Norwegian. Liverpool Lou is known in the city of Bergen as Jenter fra Bergen. Surrounded by Water is also known in Bergen as Omgitt av fjeller. The Norwegian translations were done by singer-songwriter Fred Ove Reksten, a friend of Behan, who gave permission for the Norwegian versions to be recorded by the folk group The Bergeners. Musicians Björn Alling and Conny Olsson from Linköping, Sweden are currently working on a translation of "Patriot Game" into their native tongue.
Contrary to rumours posted previously to this page, Behan did not at any time attend any seat of higher learning. He was a largely self-educated man whose intellect was such that he numbered many respected thinkers among his friends including the likes of Hugh MacDiarmid the Scots poet with whom he lived for three years, Louis MacNeice who became for a time a writing partner – mostly for the BBC overseas program and H.A.L. Craig the screen writer who produced the script for the film of Waterloo.
Pop culture references
Dave Cousins wrote his song "Josephine, For Better Or For Worse" in honour of Josephine and Dominic Behan. This song has been recorded several times, the best known version is on the album "Dragonfly" by Strawbs in 1970.
In a well publicised interview, John Lennon dismissed the folk scene in his own country, England, yet praised Behan, from neighbouring Ireland, whom he said he liked. On a recent Desert Island Discs, Yoko Ono selected Behan's "Liverpool Lou" as her husband had sung it to their son as a lullaby.
Dominic died at home in Glasgow, aged 60, on 3 August 1989 of pancreatic cancer, shortly after the publication of his critically acclaimed novel The Public World of Parable Jones. He was survived by his widow and two sons, Fintan and Stephen. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at the Royal Canal, Dublin near his birthplace by May MacGiolla the wife of the Workers' Party of Ireland Dublin West TD Tomas MacGiolla. His oration was given by his longtime friend Seán Garland, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of which Behan had been a staunch supporter for many years.
Posterity Be Damned (1959)
The Folk Singer (1969)
Ireland Mother Ireland (1969)
Tell Dublin I Miss Her (1998)
Teems of Times (1961)
Tell Dublin I Miss Her (1961)
My Brother Brendan (1965)
Ireland Sings! (1966)
The Singing Irish (1969)
The Life and Times of Spike Milligan (1987)
The Public World of Parable Jones (1988)
The Catacombs (1989)
"The Auld Triangle"
"Come Out Ye Black and Tans"
"Connolly Will Be There"
"The Merry Ploughboy"
"The Patriot Game"
"Take It Down from the Mast"
"Paddy On The Road"
"Our Last Hope"
"Bás, Fás, Blás"