Doiminic Ó Beacháin
10 October 1928|
|Died||3 August 1989
|Genre||Songwriter, short story writer, novelist, playwright|
|Subject||Irish Republican struggle, Irish culture|
|Notable works||"The Patriot Game", "McAlpine's Fusiliers" (songs)|
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 council housing scheme in Crumlin. Here, Behan became a member of Fianna Éireann, the youth organisation of the IRA and published his first poems and prose in the organisation'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, Behan moved to Scotland for a time, living with the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid in the South-side of Glasgow; Behan always credited MacDiarmid with much of his early development as a writer, coming to view verse as a more agile medium for his thoughts at that time – it would only be some years later that Behan would write his first play. Whilst living with MacDiarmid, Behan became involved in what is now known as the "Scottish Republican Army", channelling arms from the IRA with whom he had historical links to the SRA. It was during this time that Behan met his future wife, Josephine Quinn, the daughter of John Quinn, a cabinet maker and part-time journalist from Glasgow, and Bridget Quinn who ran a safe house for various revolutionary organisations. It was in Bridget Quinn's house that Behan was first introduced to Josephine Quinn, who married Behan in 1955.
Behan migrated to London, where he found work with 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 from the Observer theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, who was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise); the book was subsequently dramatised for television in 1977 by RTÉ. His autobiography, Tell Dublin I Miss Her, was also published in 1961 and sold well in the USA. A biography of his brother entitled My Brother Brendan appeared in 1965, but due to a legal wrangle Behan received virtually none of the proceeds of this book.
During the 1960s and 1970s Behan wrote almost 20 television plays for British television in showcases such as Play for Today and Armchair Theatre. One of these plays, The Folk Singer (1972) – a story that focused on the sectarian roots of the Northern Ireland conflict, was restructured for the theatre and presented during the height of the Troubles at Belfast's Lyric Theatre starring a young Scottish actor Ken Stott.
Behan was a 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. Behan did however work in education, having been identified by the Strathclyde Region education dept as the "Writer in residence" for the Region's secondary schools. Behan enjoyed this role for more than five years, as he saw it, helping young talent get recognition and encouragement.
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. Behan was unequivocal in the defence of his copyright, for example, He slandered and libeled Bob Dylan publicly for the plagiarism of his song "The Patriot Game" which Dylan (who had learned The Patriot Game from Scottish folk singer Nigel Denver) re-worked to become"With God on Our Side". In Behan's view, Dylan lifted the narrative from the song more or less wholesale. Whilst it was (and is) common for songwriters to adapt other writers' work (the tune of "The Patriot Game", for instance, as Behan admitted in a correspondence in The Guardian with Michael Grosvenor Myer, was based on the traditional song "One Morning In May" or "The Nightingale"), it is normal to attribute the origin if only to ensure the original writer received a fair share of the royalties. Behan's key issue lay in his argument that Dylan never referenced the sources of his inspiration, with Dylan claiming all of his compositions to be original works, even when the origins of many of his most famous songs were well-known and demonstrably inspired by earlier work.
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. Bob Dylan's 1963 song "With God on our Side" uses the melody and narrative framework of Behan's "The Patriot Game", as well as being influenced by its theme.
In a well-publicised interview, John Lennon dismissed the 1960s folk scene in his own country, disimissing it as 'College students with pints of beer going hay-nonny nonny' but in the same breath, he praised Behan, from neighbouring Ireland, whom he said he liked. On Desert Island Discs in 2007, Yoko Ono selected Behan's "Liverpool Lou" as her husband had sung it to their son as a lullaby.
Behan is discussed briefly in Bob Dylan's documentary film Dont Look Back but it is clear that the enmity between them was palpable.
Dominic Behan died at home in Glasgow, aged 61, on 3 August 1989 of complications arising from pancreatic cancer, shortly after the publication of his critically acclaimed novel The Public World of Parable Jones. He was survived by his widow Josephine and two sons, Fintan and Stephen. He was cremated in Glasgow 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 lifelong 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)
- "Come Out Ye Black and Tans"
- "Connolly Will Be There"
- "Liverpool Lou"
- "McAlpine's Fusiliers"
- "The Merry Ploughboy"
- "The Patriot Game"
- "Take It Down from the Mast"
- "Paddy on the Road"
- "Our Last Hope"
- "Hand me Down me Petticoat"
- "Maloney Wants a Drink"
- "Bás, Fás, Blás"
- Shelton, Robert (1986). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. New York: Beech Tree Books. p. 213. ISBN 0-688-05045-X.
- "Power To the People", John Lennon and Yoko Ono talk to Robin Blackburn and Tariq Ali for their underground magazine "Red Mole", 21 January 1971.
- Yoko Ono on Desert Island Discs, 10 June 2007.
- Dominic Behan discography at MusicBrainz
- Dominic Behan sings "Liverpool Lou" on YouTube
- "Our last hope" by Dominic Behan on YouTube
- The Singing Streets: Childhood Memories of Ireland and Scotland Album Details at Smithsonian Folkways