Wednesday 26 October 2016

Poetry: Brendan's fine ballad inspired by Collins

Ulick O'Connor

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan

Last Saturday week was the 93rd anniversary of the death of Michael Collins. His international reputation was indicated three years ago when The British Army Museum held an online competition to decide who was Britain's greatest Enemy Commander. Collins came second to George Washington and ahead of the likes of Napoleon, Rommel and Kemal Atatürk of Turkey.

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In the course of a long interview with President De Valera in Áras an Uachtaráin in 1964, I asked him who he would consider - besides himself - the Irishman who contributed most between 1918 and 1921.

I watched his face for a reaction, and after a minute or two he said he wouldn't like to single out anyone. I waited a full minute before I put the vital question that I felt I had to ask, where he would place Collins.

His reply was: "Oh, I chose Collins as Director of Intelligence on the General Headquarters staff in 1919. He was clearly cut out for the job."

Dev changed the subject gently. I saw a sudden sadness in his eyes which this memory had caused him.

It was Kathleen Behan, (Brendan Behan's mother) who found a wonderful name for Collins. She called him 'My Laughing Boy'.

This inspired her son Brendan to write that superb ballad which he used to sing with enthusiasm and passion in McDaids and other pubs in Dublin.

The laughing boy

T'was on an August morning, all in the dawning hours,

I went to take the warming air, all in the Mouth of Flowers,

And there I saw a maiden, and mournful was her cry,

'Ah what will mend my broken heart, I've lost my Laughing Boy.

So strong, so wild, and brave he was, I'll mourn his loss too sore,

When thinking that I'll hear the laugh or springing step no more.

Ah, curse the times and sad the loss my heart to crucify,

That an Irish son with a rebel gun shot down my Laughing Boy.

Oh had he died by Pearse's side or in the GPO,

Killed by an English bullet from the rifle of the foe,

Or forcibly fed with Ashe lay dead in the dungeons of Mountjoy,

I'd have cried with pride for the way he died, my own dear Laughing Boy.

My princely love, can ageless love do more than tell to you,

Go raibh mile maith agat for all you tried to do,

For all you did, and would have done, my enemies to destroy,

I'll mourn your name and praise your fame, forever, my Laughing Boy.'

Brendan Behan 1923-1964

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