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The summer Brendan Behan staycationed in Donegal

Breandan MacSuibhne


The hellraising writer was drawn to bars like a moth to a flame, but one session ended in a 1960 court case

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Brendan Behan pictured swimming in the sea off the coast of Co Donegal in 1960

Brendan Behan pictured swimming in the sea off the coast of Co Donegal in 1960

Popperfoto via Getty Images

Brendan Behan pictured swimming in the sea off the coast of Co Donegal in 1960

From the third week of May 1960, Brendan Behan, aged 37 and at the height of his celebrity, spent over two months with his wife Beatrice in Glenties, Co Donegal. It was a much needed break. In London in March, for the opening of his brother Dominic's play Posterity be Damned, he had careered off the rails, drinking not simply heavily but constantly, almost catastrophically.

Rae Jeffs, his publisher's publicity agent, had tried to take him in hand. Eager to have him presentable when his parents arrived from Dublin, she took him to a fashionable men's outfitters; and there, as she was chatting with the tailor, Behan stripped naked in the middle of the shop. Then, at a rehearsal of his brother's play, he fell asleep - and press photographers snapped him - and he proceeded to cause further controversy when he awoke, by shouting: "Rubbish! There were no murderers in the IRA!" Dominic's take on militant republicanism was not to his liking.

Brendan never made it to the opening night and, ultimately, on March 30, he was admitted to Middlesex Hospital, where he had to be kept "under observation" for 10 days. He was asking for whiskey as they sedated him. A diabetic, he already had advanced cirrhosis. Interviewed from his hospital bed, he said he was moving to the South of France when he was discharged and he was full of praise for the National Health Service: "I think it is wonderful - high time we had it in Ireland."