John Coll’s monument to Brendan Behan is one of the most popular in the city, showing a young Behan sitting at the Royal Canal, with an inviting space next to him for passers by to join him. You often see everyone from down and outs to children sitting next to Brendan, and I’ve always thought it the perfect monument for such a man. A number of triangles appear in the bench, a reference to The Auld Triangle, a song written by Brendan’s talented brother Dominic for his brothers play The Quare Fellow. John Coll said at the time that such a monument, a bench that could be used by the public, was perfect as Behan was always “a man of the people and didn’t want to be on a pedestal.”
In 1980, when the idea of a monument to Brendan was first discussed by Dublin Corporation, Tony Gregory had suggested that perhaps an inner-city housing development should be named in his honour, which would be fitting given his families background in Russell Street prior to their moving to Crumlin (or ‘Siberia’ as the Behan brothers knew it!). Pat Carroll from Labour made the point Behan would “laugh to scorn” at the idea of a plaque in his honour in a city that had treated him in a “scandalous fashion”.
Rather oddly, when the fine monument was unveiled in 2003, it was man of the people Bertie Ahern that unveiled it, which caused significant controversy on the day. Paudge Behan, son of Behan’s widow Beatrice and the republican Cathal Goulding, took exception to Bertie’s presence at the event and noted that there was “nobody further removed” from the spirit of Brendan, when asked to follow up Ahern’s speech with a few words.
He went on to tell journalists “what has Bertie Ahern in common with Brendan Behan, other than they are both Irish? When you see what is happening with the fat cats in this country, with Bertie Ahern and his Government, I can’t think of anyone further from the spirit of Brendan Behan. Shannon being used as an American air base for waging war on another country, was that in the spirit of Brendan Behan?”
The event was an embarrasing day out for Fianna Fáil, with Bertie (who was joined by Royston Brady, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin) on the wrong side of an Anti Bin Tax picket, and the following days newspaper reports may have disproven Behan’s classic remark that “there’s no bad publicity except an obituary.”