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They say it’s a fine line between genius and madness and I reckon Behan made a good attempt at finding the middle ground.

Now here’s a good one; I have few heros (or, as Public Enemy said,  “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,”) but I unashamedly pronounce Brendan Behan one of mine. Never one to be shy, he announced freely in the media that he was an unavowed and unabashed communist. Now, I suppose this was likely to draw some deal of attention to him considering the second Red Scare was in full swing in 1957. What you wouldn’t expect is for him to be bugged by MI5. But bugged he was, as records released today show and I’d love to hear some of the recordings as the man himself was pronounced as “A little mad, or a little drunk” by the officer investigating the case. We, of course, know that he was a good dollop of both.

Mona Lisa

An Fear féin

It was a call to Barbara Niven, editor of Communist Party of Great Britain’s paper, the Daily Worker that attracted MI5 attention. The MI5 officer consistently misspells Behan’s Christian name as Brandon in the transcripts.

“He said he had his mother with him. Did Barbara understand him? Barbara said she did not understand him. Brandon said he was going to give a subscription to the Daily (Worker) for a year.”

“Barbara said that was wonderful. Brandon said he understood that canvassing was very bad. Brandon said could he call around to see her. Barbara said she was very busy as she was writing something which had to be finished by that evening.

“Brandon said he wanted to give the money to her himself and he wanted to see her because he was a first-class man and no one would call for him. Not even his own class would talk to him, he said,” the officer wrote.

“He said he had got the embassy working for him. He hoped that they would get him a plane.”

“He wanted to go home to Ireland where he lived. His brother Brian had dragged his name in the mud by his interview in the Daily Express,” the officer wrote, adding, “I assumed Brandon was either a little mad, or drunk.”

As well as songwriters and storytellers, the Behan clan were always great painters and signwriters.

I can only imagine a high paid civil servant sitting in a top-secret office somewhere in London trying to decypher the conversation; was it some form of uncracked code? Who is “mother“? And what of this “embassy“? I wonder how long it took them to realise the man was just twisted and leary. They say its a fine line between genius and madness and I reckon Behan made a good attempt at finding the middle ground. And I doubt many will disagree.

(Míle buíochas le mo dheartháir Liam chun fáil airteagal seo.)

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