A Bit of a Writer

Brendan Behan's Complete Collected Short Prose

By: Brendan Behan

Edited by: John Brannigan

Publication Date: 20th April 2023


A Bit of a Writer: Brendan Behan’s Complete Collected Short Prose edited by John Brannigan

Brendan Behan’s road to literary stardom – read an extract from the introduction of A Bit of a Writer on RTÉ Culture here

Brendan Behan wrote over one hundred articles for Irish newspapers between 1951 and 1956 as he rose to international fame, with most of them written in a weekly column in the Irish Press. The articles reveal a serious writer capable of great comic set pieces and amusing yarns as well as thoughtful reflections on cultural and historical issues. They reflect his passion for working-class Dublin life and the history and folklore of the city, as well as his travels in Ireland and Europe.

A Bit of a Writer: Brendan Behan’s Complete Collected Short Prose gathers all the articles and essays that Behan published in newspapers from 1951 to his death in 1964. Selections of Behan’s articles have been published since his death (Hold Your Hour and Have Another, 1965; After the Wake, 1981; The Dubbalin Man, 1997). However, there has been no complete edition of Behan’s prose, and no edition has provided a detailed biographical and literary introduction, explanatory notes and suggestions for further reading. This volume is publishing during the centenary celebrations of Behan’s birth in 2023, with his birthday being 9 February.

Born on 9 February 1923, Brendan Behan was raised at 13 Russell Street in Dublin’s north inner city. He became one of Ireland’s best-known writers and talkers. Behan moved between Dublin, Kerry and Connemara and spent time in Paris, writing in both Irish and English. He wrote articles for The Irish Press and two radio plays for Radio Éireann.

‘The Quare Fellow’, Behan’s first play, was produced in 1954 in Dublin. ‘The Hostage’ met with great success internationally following Joan Littlewood’s production in London in 1958. Borstal Boy, Behan’s autobiographical novel, was published the same year and became an immediate best seller. Suffering from diabetes, compounded by years of heavy drinking, he died on 20 March 1964.

Professor John Brannigan is Head of English at UCD and is the author of book-length studies of the writings of Brendan Behan and Pat Barker as well as investigations of critical race theory in Race in Modern Irish Literature and Culture (2009). He was editor of the international journal, Irish University Review, from 2010 to 2016.

‘As a writer, Brendan Behan is best known for just a handful of works. We owe much to John Brannigan for shining a brighter light on Behan than ever before, and allowing a fuller writer to emerge before us. Like John’s earlier work on Behan, this publication is deeply important in understanding the man and showman that was Brendan Behan.’ Donal Fallon

‘In A Bit of a Writer, we have everything for the first time. Thank you, John Brannigan … These pieces might look like colour copy but really they’re ethnography of the richest and most exact kind. George Orwell would have liked them, and he would certainly have recognised that the man who wrote them had similar interests to himself, speaking truth to power about the poor, the marginal, the downtrodden … [He informed, educated and entertained me] with style and wit and at 100 miles an hour, and I was never bored, not for one second.’ Carlo Gébler, Irish Independent

A Bit of a Writer, commendably edited with context-providing endnotes by Professor Brannigan, UCD’s head of English, grants us a new opportunity to consider the writer behind the self-ruining public image … Drawing from a deep folkloric well, he comes across less a literary figure in the modernist sense than a seanchaí in the oral tradition.
It’s Behan’s passion for Ireland in general and Dublin in particular that gets to the heart of his popular appeal … An added charm for Jackeens such as this southside reviewer is the columns’ locational intimacy, peppered as these are with mentions of Crumlin, Kimmage, Dolphin’s Barn, Sundrive Road, the Liberties and the Coombe.
The book isn’t just a Dublin love-in: Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and other counties are also fondly evoked. (Actually, the entries I enjoyed most were those covering Behan’s trips to France and particularly Paris – “always her own sweet self”.)
A Bit of a Writer is the sort of book best dipped into at random (and perhaps even read aloud) … [it won’t] disappoint anyone drawn to the man’s wisecracking, gun-toting, hard-living persona.’ Rob Doyle, Sunday Independent

‘Fascinating reading. It is obviously a labour of love and a work of deep academic research by its editor, Professor John Brannigan, head of English at UCD. He has not only compiled the articles but annotated them with extensive footnotes to explain their numerous references so that we can “enjoy Behan in his own time”.
Brannigan’s 33 pages of notes gives us the societal context in which Behan was writing and catches his irreverence [in these] discursive, engaging and sometimes fantastical columns.
Behan’s columns gathered here, written in haste and mischievousness to earn money, give readers a more anarchic Dublin while also taking us on excursions across Ireland and to his beloved Paris. They show an apprentice writer, vibrantly in love with words – and with no idea where those words would lead him in the few short years to come.’ Dermot Bolger, Sunday Business Post

‘His writing still has a freshness and modernity about it … The columns are a testimonial to Behan’s fluency in, and knowledge of, Irish poetry and song [and] they show what a natural and gifted writer Behan was. Stuffed with jokes and comic set pieces, they nevertheless have a serious political undertow. A Bit of a Writer makes a significant contribution to Brendan Behan’s centenary year.’ Irish Times

Professor John Brannigan writes for The Journal about this new complete collection of Brendan Behan’s short prose: ‘work which sparkles with wit, humour, and warmth.’

A Bit of a Writer is a wonderful introduction into Behan’s extraordinary life and works, and it is fitting that it comes out this year, the centenary of his birth.’ Bríd Conroy, Mayo News

‘This utter delight of a book … captures the real essence of the man. The big gotcha in the book, for this reader, is the humour … it’s superb. You can read and savour one piece at a time or swallow it whole. Either way, it’s a beauty.’ Anne Cunningham, Meath Chronicle

‘This really does give you a different look at a mercurial talent … a great introduction to Brendan Behan, very much informed by his sensibilities and it rings so clear.’ Derek O’Connor, RTÉ Lyric FM

‘Laugh-out-loud anarchy on a page … there is, as far as I know, no contemporary newspaper or online Irish writer as fluent, as stir-it-up anarchic, as powerful, or as sharp as The Roaring Boy was over these brief few years. No-one comes even close to using humour to fillet pretension and hubris as well as he did. There is a vibrancy, a razor-sharp relevance to these pieces missing from today’s public discourse. … His skill with the pun — in Irish and English — the timing of his interjections, his capacity to give his sentences a steady pulse animates these pieces in a way that few of today’s Irish writers can. … By reminding us of these wonderful vignettes, editor John Brannigan has served Behan’s legacy and his readers very well.’ Jack Power, Irish Examiner

‘A wonderful collection … What we find here is a brilliantly talented writer, far removed from any clichés’ SUNDAY INDEPENDENT


Also available as an ebook
Weight 0.700 kg
Dimensions 432 × 156 mm

Paperback with flaps

Publication Date

20th April 2023

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