Brendan Behan In Music

Heading out for Lubbock on tour with Shinyribs.   Brought a book of Brendan Behan plays.  The Quare Fellow is one of my favorites.  It examines prison life.  The play is fictional, but Behan spent time in confinement during his lifetime.  Behan’s autobiography Borstal Boy is also an excellent read.  There are many great songs that mention Behan.  Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose, Black 47’s The One and Only Brendan Behan,  Morrissey’s Mountjoy, and Streams of Whiskey by The Pogues are just a few.  One of my favorite songs is The Auld Triangle, which is featured in the play The Quare Fellow, though actually written by Behan’s brother.  If you have heard of him before in a song or somewhere else, but haven’t read any of his actual writings, I highly recommend them.  He was a great soul that I’m glad was out there. 

The Quare Fellow


I am reading Brendan Behan’s play The Quare Fellow.  It takes place in the Irish Prison Mountjoy.  This play is where one of my favorite songs of all time originated, The Auld Triangle.  In the following excerpt a young prisoner makes a disparaging remark about the Bible and the older prisoners comment upon it:

Other Fellow:  And talking so disrespectfully about the Bible.

Neighbour:  Belied and they needn’t; many’s the time the Bible was a consolation to a fellow all alone in the old cell.  The lovely thin paper with a bit of mattress coir in it, if you could get a match or a bit of tinder or any class of light, was as good a smoke as ever I tasted.  Am I right, Dunlavin?

Dunlavin:  Damn the lie, Neighbour.  The first twelve months I done, I smoked my way half-way through the book of Genesis and three inches of my mattress.  When the Free State came in we were afraid of our life they were going to change the mattresses for feather beds.  And you couldn’t smoke feathers, no, be God, if they were rolled in the Song of Solomon itself.  But sure, thanks to God, the Free State didn’t change anything more than the badge of the warders’ cap.  

More Thoughts on The Auld Triangle

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’m going to mention it again anyway: The song The Auld Triangle is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I especially love the version by The Dubliners and the version by Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard.  I know it will be received as blasphemy in some quarters, but I listen to the Dempsey and Hansard version the most.  I love both Luke Kelly and Damien Dempsey.  I was jogging yesterday, while listening to this song on my headphones.  Every time I hear it, it fills me with joy.

The triangle in the song is a reference to a triangle that hung in a Mountjoy Prison in Ireland and woke the prisoners each day.  No one is quite sure who wrote the song, but many attribute it to Dominic Behan.  He was the brother of the famous writer Brendan Behan.  Brendan used the song in his play The Quare Fellow, a play about the prison on a day that an inmate is going to be executed.

How can a song that is about such a dark topic bring one joy?  First of all the melody is carved from stone.  It seems like it always was.  Listening to the song, I’m reminded of the Anthony Newley quote at the beginning of Morrissey’s Maladjusted album:  “On this glorious occasion, of the splendid defeat.”  The lyrics are infused with a sly humor.  The lyrics, along with the cast iron melody, make the song seem defiant.  The characters are unbowed in the face of defeat.  It is particularly the last verse that lets me know life is worth living, even under the worst of circumstances.  We always have our dreams.  From the Dempsey, Hansard version:

Up in the female prison
There are seventy-five women
And it is amongst them
I wish that I did dwell


The Auld Triangle

A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in my prison cell
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

To begin the morning, a screw was bawling
Get up you bowsie, and clean up your cell
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

The lags were sleeping, humpy Gussy was creeping
As I lay there weeping for my girl Sal
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Up in the female prison, there are seventy five women
`Tis among them I wish I did dwell
Then the auld triangle, could go jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

The lyrics are from The Auld Triangle, one of my favorite songs of all time.  I prefer the version by the Dubliners or the more modern version by Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard.  This Irish classic was written by Dominic Behan for his brother Brendan’s play, The Quare Fellow. 

Three gigs and a general disregard for sleep has sapped me of what little intelligence I normally possess this weekend, hence the lack of posts.  Hopefully by tomorrow I will be back in the ring.