New evidence about Brendan Behan’s foul language and his indifference to law and order emerged last week.
The fresh detail is in a letter urging that he be sacked from a job painting the St. John’s Point lighthouse in Co. Down. He was 27 years old at the time.
The principal lighthouse keeper at St. John’s Point, signing only as D. Blakely, wrote in 1950 to the Irish Lights head office in Dublin about a man he referred to as “the painter B. Behan.”
Blakely wrote that Behan was “the worst specimen” he had met in 30 years service.
The letter, published this week in The Irish Times, urged instant dismissal of Behan from the job “before good material is rendered useless and the place ruined.”
Blakely wrote that Behan had been “absent from his work all day yesterday and not returning to station until 1:25 a.m. this morning.”
He said Behan’s attitude was one of “careless indifference and no respect for commissioners’ property or stores.” He was “wilfully wasting materials, opening drums and paint tins by blows from a heavy hammer.”
The letter added, “His language was filthy and he is not amenable to any law or order.”
Behan had mixed putty, paint and other materials with his bare hands and wiped off nothing.
He had “turned the place into a filthy shambles inside a week, leaving it in a scandalous condition of dirt.”
The Irish Times received extracts from the letter from Patricia Ferguson, aged 83, of Glasnevin, Co. Dublin, a member of the one-time Peat family electrical retailer.
She drew the paper’s attention to the letter following a report about the launch of a new stamp to commemorate Behan.
Ferguson had lived over the Peats shop on Parnell Street into the late 1950s during which time she would occasionally see Behan going down to the fruit market around 7 a.m. when pubs there had a special early morning license to serve alcohol.
She said Behan would say hello to her as he passed the shop and she regarded him as “a pleasant sort of fellow.”
She received the letter over 20 years ago from a friend of her nephew who worked in Irish Lights. She felt the letter would provide a chuckle and some home truths.
By 1950 Behan was no longer in the IRA. Sometime after his failed Irish Lights painting job, he left for Paris where he began to write in earnest, from 7 a.m. to noon, when the pubs opened.
His first play The Quare Fellow was staged in 1954.
Where does the term “the luck of the Irish” come from?