Borstal Boy

This miracle of autobiography and prison literature begins: “Friday, in the evening, the landlady shouted up the stairs: ‘Oh God, oh Jesus, oh Sacred Heart, Boy, there’s two gentlemen here to see you.’ I knew by the screeches of her that the gentlemen were not calling to inquire after my health . . . I grabbed my suitcase, containing Pot. Chlor., Sulph Ac, gelignite, detonators, electrical and ignition, and the rest of my Sinn Fein conjurer’s outfit, and carried it to the window. . . .” The men were, of course, the police, who knew seventeen-year-old Behan for the anti-imperialist terrorist he was and arrested him. He spent three years as a prisoner in England, primarily in Borstal (reform school), and was then expelled to his homeland, a changed but hardly defeated rebel. Once banned in the Irish Republic, Borstal Boy is both a riveting self-portrait and a clear look into the problems, passions, and heartbreak of Ireland.

Without a doubt the most important book of its kind published this century.
New Statesman

Brendan Behan is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers and poets of all time. He was also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Born in Dublin into a staunchly republican family, he became a member of the IRA’s youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. However, there was also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which meant he was steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. Behan eventually joined the IRA at sixteen, which led to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom and he was also imprisoned in Ireland. During this time, he took it upon himself to study and he became a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moved between homes in Dublin, Kerry and Connemara, and also resided in Paris for a time.

In 1954, Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, was produced in Dublin. It was well received; however, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gained Behan a wider reputation. This was helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language An Giall had its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English-language adaptation of An Giall, met with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, was published the same year and became a worldwide best-seller.

Benedict Kiely was born in 1919 in Dromore, Northern Ireland. After a stint as a mail clerk and another as a Jesuit prospective, he began working as a part-time journalist for The Weekly Standard newspaper and realized his writerly vocation. He would go on to serve as a literary editor at The Irish Press, a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University and Hollins College, and a visiting professor at the University of Oregon and the University of Delaware, all the while building an impressive body of work that includes short stories, novels, radio plays, and literary criticism. In 1996, at which point he was one of the most beloved authors to come out of Ireland, he was named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.