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50 Years Ago: Borstal Boy

BRENDAN BEHAN at the age of sixteen came from Dublin to Liverpool with an I.R.A. “do it yourself kit,” for the purpose of blowing up Cammell Lairds. He was arrested, and after a stay in Walton Detention Prison, Liverpool, was sent for three years to a Borstal Institution in East Anglia. The book (published by Hutchinson) tells of his experiences in these places. (…)

 

In spite of all the tumult and violence of the book, it has a monastic quality in that nothing of any significance from the outside world ever seeps in. not even the war which was going on at the time is mentioned, in fact, the author never seems to have really noticed it. There is no serious discussion, not even about Ireland. Behan indulges in rodomontade about Irish politics, religion and history, but never indicates that he has any grasp of the underlying economic and factors of Irish history. (…)

 

Behan at least went to Borstal wearing a slightly glamorised would-be Martyr’s crown. He came out none the worse, perhaps even a little better for it. But what of the mal-adjusted, the misfits and the unfortunates; what happened to them? That, perhaps, is the most disquieting thing of all, but Behan never mentions it.

 

He has nothing to say against patriotism or nationalism either of the English, Irish or any other variety. He seems to regard many Englishmen as stiff-necked and arrogant, but sees no reason why they should not be either in their native country or to people who come from other countries. But in a world of conflicting national interests, being pro Irish, English or American, means even at the best of times being negatively anti-something else. In the worst times such feelings take on an active and hostile form.

 

(From book review by E.W., Socialist Standard, December 1958)