I’ll start this series off with a brief anecdote about the late Brian Behan – brother of Brendan and Dominic.
I met Brian in the mid-1980s when he was teaching at the London College of Printing. He let me interview him for a student literary magazine, and I was very pleased to do so. I’m a bit hard-wired for Behan writing – by the time I left school, I’d read everything I could find by (or about) any of them, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that Brendan remains my favourite author, despite the more worth rivals that I encountered during a literature degree course.
Brian was a bit taken aback by how he needed to provide little by way of 'backstory' to most of his anecdotes. And he had a life story to beat most. He’d met Mao and Stalin (and had avoided the sentimentalism of his comrades about them).
One comment he made stayed with me. He claimed that literary Dublin was dominated by people who had a positive ambition to die from drinking. It wasn’t a by-product, or a consequence of the literary lifestyle. It wasn’t – as I suggested to Brian – that Brendan had a Faustian pact with the bottle. That he feared that the muse would leave him during periods of sobriety.
Brian had quite convinced himself that Brendan – along with Brian O’Nolan and Patrick Kavanagh – were primarily motivated by a need to have the phrase ‘died of the drink’ in the first line of their obituaries.