Obituary: Beatrice Behan

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The Independent Online
Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, painter, born c1928, married 1955 Brendan Behan (died 1964; one daughter), died Dublin 9 March 1993.

THE INFLUENCE of Beatrice Behan on the work of her playwright husband Brendan Behan is inestimable. There is little doubt that without her Behan would be remembered only for one work, The Quare Fellow (1954). His alcoholism would have put paid to any further works of quality.

It was an unusual pairing, she a well-educated middle-class girl, and he a rowdy and rough-hewn north Dubliner who had a gift for writing. She was born Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, the daughter of the artist Cecil ffrench-Salkeld. Her father encouraged her to paint as a child and she studied at art college in Dublin; she was working as an assistant at the National Museum in Dublin at the time she and Brendan married. Early in their relationship, he mistook her apparent aloofness for snobbery. In fact, she was painfully shy.

They married in some secrecy in a Catholic church ceremony in 1955, and for a few years at least Behan was able to control his alcohol addiction while she created an environment that enabled him to produce such works as The Hostage (1959) and his autobiographical memoir, The Borstal Boy (1958), as well as numerous non- fiction articles. She also illustrated his book Hold Your Hour, and have Another (1963).

The fame that arose from The Borstal Boy put paid to an orderly married life, and Behan began to commute from binge to binge in London and the United States. Beatrice Behan blamed much of his rapid deterioration on the schedules publicists imposed on him, which required him to appear at performances of his plays and launches of Borstal Boy.

'Brendan never liked these promotion things,' she told me. 'I had to say to his backers: 'You know, this is a human being you have here. This isn't a machine. You can't expect a man to travel 300 miles today and stand up and give a funny speech and then travel 300 miles again tomorrow to do the same thing.' '

The stability of home enabled him to eke out four hastily written and dictated memoirs, the most famous of which was Confessions of an Irish Rebel, before he died in 1964 at the age of 41.

She said it took several years to restore order after Behan's death. She devoted herself to raising their daughter, Blanaid, born shortly before Behan died, and named after Beatrice's grandmother. She published her own memoir, My Life with Brendan, in 1974.

She enjoyed meeting and socialising with those interested in talking to her about her husband. Asked what she saw in him, given all their troubles, she said: 'I am quiet and I was always the type of person quite prepared to sit down and listen. I lived to listen to Brendan and be entertained, because I found him to be one of the most entertaining people I had ever met.'

(Photograph omitted)