Obituary: Beatrice Behan

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The Independent Online
MY MEMORIES of Beatrice Behan's warmly whimsical and vaguely spinsterish persona remain as vivid as if I'd seen her but a week ago, writes Paul Hogarth (further to the obituary by Frank Gray, 16 March). In fact we hadn't seen one another since Brendan's own death in 1964.

I first met her in the early summer of 1959. Brendan had agreed to write a book about Ireland which I had been asked to illustrate (Brendan Behan's Island). I duly arrived in Dublin. The Behans lived in a comfortable house in Ballsbridge. Beatrice had prepared a meal and a Gaelic welcome was extended to include an invitation to stay with them, first in Dublin, then at Carraroe, in Connemara.

It proved difficult to get any ideas out of Brendan himself, but one day Beatrice prompted him to hand me a short list to get me started, to which she added others less orthodox, like the old gaslit bars of Joycean Dublin. She impressed not only with her good looks and sly wit, but also by the canny way she handled her unpredictable man. Life with Brendan had made her resourceful, if not street- wise. She always made it a priority to get to the front door first in the morning. For she had a sure instinct for those letters which had a cheque inside, and made sure they went straight into the bank. 'Fat chance', I heard her mutter one morning after glancing at a letter with a cheque enclosed from Atlantic Monthly tactfully inquiring when the editor might expect the article for which one advance had already been paid.

Certainly, her life was enlivened by Brendan and she never ceased to be fascinated by his antics. An incident at Inishmore brought that home to me. We sailed one sunny day from Galway city in a steamer crowded with fishermen returning home. For Brendan, the voyage began with an impromptu monologue on Joyce and Shaw, laced with oaths, delivered apropos nothing at all, to a baffled, very English family on holiday. I later met the Behans for a swim. There on the beach I spotted the same bemused English family who had got the lecture. What followed made even Beatrice laugh, despite her worries about Brendan's health, his infidelities, and whether he loved her.

While she brooded on these problems, Brendan suddenly emerged from the waves like a white seal, naked and bedraggled, to continue his lecture. But the family had had more than enough. After being momentarily transfixed by the spectacle, they scooped up their possessions and fled. Beatrice flung her arms around Brendan then and there. Once again he had been forgiven.

(Photograph omitted)