Brendan Behan was a famous Irish writer and poet with a well known alcohol problem and a variety of other personal and marital “issues”. He is often held up by certain media types in Ireland as a quintessential rebel against the Catholic culture of his era (he died at the age of 41 in 1964).
What I did not until a few hours ago is that Brendan Behan had a fascination with Fr Doyle, and was a huge admirer of his. A blog post published today at in Crisis Magazine reveals some fascinating details of this interest:
In that book, and what is often overlooked, is young Brendan’s attachment to his Catholic faith. Convinced as Behan was of the political legitimacy of his actions, he resented bitterly the ad hoc excommunication for not renouncing this visited upon him by the then resident English chaplain. His anguish at not being able to receive Holy Communion is described poignantly. Interestingly, it is in Borstal Boy we find the only explicit reference in his writing to the Irish priest whose heroic example and sacrifice had already made a deep impression on the young prisoner.
Fr. Willie Doyle S.J. was a military chaplain who died in 1917 on the Western Front. Soon, thereafter, a cult developed around his memory. In 1920, a full, if idiosyncratic, biography was published of the slain Jesuit. Behan was to come across this biography whilst still young, and was to devour it. So much so relatives would later describe it as his favorite reading. It was a curious choice. It is of course a story filled with battles and heroics, but it is also the story of a soul: one centered on mysticism, prayer and penance. When it was first published many devout souls found it off-putting; to the young idealist on Dublin’s North Side it struck a cord. Whilst some mocked Doyle’s witness, it left its mark on Behan. Perhaps, that “mocking” was in the writer’s mind when asked about his faith in a later interview. He said he may have been a “bad Catholic,” but he was adamant: he never “mocked” the faith.
More details can be found by reading the article in full.
Fr Doyle’s life inspired saints (including Mother Teresa who will be canonised later this year) and he has always appealed to those who struggle and are caught in difficulties. Brendan Behan – born in Dublin’s inner city and with a host of personal and health problems – was the type of man Fr Doyle always sought out to help.
Incidentally K.V. Turley, the author of the article on Brendan Behan, is also the author of the excellent CTS booklet on Fr Doyle that can be found here: http://www.ctsbooks.org/fr-willie-doyle-and-world-war-i