Dominic Behan: The man who wrote McAlpine’s Fusiliers - the iconic emigrant ballad adored by the Irish

Dominic Behan: The man who wrote McAlpine’s Fusiliers - the iconic emigrant ballad adored by the Irish

ASK anyone about Dominic Behan and probably the best answer that you would receive would be that he was Brendan Behan’s brother.

Of course, Brendan Behan was a genius of a playwright and author - a brawling and boozing broth of a bhoy and stage Irishman.

He was lionised by the establishment despite claiming to detest them.

His mythic legacy was enhanced by his tragic and untimely death at the age of 41 in 1964.

What of Dominic Behan?

Dominic was born into the multi-talented Behan family in Dublin in 1928.

Like his brothers and father, he worked as a house painter before moving to London where he wrote radio scripts for the BBC as well as writing some of the songs for which he is remembered, including McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

Later, Christy Moore and The Dubliners amongst many other illustrious names would count him as one of their strongest influences.

On her wonderful collaboration album with Ronnie Drew (A Couple More Years 2000) Eleanor Shanley says, somewhat kindly, that Bob Dylan was greatly influenced by Irish music.

Dominic Behan was less kind, publicly accusing Dylan of plagiarism.

The main reason for this was Dylan’s recording of With God on Our Side, which Behan claimed to be a copy of The Patriot Game.

The Patriot Game dealt with a national issue – the IRA raid on Brookeborough RUC Barracks on New Year’s Eve 1956 in which Fergal O’Hanlon and Sean South lost their lives.

Whilst With God On Our Side was about global issues.

Dominic Behan didn’t have what could be described as a good singing voice, but in 1964, he reached number eight in the Irish charts with his self-penned song, Liverpool Lou.

It was not a hit in Britain for another 10 years, when The Scaffold, led by Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike McGear took a whimsical version of it to number seven.

The record was produced by Paul McCartney who was credited with writing the song. Once again, Behan had to threaten litigation before being identified as the songwriter.

This was done very quickly and records which attribute the song to the former Beatle are now collector’s items.

Another irony connected with this song is that it was selected by Yoko Ono when she appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2007 and the version that she chose was Behan’s.

Dominic Behan was a Republican and Socialist who never deviated from his principles throughout his life.

He married Josephine Quinn who came from a well known family of political activists in Glasgow and this was the city that he eventually settled in.

As well as his song writing, he wrote numerous plays for radio, television and the theatre. He also worked for Strathclyde Education Department and assisted many young aspiring writers.

He died in 1989 at the age of 60. He was cremated in Glasgow and his ashes were scattered over the Royal Canal in Dublin.