'The pain never left him’ - Writer reveals father’s experience at brutal Irish industrial school inspired play

'The pain never left him’ - Writer reveals father’s experience at brutal Irish industrial school inspired play

THE playwright Janet Behan has revealed the inspiration behind her latest play was her father and his experiences in one of Ireland’s brutal industrial schools.

Ms Behan, who hails from the infamous Irish literary family, is the daughter of Brian Behan, whose brother was the playwright Brendan Behan.

This weekend her funny yet poignant play Why Shouldn’t I Go? will be staged at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

It tells the tale of three very different Irish women, who have one thing in common, religion and the impact it had on their lives.

Those characters include the heroine Realtine, who has joined a creative writing class but is yet to write a single word, until the day comes that sees her personal story – of being  a thirteen-year-old tricked into entering a closed religious order – begin to flow out of her.

Janet Behan is an author and an actor

Reclusive Noreen is a woman who rails against her daughter, husband and neighbours for ruining her life, although beneath the rage she nurses a broken heart, pining for the baby that was stolen from her many years ago.

Elsewhere Susan, the wife of the town’s highly respected pastor, discovers that she is pregnant. Congratulations come from all corners, but Susan has a problem - the pastor is white and there is more than a chance that her baby is not.

Ms Behan explains of the characters: “Each of these women started out as hopeful, bright-eyed and brave but each of them had their youthful optimism blighted by the prevailing religious constraints in their differing communities.

“These are women of my generation, still, after so many years, living every day with their own particular pain and loss.

“Mindless adherence to religious dogma continues to shape and circumscribe the lives of women the world over.”

Jessica Higgs, who is directing the play, adds: “Outrage explodes from the burning heart of these insightful, clever, thumbnail portraits. Full of compassion and humour, they allow us into the very particular life experiences of their heroines.”

Writer Ms Behan has also worked as an actor for more than 40 years - recently appearing in Channel 5’s new series The Madam Blanc Mysteries.

Her first play Brendan at the Chelsea, inspired by her uncle, which starred Adrian Dunbar, was a sell-out success at the Lyric Theatre Belfast and on tour in New York, Dublin and Derry.

Ms Behan revealed this week that she Why Shouldn’t I Go?, is similarly inspired by a family member, although this time it was her father’s story that she wanted to tell.

“My father, Brian Behan, came to London in his early twenties, a bright young man with little formal education beyond that which had been beaten into him during the three years he spent imprisoned in Artane Industrial School,” she said.

“In 2002 he submitted evidence to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; he died that same year but his solicitor contacted me to ask if I wished to posthumously pursue his claim for compensation.

“Feeling that this was the last thing I could do for him, I went to Dublin to attend the tribunal along with my three sisters, each with our own shaky, tearful story of the way in which he’d been affected all his life by those three years; the hyper-sensitivity to anything that smacked of criticism, the terrifying rages, the inability to let anyone, even us, get close.”

She explained: “The Tribunal told us that there was no need to offer concrete proof that he’d been abused – the very fact that he was at Artane meant that he must have been.

“He spent only three years inside those walls, but the pain and fear never left him.”

She added: “’I grew up in London, the child of atheists - mum and dad were both in the Communist party when they met - but I’d always been aware of mother and baby homes, women with life-threatening pregnancies denied medical intervention, simply instructed by their GP’s to ‘talk it over with your priest’, teenagers sent to England for the ‘little holiday’.

“Dad’s experience at the hands of the Catholic Church got me thinking about these women and provided the inspiration for Why Shouldn’t I Go?

“The three women in the play are very different from one another and deal with their pain in different ways — with humour, with denial, with acceptance.

“But they have one thing in common — religion and the impact it has had on their lives.”

Why Shouldn’t I Go? is on at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on Friday, November 26 at 8pm. For tickets click here.