Friday, 17 April 2015

Brendan Behan's Cowtown

You don't come across many films showing the massive old cattle market in Stoneybatter, aka "Cowtown". But you do get glimpses of it (around the 23-minute mark) in this documentary called "Brendan Behan's Dublin".

An advance warning: the opening shots in Norman Cohen's 1966 documentary are far too dark, the quality of "Behan's" crackling voiceover is diabolical (in the closing credits it's give as actor Ray McAnally), yet I still found the film unmissable - and the music by the Dubliners is superb.

It gives a slice of Dublin in the mid Sixties, when there were a lot more horses, donkeys, bicycles and cows on our streets.

There are glimpses of the Ha'penny Bridge, Kilmainham Gaol and Mountjoy - with an actual old triangle - the Queen's Theatre (now gone) and the then new Abbey Theatre, Dublin Zoo, Guinness's, the Moore Street market, the Rotunda and the Ambassador cinema, and Mooney's pub across the road from them (recently renamed something daft like the Parnell Heritage).

Some of the more noticeable differences in these particular streetscapes half a century ago - besides the lack of livestock - are the amount of cars, alarms, security grills, For Sale signs and men in hi-vis jackets.

Nelson Steet then (above) and now (below)

Behan's first school St Agatha's in North William Street then (above) and now (below)

Watch out for the interviews with Behan's dad - still in his housepainter's clobber - over a pint in his local, and his mum singing in her house in Crumlin (before the outside got a plaque).

Behan's family moved there from a tenement in Russell Street, and as far as they were concerned the new estates of the time were The Countryside. As his brother Dominic once put it, when they lived in the city centre "the only grass we ever saw we were asked to keep off it."

The Behans' house at 70 Kildare Road in Crumlin then (above) and now (below)

One of the strangest moments in the film is with Behan's wife Beatrice as she paints away, with daughter Blanaid still a toddler. Was Beatrice already a widow at the time of filming? It's hard to tell from it.

The documentary ends with the Liverpool ferry on the North Wall and crowds waving away on the quayside as their loved ones go. Not quite Ryanair in Terminal One with minimum hand luggage for a quick weekend away to somewhere we've never heard of before.

As for the Cowtown connection? When Behan was still a kid he did errands for the cattle drovers along the North Circular Road. He went to school at St Canice's CBS on the North Circular from 1934-37. "Canniers", as it was known down our way, closed for good in the 1970s.

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