On the anniversary of the novelist’s death, Clare McCormick recalls possibly his most famous short story
Every child preparing for Confirmation at this time, I feel sure would have been given the classic ‘The Confirmation Suit’ to read. The author – Brendan Francis Behan – an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army, was a novelist, an Irish poet, short story writer, and a playwright.
He was born on February 9, 1923, and he died March 20, 1964.
When Brendan wrote ‘The Confirmation Suit’ which was published in 1962 in ‘Brendan Behan’s Island: An Irish Sketch Book’, he drew on his own experience. I happened to read it again recently and it gave me as much pleasure as when I happened on it many years ago.
It is the story of the preparations a boy of twelve is making for his Confirmation. Those involved include a grandmother, who has a nest-egg she can dip into, unlike many in the neighbourhood. In the boy’s eyes she can afford luxuries – canned meats, malt, snuff and drink porter.
Grandmother’s neighbour, a Ms McCann, who is a tailor, and who makes the confirmation suit out of the goodness of her heart, and to the consternation of the boy. It’s not at all what he had in mind.
The vibrant language used for each character reflects Dublin working class, and yet each character has a unique delivery and individual style of speech. It is easy to imagine the characters and environment, it puts me in mind of Frank O’Conner’s ‘First Confession’, a story also narrated by a young boy with similar characters who might also reside over the road in Mountjoy Square around that time.