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THE OLD TRIANGLE

(Brendan Behan)


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This prisoner's song of utter longing and despair opens Behan's first play "The Quare Fellow," and frames it thereafter; sung off-stage (originally, when the play was first produced, in Dublin in 1954, by Behan himself), it comes as if from a lockdown cell.

The play is about "judicial hanging" -- capital punishment -- and based on Behan's imprisonment from 1942 to 1946 in Mountjoy Gaol for republican activities; the song is about routine, every day being the same, about the way prison destroys time and, with it, any sense of history....

...this is "I Shall Be Released" without any hope for freedom. A Greenwich Village commonplace in the early 1960s and never done better than by Liam Clancy....

Greil Marcus, The Invisible Republic, New York, NY, 1997, pp. 256-257.

Bob Dylan's likely source: Liam Clancy (of The Clancy Brothers) on "Liam Clancy" (Vanguard VSD-79169, 1965)

Original recording by Brendan Behan on "Brendan Behan Sings Irish Folksongs and Ballads" (Spoken Arts).

Original lyrics from Brendan Behan's play "The Quare Fellow", as staged at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, London, E. 15, May 24, 1956, and reprinted (© 1956 by Brendan Behan and Theatre Workshop) in the Evergreen Black Cat edition of "Two Plays by Brendan Behan: The Quare Fellow & The Hostage", New York, NY: Grove Press, 1964.


A prisoner sings; he is in one of the punishment cells.

ACT 1:

A hungry feeling came o'er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,
And that old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To begin the morning
The warder bawling
Get out of bed and clean up your cell,
And that old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

The screw was peeping
And the lag was weeping...
(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

ACT 2:

A hungry feeling came o'er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,
And the old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

On a fine spring evening,
The lag lay dreaming
The seagulls wheeling high above the wall,
And the old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

The screw was peeping
The lag was sleeping
While he lay weeping for the girl Sal...
(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

The wind was rising
And the day declining
As I lay pining in my prison cell
And that old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

In the female prison
There are seventy women...
(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

The day was dying and the wind was sighing,
As I lay crying in my prison cell,
And the old triangle
Went jingle jangle,
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

ACT III, Scene II (end of play):

In the female prison
There are seventy women
I wish it was with them that I did dwell,
Then that old triangle
Could jingle jangle
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.


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