Thessaloniki Documentary Festival: The Laughing Boy (An Buachaill Geal Gháireach) (2022)

An Buachaill Geal Gáireach (The Laughing Boy) is the extraordinary untold story of a song that resonated for freedom in Ireland and Greece.

Anthem for the Eternal Rebel

by Alexa Dalby

The Laughing Boy

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

An Buachaill Geal Gáireach, a fascinating trilingual documentary in Irish, English and Greek, presented by poet Theo Dorgan and directed by Alan Gilsenan, is the remarkable untold story of an Irish song called ‘The Laughing Boy’. It was written by the 12-year-old rebel Brendan Behan in memory of another iconic Irish rebel, Michael Collins, a lament for a lost youth who was fighting for freedom. The centenary of Collins’ death was commemorated in 2022 and February this year is the 100th anniversary of Behan’s birth.

Amazingly, this song, ‘The Laughing Boy’, from adult Brendan Behan’s play The Hostage, became the inspirational anthem of the political left in Greece.

‘The Laughing Boy’ had an extraordinary and dramatic afterlife as ‘To Gelasto Paidi’, the powerful left-wing anthem of resistance against the dictatorship that ruled Greece in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Translated by the poet Vassilis Rotas, Behan’s words in Greek were set to music by the legendary Mikis Theodorakis, the famed Greek composer who scored films like Zorba the Greek. Theodrakis led the opposition to the Colonels. He was in prison, then he was exiled to the island of Ikaria. After the Colonels were toppled, Theodrakis went back. He was a national hero and remained so for the rest of his life. He died in Paris in 2021.

The documentary includes archive footage of a 1970s concert by the song’s iconic interpreter, singer Maria Farandouri, and a recent interview with her. The song remains an enduring and potent cultural force in the heart of Greece today.

As poet Theo Dorgan says in the film, both the Irish and Greek versions of the song capture something unique: “…Some idea, perhaps, of the eternal rebel, some embodiment of revolt against small destiny, tyranny, the forces that tend always and everywhere to diminish if not actually crush our sense of the necessary largeness of life and the imagination…”

Behan wrote the poem ‘The Laughing Boy’ when he was 12 years old. Poet Theo Dorgan lives on Ikaria, the island where Theodorakis lived in exile.

Theodorakis’s music for ‘The Laughing Boy’ was used by Costa-Gavras in the film Z, based on the life and assassination of Greek left-wing politician Grigoris Lambrakis.

The Laughing Boy, made by Imagine Media Productions and produced by Kathryn Baird and Sheila Friel, premiered on RTE, screened at the Galway Film Fleadh and is screened at the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival on 4 March 2023.

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