When Sean O’Casey wrote Juno and the Paycock 95 years ago, he included a few references that would have been well-known to audiences of the time but are less familiar to contemporary viewers. Here’s some information to keep you in the know:
Republicans (“Diehards”) vs. Free Staters: In Juno and the Paycock, set during the Irish Civil War (June 28, 1922 – May 24, 1923), the two warring sides are referred to as either Republicans or “Diehards” on one side, or “Free Staters” on the other. After the War of Independence, representatives of the Irish Republic signed The Anglo-Irish Treaty in December of 1921. The treaty compromised on the Republic’s stated goal of full independence by establishing the Irish Free State as a dominion of the British Commonwealth with its own government, army, and police force; it also allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of the Free State and remain part of the United Kingdom. For some Republicans who were fighting for full Irish independence, these terms were unacceptable. A deep schism developed between Irish political leaders and revolutionaries, turning former allies in the Republican movement into two new segments: pro-treaty Nationalists, or “Free Staters,” and anti-treaty Republicans, or “Diehards.”
Irish Republican Army (IRA): The IRA has existed in many forms throughout Irish history. During the Irish War of Independence (depicted in The Shadow of a Gunman), the IRA was recognized by the Irish Republic as its legitimate army, and they fought for the creation of an independent Irish nation; the IRA from this period is sometimes called the “Old IRA.” In the time of Juno and the Paycock, set during the Irish Civil War, the IRA had split into two factions: pro and anti-treaty. Soldiers with the anti-treaty faction, sometimes referred to as “Irregulars,” continued to use the IRA name, while pro-treaty forces began to represent the new Free State government as the National Army. The anti-treaty IRA of this period is a precursor to the Provisional IRA active during The Troubles from 1969-1998. In Juno and the Paycock, Johnny Boyle was active with the Old IRA, but is avoiding active duty with the new IRA.
Dublin Tenements: a collection of buildings, typically mid-18th century aristocratic townhouses, that were adapted from the 1870s-1890s to house Dublin’s working poor. These opulent mid-city mansions were divided into up to 20 apartments, housing as many as 100 people per building. A single family usually shared a one-room flat, and bathrooms and water were shared by everyone in the building. Cramped conditions resulted in rampant disease and a high mortality rate – O’Casey himself lost eight siblings in infancy to croup. At their peak in the early 1910s, Dublin was notorious for some of the worst urban poverty in Europe, with approximately 30% of Dublin’s population living in tenements, which continued to a lesser extent through the late 1970s. All three O’Casey Cycle plays are set in tenements with the exception of one act in The Plough and the Stars.
Trades Union Strike (The Postal Strike of 1922): In Juno and the Paycock, Mary Boyle and Jerry Devine are involved in The Postal Strike of 1922, referenced in their talk of Trades Unions and labor. Taking place from September 9-29, 1922, at the height of the Irish Civil War, this strike caused significant political problems for the newly formed Irish Free State.
C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department): an armed police unit organized by the Irish Free State to investigate and suppress the anti-treaty IRA. They were criticized for their forceful interrogation techniques, and after the Irish Civil War, they were disbanded. In Act II of Juno and the Paycock, Juno complains that they have been holding investigations in the Boyle’s tenement.
Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891): an Irish Nationalist politician who organized the early Home Rule movement. He is celebrated as one of Ireland’s most important political leaders, and many historians believe he could have achieved Home Rule peacefully were he not forced out of office due to a scandal over his long-running affair with a married woman. Her divorce proceedings brought the affair to light, and objections from both the Catholic leadership of Ireland and English liberals in Parliament ended his political career.
’47: Shorthand for 1847, the worst year of the Great Famine, which resulted in the death of more than one million Irish people and the emigration of a million more. ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle references it in Act II.
Fenians: members of the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood, two organizations instrumental in building the Republican movement in the turn of the 20th century.
St. Anthony: (St. Anthony of Padua) the patron saint of lost things known for his devotion to the poor and the sick. In Juno and the Paycock, the Boyle family lights a candle to him in the off-stage room.
St. Brigid: (St. Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland) one of Ireland’s patron saints along with St. Patrick. ‘Captain’ Boyle evokes her name at the end of Act I.
Chassis: ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle’s word meaning, approximately, “chaos.”