There is much more talk than action in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” On a rainy autumn afternoon, election canvassers drift in from the Dublin streets to warm themselves around a meager fire in the election committee room. As the story begins, there are only two people in the dimly lit room: Jack, the old caretaker of the committee room, complains to O’Connor, one of the canvassers, about his uncontrollable, ne’er-do-well son. Jack falls silent, however, as other canvassers join them, and the conversation turns to local politics. Their candidate is “Tricky Dicky Tierney,” and they discuss him and his cronies, as well as one another, with varying degrees of cynicism. Another topic of keen interest is the likelihood of Tierney buying them a round of stout.
When the stout does, indeed, arrive, they become more enthusiastic in their support of Tierney. Henchy, one of the canvassers, defends Tierney’s willingness to welcome a visit from King Edward VII. This discussion inevitably leads these Dubliners to the subject of Charles Stuart Parnell, the great Irish political leader who led the fight for Home Rule, meaning Irish self-government, until his fall from power and his death shortly thereafter, on October 6, 1891. The story takes place on October 6, some years later. O’Connor wears an ivy leaf in his lapel to commemorate Parnell’s death.
Parnell’s involvement in a divorce case led to his fall from power, and the men argue briefly about his character, but they are soon praising him with an odd mixture of sincerity and cynicism: “We all respect him now that he’s dead and gone—even the Conservatives.” Henchy asks the journalist among them, Hynes, to recite his poem “The Death of Parnell.” After a long silence, Hynes does so. His poem condemns the politicians and Catholic priests who contributed to Parnell’s downfall. The canvassers are greatly moved by this recital, except the Conservative, Crofton, who compliments it carefully as “a very fine piece of writing.”