When Sean O’Casey’s Red Roses for Me was first published in 1943, his native Ireland was in a state of turmoil. Disputes between employers and workers and Catholics and Protestants, especially in Northern Ireland, often led to violence, making life uneasy for many. Yet when he wrote his play, O’Casey chose to focus on a much earlier time, 1913, when conditions in the southern city of Dublin were similar. The play was comparable in style to O’Casey’s other plays. In fact, from his first fulllength play, The Shadow of a Gunman (first performed in 1923), O’Casey established himself as a realistic writer and one of the first Irish dramatists to explore the modern problems in Ireland. Though Red Roses for Me addressed the turmoil in Ireland, many critics single it out for its autobiographical connections. In fact, critics often cite O’Casey’s second volume of autobiography, Pictures in the Hallway (1942), as a direct influence on Red Roses for Me.
The play details the struggle of Ayamonn Breydon, a working-class Protestant hero, and his fellow workers against employers who refuse to pay an extra shilling a week. Through the use of Ayamonn, who is open-minded and sympathetic to many others, including Catholics and even an atheist, O’Casey explores the thorny religious and labor disputes in his native land and demonstrates his support for Ireland’s working class. Red Roses for Me has never been as popular as O’Casey’s earlier plays, but some critics praise it for its use of symbolism, most notably in the third act, where Ayamonn’s rousing, patriotic speech coincides with a gray Dublin being symbolically transformed into a shining, golden city through the use of stage lighting. A copy of the drama can be found in the paperback version of Sean O’Casey: Plays One, published by Faber & Faber in 1999.