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.
Red Roses for Me begins in the apartment of Mrs. Breydon and her son, Ayamonn. The two talk about the impending strike between the employers and the workers, who demand an extra shilling a week in pay. Ayamonn notes that the play will only be put on as a fund-raiser if the strike takes place. They discuss Ayamonn’s relationship with Sheila Moorneen, a Catholic girl. Mrs. Breydon does not approve of the relationship because the Breydons are Protestants and there is tension between the two religious groups. Mrs. Breydon also says that Sheila is a proper girl who wants to be pampered and that Ayamonn cannot indulge her on his meager salary.
Eeada, Dympna, and Finnoola, who are an old, a middle-aged, and a young woman, respectively, open the door, bringing with them a dingy statue of the Virgin Mary, a Catholic symbol, and ask Mrs. Breydon for some soap to clean the statue. Mrs. Breydon leaves with them to go visit a sick neighbor. Sheila comes in but says she cannot stay long. Sheila notes to Ayamonn that she had knocked at the door earlier while Ayamonn was practicing and is upset that Ayamonn did not open the door. Ayamonn tries to blow over this fight by being romantic and playful, but Sheila asks him to be serious and tells him that she cannot go out with him the next night because she has a church function. She is also worried about Ayamonn’s involvement in the strike and says that if they are going to be together in the future, he needs to focus on reality. Ayamonn refuses to get serious, and Sheila tries to leave.
They are interrupted by the landlord, Brennan, who brings with him one of the men who will be singing in the play. Sheila is forced to listen to the song, which is interrupted first by Roory O’Balacaun, one of the potential strikers, and then by Ayamonn’s atheist friend, Tim Mullcanny, who mocks the religious quality of the song. Sheila uses the interruption to get up and leave, telling Ayamonn that their relationship is over. The three women from earlier in the play burst in, saying that the Virgin Mary statue has been stolen. Ayamonn says that he will help the women search for the statue.
The second act begins in the Breydon home on a later night. Brennan comes in, carrying the Catholic statue, explaining that he took it to polish it up for the sake of the little Catholic girl downstairs who gazes at the statue. He puts the cleaned statue back in its place and comes back, followed by Roory, a Catholic. The two men discuss Mullcanny, who has angered the population with his secular criticisms of religion. Roory and Brennan get into a religious debate over the ideals of Catholicism versus Protestantism, which is interrupted by the arrival of Mullcanny, who gives Ayamonn a book about evolution and then leaves. Sheila arrives and tries again to convince Ayamonn that he should give up his artistic ways and his unsavory associations. She tells him that she has heard the strike is going to take place and that if Ayamonn does not get involved, he will be made a foreman. Ayamonn refuses and is angry that she asked him to betray his coworkers.
They are interrupted by the frantic arrival of Mullcanny, who has been beaten up by a religious mob. The mob throws two stones through the windows of the Breydon home. Ayamonn rushes outside, while Brennan, Roory, and Sheila all argue with Mullcanny about his nonreligious views. Ayamonn and his mother come in, followed by Eeada, Dympna, Finnoola, and several others, all of whom are elated that the statue has been...
(The entire section is 1451 words.)