The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 845

The action of The Fiddler’s House takes place in a simple cottage inhabited by a widower, Conn Hourican, and his adult daughters, Maire and Anne. As the first of its three acts begins, the very polite and sensible James Moynihan is courting Anne. After James leaves, Conn enters and expresses his nostalgia for the happy days when he and his late wife traveled around the Irish Midlands so that Conn could play his fiddle in many villages. Anne is glad that their grandmother willed their cottage to Maire and not to their father; this gives Anne and Maire a sense of security, but Conn is tired of such a peaceful existence. Playing his fiddle in Flynn’s, the local pub, or perhaps even at the Feis of Ardagh, a regional musical festival, would bring Conn much pleasure: Maire, however, begs Conn not to go to Flynn’s lest he become drunk and disgrace them again. She obtains his solemn promise not to enter Flynn’s that evening. Although Brian MacConnell (a farmer who loves Maire) knows of Maire’s wishes, he persuades Conn to accompany him to Flynn’s by appealing to his vanity. He tells him that Shawn Heffernan, a fiddler whom Conn does not hold in high esteem, will perform at Flynn’s that evening. Unless Conn plays at Flynn’s, the villagers will conclude that Conn is no longer a gifted musician who can compete with younger fiddlers.

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Act 2 begins on the following morning. Maire and Anne regret that Brian and Conn went to Flynn’s instead of attending the respectable party given by the Moynihans. Anne wanted Conn to create a favorable impression on James’s parents. Maire begins to express serious doubts about Brian, whom she now considers to be fairly irresponsible. Conn enters and tells his daughters that several patrons in Flynn’s praised his playing and even referred to him as a “master musician.” Maire and Anne come to realize that their father lives for music. Maire reminisces that she and her late mother often tried in vain to make Conn think less of music and more of his family’s welfare.

James then enters and discusses a very practical problem with Maire and Anne. He loves Anne and wishes to marry her, but he does not know where they could live together. James’s father is not wealthy and must still arrange dowries for James’s two sisters. Moreover, the Moynihan house is rather small and could not accommodate a new couple. James is in a quandary.

After James leaves the stage, Conn returns, and Maire convinces him that he is wasting his talents by performing for the drunkards in Flynn’s. Conn assumes that she will propose that he display his musical skills to the more sophisticated and demanding listeners at the Feis of Ardagh. Maire, however, insists that he stop playing his fiddle in public and help her and Anne take care of their farm. This request almost crushes Conn’s spirit. Maire quickly realizes that she is asking for too great a sacrifice from her father; she never intended to destroy Conn’s self-esteem. As act 2 ends, Maire brings her father his fiddle so that he can practice for the Feis at Ardagh. Maire even hints that she may accompany him to this music festival.

Act 3 takes place one week later. As the final act begins, all the characters except Brian are having dinner together in the Hourican cottage. Conn speaks of his need to travel around Ireland. He explains that a true musician should not “remain too long in the one place.” Traveling will enrich both his life and his musical talent. Maire generously agrees to deed her farm and cottage to Anne; thus, James and Anne can be married. Believing that Maire may well marry Brian, Conn feels free to resume his life as a wandering fiddler. He is pleased that Anne will marry such a reliable and honest man as James. Anne’s fiancé sincerely admires his future father-in-law, whom he calls “a man of art.”

Maire, however, begins to question her love for Brian, whose unpredictable behavior disturbs her. She tries to discourage her father from leaving the security of their cottage for the life of a wandering fiddler. Conn tells her, however, that with only two exceptions the inhabitants of their village cannot fully appreciate the traditional folk music he plays. He must travel to those sections of Ireland where traditional Irish music is still valued. Conn asks Maire if she plans to marry the “wild and free-handed” Brian. Although she is physically attracted to Brian, Maire concludes that marriage with him would eventually bring her much heartbreak. She decides that she needs to experience the relative freedom of wandering around Ireland with her father. The ending of The Fiddler’s House is ambiguous. Although it appears that she will not marry Brian, Maire closes the play with this comment to Anne: “Tell Brian MacConnell that when we meet again maybe we can be kinder to each other.”

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 343

Critics have often praised the realistic dialogue in The Fiddler’s House. The five characters express themselves in a style that is neither exceedingly formal nor patently folksy. There is an artistic spontaneity in Padraic Colum’s style. This stylistic realism makes it relatively easy for those who attend performances of The Fiddler’s House to associate Colum’s characters with ordinary people. Like Ibsen, whom he admired greatly, Colum wanted his audiences to identify with his key characters so that they could understand more fully the moral and social significance of the characters’ actions.

All three acts in The Fiddler’s House take place inside the simple cottage inhabited by Conn and his daughters. Colum’s stage directions indicate that the scenery remains basically the same throughout this play. The house seems to symbolize the very stability and security from which Maire and Conn will escape and toward which Anne and James are drawn. This house is a place of joy, poetry, and music for all except Brian. On several occasions, Colum stresses that warm sunshine passes through the windows of Maire’s house. The external beauty that he and Maire often see from inside their cottage comes to represent for them the freedom that both attracts and frightens them. Conn’s fiddle itself is an important stage prop, which Colum utilizes to suggest both the creative urge and the desire for freedom. His fiddle is first seen at the end of act 1, as Conn is carrying it “eagerly” to Flynn’s. As the second act ends, Maire brings the fiddle to her father; this act symbolizes her approval of his desire to play music in public. Near the end of the final act, Conn can be heard playing his fiddle for the first time. Colum’s stage direction “A fiddle is heard outside” is richly suggestive, because the world outside the cottage represents creativity and freedom for Conn. When he next plays his fiddle, Anne realizes that her father and sister are ready to leave for the music festival at Ardagh.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 76

Sources for Further Study

Bowen, Zack. Padraic Colum: A Biographical-Critical Introduction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.

Boyd, Ernest. The Contemporary Drama of Ireland. Boston: Little, Brown, 1917.

Fallis, Richard. The Irish Renaissance. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Gregory, Lady Isabella Augusta. Our Irish Theater. Reprint. New York: Capricorn Books, 1965.

Malone, Andrew. The Irish Drama. 1929. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1965.

Sternlicht, Sanford. Padraic Colum. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Weygandt, Cornelius. Irish Plays and Playwrights. 1913. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.

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Critical Essays