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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 152

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Tom Broadbent is a civil engineer working in Ireland during the establishment of England's political control. He is known as a "John Bull," or a stereotypical Englishman.

Laurence Doyle is Broadbent's business partner. Being an Irishman who spent the majority of his life in England, Doyle is made uneasy as his work with Broadbent requires him to return to Ireland.

Nora Reilly is an Irish "heiress" despite her lack of fortune. She has feelings for Doyle, but when he rejects her, she marries Broadbent.

Tim Haffigan is a Scotsman pretending to be an Irishman in order to con Broadbent.

"Father" Keegan is a former priest who is mentally and emotionally unstable, but he is also known for his intelligence, and he is beloved by his former congregants.

Barney Doran is known for his mean and cruel humor, making fun of many of the other characters.

Matt Haffigan is a depressed, burnt-out farmer.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 613

Tom Broadbent

Tom Broadbent, an English civil engineer. Large, healthy, and hearty, Broadbent is the “John Bull” (the traditional Englishman) of this comedy of national character. An unconscious hypocrite in the service of the Land Development Syndicate, for which he hopes to develop an estate (including tourist attractions) in Rosscullen, Doyle’s birthplace, he is nevertheless full of ingenuous hope that his English efficiency can lay balm to the wounds of the suffering and incompetent Irish. Irish Home Rule, he believes, will work wonders under English guidance, and he is ludicrously unaware of the contradiction. Having arrived in Rosscullen in act 2, he diverts the locals with his speechifying and his antics (he gives Matt Haffigan’s pig a ride in his motorcar, with predictably disastrous results), but he also wins nomination as their next candidate for Parliament. He also engages in a half-comic, whirlwind courtship of Nora, in whom he sees all the Irish graces he sentimentally wants to protect and indulge.

Laurence Doyle

Laurence Doyle, Broadbent’s partner and housemate, an expatriate Irishman. Doyle is both typical and atypical. His Irish character was bred in the misty climate, which he says is the birthplace of grandiose and hopeless dreams that end in futile laughter and squalor. From this perception comes his fear of returning to Ireland and his people, though his friendship for Broadbent pushes him to do so. All of his adult life has been spent in England: Perhaps, like the expatriate outsider playwright himself, Doyle believes that England has made a man of him, a citizen of the world, capable of action. He voices the playwright’s internationalist and socialist political views and also speaks for his optimistic quasi-religious creed of “Creative Evolution.”

“Father” Keegan

“Father” Keegan, a defrocked “mad” priest. Mysterious and spiritual, he displays more than a touch of the genius and the saint. He is still revered by the parish, particularly Nora, his favorite, though he has been officially displaced by plump Father Dempsey, a smooth politician. He is prey to the sin of despair, and his insight into the sufferings of a world that he sees as a living hell cannot be assimilated into the comic economy of the play. His oracular pronouncement, “every jest is an earnest in the womb of Time,” closes it.

Nora Reilly

Nora Reilly, Rosscullen’s “heiress,” with an income of forty pounds sterling per year. Graceful, fastidious, and proud, Nora has the innate delicacy of a born lady without the income. She has waited eighteen years for the return of Doyle, the only man she has met who is fit for her hand, and her charms are beginning to fade. After Doyle disabuses her of this romantic dream, she accepts a useful role in the world as Broadbent’s wife: Ireland thus “marries” England.

Tim Haffigan

Tim Haffigan, a fake Irishman, in reality a seedy Glasgow con man with incipient delirium tremens. Haffigan’s rollicking stage brogue and “Irish” conviviality fool Broadbent, who wants to employ him to break the ice for him among his “countrymen” in Rosscullen. Broadbent gives Haffigan half a pint of whiskey and a five-pound note before Doyle unmasks and disposes of the impostor.

Barney Doran

Barney Doran, the miller. Stout and redheaded, Doran takes the Irish love of a joke to extremes, finding brutal pleasure in cruel fun. He regales the company in Doyle’s father’s house with the story of Broadbent and the motoring pig.

Matt Haffigan

Matt Haffigan, a peasant farmer. Haffigan has been brutalized and his wits extinguished by years of degrading toil on an unyielding scrap of land. Although his tale of woe touches Broadbent, he is an unpleasant specimen.




Critical Essays