Act one opens in the Westminster office-cum-bachelor rooms of Broadbent and Doyle, civil engineers. Tom Broadbent, very much the cheery, beef-fed John Bull, just back from a trip, instructs his valet, Hodson, to pack their bags for Ireland. He inquires whether anyone has called while he was away. Only an Irishman named Haffigan, replies Hodson, so disreputable that the punctilious valet showed him the door. However, Broadbent expresses an enthusiastic desire to see him. At that moment, fortuitously, Haffigan calls again.
Seedy, red-nosed, and possessed of a “rollicking stage brogue,” Haffigan rapidly downs half a pint of Broadbent’s whiskey, borrows five pounds, and arranges to accompany him to Rosscullen, Ireland, where Broadbent intends to develop an estate for the Land Development Syndicate. Convinced of the benefits of English efficiency, Broadbent is elated to think he will thereby also do some good for the downtrodden Irish. He wants Haffigan, as a typical Irishman (a role Haffigan is playing to the hilt), to promote the project among his countrymen.
Their tête-à-tête is interrupted by the arrival of Broadbent’s friend and partner. With Haffigan gone, Laurence Doyle exposes Broadbent’s folly in taking for the genuine article a Glasgow con artist with incipient delirium tremens—a folly entirely dependent on Broadbent’s subscribing to all the myths about the improvident, genial, and melancholy Irish-Celtic character. That character, says Doyle, is an invention of the English music hall. The real Irish character is bred by Ireland’s misty climate: The Irishman, says Doyle, himself in a “passionate dream,” is a hopeless dreamer whose dreams condemn him to perpetual squalor. Hence Doyle’s fear of returning; furthermore, Rosscullen is his birthplace, where Nora Reilly still waits for him. Broadbent nevertheless persuades him to come.
The scene changes to the open countryside of Rosscullen, at sunset: a lonely white road, heather, an ancient round tower in the distance, and an outcrop of granite in the foreground. On the granite, a man is conversing in mock seriousness with a grasshopper, causing terror in Patsy Farrell, who begs Father Keegan not to put a spell on him. Keegan can hardly shake him off, but the car arrives, and Patsy hurries off to carry the visitors’ bags, passing Nora Reilly, Keegan’s favorite. They talk; Nora is clearly preoccupied with the man who left her for the wide world eighteen years ago. Both leave before Broadbent enters, in company with the parish priest and Cornelius Doyle, Laurence Doyle’s father. Laurence Doyle, it seems, has been delayed in his journey. Cornelius’s sister comes down the hill to meet them and to arrange tea and accommodation (on the parlor sofa) for their...
(The entire section is 1134 words.)