Waiting for Captain Boyle to come in from his morning visit to the pub, Mary Boyle and her mother, Juno, discuss the newspaper account of the murder of Robbie Tancred, a fanatic Irish Republican. Johnny Boyle, who was shot in the hip and lost an arm fighting against the Free State, leaves the living room after denouncing the two women for their morbid insensitivity. Juno scolds Mary for participating in the Trades Union Strike, especially at a time when the family is in debt for food, but Mary defends her activities, and her brother’s as well, as matters of principle.
When Jerry Devine rushes in with a message from Father Farrell, who found a job for Boyle, Juno sends Jerry to look for her husband at his favorite bar. Soon afterward she hears her husband and his crony, Joxer Daly, singing on the stairs. She hides behind the bed curtains so as to catch them talking about her. Disclosing herself, she frightens Joxer away and berates her husband for his laziness and malingering. Jerry returns and delivers his message to Boyle, who immediately develops a case of stabbing pains in his legs. Juno, not deceived, orders him to change into his working clothes. She then leaves for her own job.
Jerry accosts Mary, complains of her unfriendliness, and once again proposes to her. Although Jerry offers her love and security, Mary refuses him, and both leave in a huff.
Ignoring his wife’s instructions to apply for the job, Boyle, leisurely proceeding to get his breakfast, is rejoined by Joxer. Absorbed in their talk, they refuse to acknowledge a loud knocking at the street door, though the continuance of it seems to upset Johnny. Their rambling discourse on family life, the clergy, literature, and the sea is interrupted by Juno and Mary, who returned with Charlie Bentham, a schoolteacher and amateur lawyer, to announce that a cousin bequeathed two thousand pounds to Boyle. Boyle declares that he is through with Joxer and the like, whereupon Joxer, who was hiding outside the window, reappears, expresses his indignation, and leaves.
Two days later the two cronies are reconciled, Joxer having served as Boyle’s agent for loans based on expectations of the inheritance. The entrance of Juno and Mary with a new gramophone is followed by that of Bentham, now Mary’s fiancé. Over family tea, Bentham explains his belief in theosophy and ghosts. Johnny, visibly upset by this conversation about death, leaves the room but quickly returns, twitching and trembling. He is convinced that he saw the bloody ghost of Robbie Tancred kneeling before the statue of the Virgin.
The arrival of Joxer with Mrs. Madigan, a garrulously reminiscing neighbor, smooths over the incident. A party featuring whiskey and song ensues. The revelry is interrupted by Mrs. Tancred and some neighbors, on their way to Tancred’s funeral. Soon thereafter the merriment is again dispelled, this time by the funeral procession in the street. A young man, an Irregular Mobilizer, comes looking for Johnny, whom he reproaches for not attending the funeral. He orders Johnny to appear at a meeting that had been called to inquire into Tancred’s death. Two months later, Juno insists on taking Mary to the doctor, for the young woman seems to be pining away over Bentham, who has disappeared.
After the women leave, Joxer and Nugent, a tailor, slip into the apartment. Having learned that Boyle will not receive the inheritance, Nugent comes to get the suit that he sold to Boyle on credit. Taking the suit from a chair, Nugent scoffs at Boyle’s promise to pay and his order...
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for a new topcoat as well. Joxer, who sneaks out unseen, returns, hypocrite that he is, to commiserate with Boyle. Mrs. Madigan, who also hears that Boyle will not receive his inheritance, arrives to collect the three pounds she lent him. Rebuffed, she appropriates the gramophone and leaves, followed by Joxer.
News of Boyle’s misadventure spreads rapidly; two men arrive to remove the new, but unpaid-for, furniture. Mrs. Boyle runs out to find her husband. Mary having returned, Jerry Devine comes to see her. Again he proposes. Although he is willing to forget that Mary jilted him for Bentham, he recoils at her admission that she is pregnant.
Left alone with the two moving men, Johnny imagines that he feels a bullet wound in his chest. At that moment two armed Irish Irregulars enter the apartment and accuse Johnny of informing on Tancred to the gang that murdered him. Ignoring Johnny’s protestations of innocence and loyalty, the men drag him out. A little later, Mrs. Madigan notifies Mary and Juno that the police are waiting below, requesting that Juno identify a body. Juno and Mary leave, vowing never to return to the worthless Boyle.
Soon Boyle and Joxer stumble into the abandoned apartment, both very drunk and unaware of Johnny’s death or Juno and Mary’s desertion. Joxer stretches out on the bed; Boyle slumps on the floor. With thick tongues they stammer out their patriotic devotion to Ireland, and Boyle deplores the miserable state of the world.