Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1451
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 cleaned up and returned to its place. Sheila tries to renew her conversation with Ayamonn, but he refuses to talk about it anymore. The Protestant rector, a friend of Ayamonn’s, comes in, saying he has a warning. Two railwaymen arrive shortly thereafter, and collectively the three men tell Ayamonn that the union’s strike meeting has been forbidden and that the authorities will use force to break it up if necessary. The railwaymen ask Ayamonn to be one of the speakers at the meeting, and, against Sheila’s protests, Ayamonn agrees.
The third act takes place on a bridge that overlooks Dublin. The sky is a gloomy gray, and a number of characters lounge dispiritedly around the bridge. Eeada and Dympna call out their sales pitches for violets and apples, respectively. The crowd talks about how Dublin used to be a great city but now it is dead. The rector and the inspector walk by. While the rector gives Eeada and Dympna a few coins, the inspector looks down on them, and says that Ayamonn is a similar sort. The rector disagrees, and the two walk off. Brennan arrives and tries to sing a song, but the largely Catholic crowd shoos him away. Ayamonn and Roory arrive, and Ayamonn stays to talk to the crowd. As he begins to speak about how, through efforts like the strike, Dublin can be remade into a great city once again, the dark sky gets steadily lighter. Ayamonn invokes images of ancient Irish heroes and begins to sing, which prompts all of the assembled men and women to rise. Finnoola and Ayamonn dance together, ending up in each other’s arms. At this point, the sun is shining on Dublin and all of the people at the bridge, making it seem like a golden city. Yet, as the song and dance ends, the sound of marching is heard offstage, and the scene darkens again. Although Finnoola urges Ayamonn to stay with her, he kisses her and tells her he has to go.
The fourth act takes place on the grounds of a Protestant church, where the rector is preparing his sermon for the following day’s Easter ceremony. Samuel, the verger, tells the rector that two of the church’s vestrymen, Dowzard and Foster, have a problem with the Catholic-style daffodil cross that Ayamonn made. The rector insists that they use Ayamonn’s cross in the ceremony, saying he will place it on the Communion table himself. Mrs. Breydon and Sheila arrive, followed by Ayamonn, who arrives at the same time as the inspector (one of the men charged with breaking up the strike meeting). The inspector and Ayamonn argue over this meeting, and everybody except the rector tries to convince Ayamonn that going to the meeting is a bad idea. Ayamonn leaves, and a short time later the worker crowd passes by. Dowzard and Foster, who are against the strike, seek cover from the worker mob on the grounds of the church.
The rector comes out to see what all of the commotion is about, and the two men tell him to kick Ayamonn out of the vestry, since he is leading the mob. The rector refuses, and in their fury Dowzard grabs the daffodil cross while Foster throws it to the ground and jumps on it. Meanwhile, the police have attacked the workers and sounds of rifle fire are heard offstage. A crowd of men and women rushes onto the church grounds. Finnoola arrives, obviously wounded, and says that Ayamonn has been shot and killed. She delivers Ayamonn’s dying words to the rector, which include asking the rector to watch over Mrs. Breydon, as well as keeping Ayamonn’s body in the Protestant church that night.
The curtain comes down, indicating the passage of hours, and rises again. It is now evening, and several of the characters from the play are gathered on the church’s grounds. Dowzard argues with the rector, telling him that half of the congregation is against having Ayamonn’s body in the church, since they do not want to be associated with the labor dispute. A group of people arrives, carrying Ayamonn’s covered-up body on a stretcher, and Sheila lays a bunch of red roses on the body’s chest. The inspector speaks with Sheila, telling her that he tried to protect Ayamonn by forcing his horse in between the bullets and Ayamonn. His romantic intent is clear, but Sheila refuses him and runs off. The inspector curses the assembled men and women, forcing all of them except Brennan to scatter. The rector and Mrs. Breydon come out of the church, and the rector tells Samuel to leave the lights on all night so that Ayamonn’s body will not be in the dark. Brennan pays Samuel to leave the church door open for a few minutes so that Brennan can sing a song for Ayamonn.
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