In act 1, Mrs. Breydon worries that her son is doing too much, with his “sketchin’, readin’, makin’ songs, an’ learnin’ Shakespeare.” She is worried about “this sorryful sthrike” threatened by railroad workers and about Ayamonn’s “runnin’ afther” Sheila Morneen. Ayamonn replies that the owners will accept the workers’ demands and there will be no strike; he believes that Sheila’s Roman Catholic faith and policeman father are not reasons enough to give her up. Eeada, Dympna, and Finoola interrupt, bringing a statue of the Blessed Virgin, their “Lady of Eblana,” to ask for soap to clean it. Sheila arrives to urge the romantic Ayamonn to earn money for their marriage. Brennan brings a young carpenter, Sammy, to sing lyrics written by Ayamonn and set to music by Brennan. Roory O’Balacaun objects to the “foreign Minsthrel Show,” as Sammy sings of Kaithleen ni Houlihan, who “carries a rich bunch of red roses for me.” Roory calls the song indecent, and Mullcanny scoffs at Roory’s bigoted prudery. Sheila leaves, swearing that she will not see Ayamonn again; he says, “Aw, to hell with her!” The statue then disappears, and Ayamonn tries to console his neighbors. Alone with Roory, Ayamonn slowly dons his work clothes. They sing a Fenian song of rebellion as they go to work.
In act 2, the next evening, Brennan explains that he took the statue to be repainted. Ayamonn defends Mullcanny’s atheistic ways to Roory and Brennan: “I’ll stand by any honest man seekin’ th’ truth, though his way isn’t my way.” Mullcanny calls Brennan and Roory a “pair of damned fools.” Their quarreling is interrupted by Sheila, who says that Ayamonn can have a foreman’s job, but only if he abandons the workers’ cause. Ayamonn is furious. Mullcanny escapes a mob in the streets, with help from Mrs. Breydon. Breaking glass sends Brennan and Roory running, but Ayamonn takes a hurling stick into the street. Brennan, Roory, and Sheila accuse Mullcanny of causing trouble with his beliefs, but he retorts that people are merely “time’s promoted reptiles.” Ayamonn and his mother return, followed by Eeada, Dympna, and Finoola, who sing thanksgiving for the...
(The entire section is 902 words.)