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October 12, 2023

A Deep Dive: Juno and the Paycock


Juno and the Paycock

Learn more about Druid Theatre’s October 2023 production of Juno and the Paycock, part of Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy.

Characters & Cast

Tenement Residents

“Captain” Jack Boyle, an unemployed ne’er-do-well // Rory Nolan
Juno Boyle, his wife // Hilda Fay
Johnny Boyle, their son, who was wounded in the Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War // Tommy Harris
Mary Boyle, their daughter // Zara Devlin
“Joxer” Daly, Jack Boyle’s best friend and drinking companion // Aaron Monaghan
Mrs. Maisie Madigan // Caitríona Ennis
“Needle” Nugent, a tailor // Marty Rea
Mrs. Tancred // Catherine Walsh

Other Characters

Jerry Devine, Mary’s boyfriend and a supporter of the Irish Republican cause // Gabriel Adewusi
Charles Bentham, a school teacher // Liam Heslin
An Irregular Mobilizer // Tara Cush
Two Irregulars // Robbie O’Connor and Marty Rea
A Coal-Block Vendor // Anna Healy
A Sewing Machine Man // Robbie O’Connor
Two Furniture Removal Men // Garrett Lombard and Sean Kearns
A Neighbor // Sarah Morris

Expand for Synopsis (Spoiler Alert)
Act I (1922, the living room of the Boyle family). The Boyle family, consisting of the hardworking and responsible Juno Boyle, her husband Captain Jack Boyle, and their children Johnny and Mary, are struggling to make ends meet. Johnny has returned home and is agonizing over his betrayal of his friend Robbie Tancred, who was murdered by Free State supporters. Mary is on strike and feels guilty about dumping her boyfriend, Jerry Devine. A schoolteacher, Charles Bentham, brings news that one of Jack’s relatives has died and the Boyles will receive a large inheritance.

Act II (a few days later). Jack has already begun to spend the anticipated inheritance, causing further deterioration in Juno’s relationship with Jack. The Boyles throw a party and invite Bentham, who is courting Mary after her breakup with Jerry, and Mrs. Maisie Madigan, a neighbor to whom Jack owes money. During the party, Robbie Tancred’s funeral procession passes the tenement, but the Boyles continue celebrating until his mother stops by. While Juno offers support to Mrs. Tancred, Jack ignores her suffering.

Act III (two months later). Bentham abandons Mary, who is pregnant with his child. Jack’s debts come due, with a variety of creditors demanding repayment and repossessing his new purchases. As Juno begs Jack to use the inheritance to move to a different city, he reveals that Bentham made an error in drafting the will, and they will receive nothing. Jack and Johnny both disown Mary, Johnny’s involvement with the anti-treaty forces catches up with him when the IRA takes him away, and Juno decides to leave Jack and to start a new life with Mary. Jack returns home from the pub, unaware that his family has fallen apart.



Republicans (“Diehards”) vs. Free Staters: In Juno and the Paycock, set during the Irish Civil War (June 28, 1922 – May 24, 1923), the two warring sides are referred to as either Republicans or “Diehards” on one side, or “Free Staters” on the other. After the War of Independence, representatives of the Irish Republic signed The Anglo-Irish Treaty in December of 1921. The treaty compromised on the Republic’s stated goal of full independence by establishing the Irish Free State as a dominion of the British Commonwealth with its own government, army, and police force; it also allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of the Free State and remain part of the United Kingdom. For some Republicans who were fighting for full Irish independence, these terms were unacceptable. A deep schism developed between Irish political leaders and revolutionaries, turning former allies in the Republican movement into two new segments: pro-treaty Nationalists, or “Free Staters,” and anti-treaty Republicans, or “Diehards.”

Irish Republican Army (IRA): The IRA has existed in many forms throughout Irish history. During the Irish War of Independence (depicted in The Shadow of a Gunman), the IRA was recognized by the Irish Republic as its legitimate army, and they fought for the creation of an independent Irish nation; the IRA from this period is sometimes called the “Old IRA.” In the time of Juno and the Paycock, set during the Irish Civil War, the IRA had split into two factions: pro and anti-treaty. Soldiers with the anti-treaty faction, sometimes referred to as “Irregulars,” continued to use the IRA name, while pro-treaty forces began to represent the new Free State government as the National Army. The anti-treaty IRA of this period is a precursor to the Provisional IRA active during The Troubles from 1969-1998. In Juno and the Paycock, Johnny Boyle was active with the Old IRA, but is avoiding active duty with the new IRA.

Dublin Tenements: a collection of buildings, typically mid-18th century aristocratic townhouses, that were adapted from the 1870s-1890s to house Dublin’s working poor. These opulent mid-city mansions were divided into up to 20 apartments, housing as many as 100 people per building. A single family usually shared a one-room flat, and bathrooms and water were shared by everyone in the building. Cramped conditions resulted in rampant disease and a high mortality rate; O’Casey himself lost eight siblings in infancy to croup. In the early 1910s, Dublin was notorious for some of the worst urban poverty in Europe, with approximately 20,000 families living in tenements. Tenement occupancy peaked in the 1910s, but it continued through the late 1970s. All three O’Casey Cycle plays are set in tenements with the exception of one act in The Plough and the Stars.

Trades Union Strike (The Postal Strike of 1922): In Juno and the Paycock, Mary Boyle and Jerry Devine are involved in The Postal Strike of 1922, referenced in their talk of Trades Unions and labor. Taking place from September 9-29, 1922, at the height of the Irish Civil War, this strike caused significant political problems for the newly formed Irish Free State. Labor organizing and general strikes had been a powerful part of the Irish Republican movement for over a decade, but this particular dispute pitted the postal union against the fledgling Free State and its police forces rather than the British government or independent companies.

C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department): an armed police unit organized by the Irish Free State to investigate and suppress the anti-treaty IRA. They were criticized for their forceful interrogation techniques, and after the Irish Civil War, they were disbanded. In Act II of Juno and the Paycock, Juno complains that they have been holding investigations in the Boyles’ tenement.

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891): an Irish Nationalist politician who organized the early Home Rule movement. He is celebrated as one of Ireland’s most important political leaders, and many historians believe he could have achieved Home Rule peacefully were he not forced out of office due to a scandal over his long-running affair with a married woman. Her divorce proceedings brought the affair to light, and objections from both the Catholic leadership of Ireland and English liberals in Parliament ended his political career.

’47: Shorthand for 1847, the worst year of the Great Famine, which resulted in the death of more than one million Irish people and the emigration of a million more. “Captain” Jack Boyle references it in Act II.
Fenians: members of the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood, two organizations instrumental in building the Republican movement in the turn of the 20th century.

St. Anthony: (St. Anthony of Padua) the patron saint of lost things known for his devotion to the poor and the sick. In Juno and the Paycock, the Boyle family lights a candle to him in the off-stage room.

St. Brigid: (St. Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland) one of Ireland’s patron saints along with St. Patrick. “Captain” Boyle evokes her name at the end of Act I.

Chassis: Captain Jack Boyle’s word meaning, approximately, “chaos”

Production History

Juno and the Paycock premiered at The Abbey Theatre in 1924, just one year after Sean O’Casey’s debut play, The Shadow of a Gunman, became The Abbey’s first sold out production. O’Casey immediately surpassed his earlier success with Juno and the Paycock, which was extended due to audience demand, becoming the first play at The Abbey Theatre to run for more than one week. Its success encouraged O’Casey to quit his road repair job and became a full-time writer at age 44. The play wasn’t just a windfall for the playwright, the success of Juno and the Paycock and The Shadow of a Gunman saved The Abbey Theatre, which was at risk of bankruptcy before O’Casey’s arrival.

Set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Juno and the Paycock premiered in an embittered and deeply divided Ireland in March of 1924, less than a year after a ceasefire ended active conflict. Its immediacy to audiences of its time echoed that of The Shadow of a Gunman, set during the Irish War for Independence, which took place just two years before the play’s premiere. These two plays along with 1926’s The Plough and the Stars — set during the Easter Rebellion of 1916 — depict each major event of the Irish Revolutionary Period. Often called The Dublin Trilogy, the works chronicle the birth of the Irish nation through the eyes of Dublin’s impoverished tenement residents.

Due to its irreverent and critical approach to Irish nationalism and revolution, Juno and the Paycock was as controversial as it was popular. In the past 100 years, the play has lessened in controversy, but its popularity remains. Juno and the Paycock is now one of O’Casey’s most frequently performed and studied works. It has been adapted several times, including into a 1930 film by Alfred Hitchcock and a 1959 Broadway musical entitled Juno.