The apartment suggests a lot about the family before we meet any of the characters. The cramped size suggests they are not very well off and the "picture of the Virgin" shows they are Catholics.
The play opens in the morning with Mary Boyle and her brother Johnny sitting in the living room.
The table is set for one. When Juno Boyle, their mother, enters we realise they are awaiting the return of Juno’s errant husband "Captain" Jack Boyle.
He has been out drinking with his drinking "butty" Joxer Daly and has not returned home yet.
Juno and Mary discuss the newspaper story about the murder of the son of one of their neighbours - Mrs Tancred.
Johnny seems very on edge and sensitive, not wanting to discuss the murder.
Juno is the only one in the family who is working. Mary is on strike, Johnny is disabled due to losing an arm in the War of Independence. and Jack is willingly unemployed, complaining about apparently fake pains in his legs when anyone suggests work to him.
Jerry Devine - a suitor of Mary’s whom she is not very interested in - enters to inform the family he has heard of work for the Captain. Jerry rushes out to find Boyle when Juno says that he is in the pub.
Not long after this Jack himself enters, inviting Joxer in because he thinks Juno has already gone to work. When Juno enters the room it is obvious that she and Joxer do not get on.
The act closes after Jack finds out from a solicitor, Charles Bentham, that one of his relatives has died and left him a significant amount of money.
Jack is overjoyed at this and immediately vows to change his ways, promising Juno that he will stop drinking all the time with Joxer.