Nationalism

While focused on the Irish Civil War and the nationalist cause, this is by no means a nationalist play.

O’Casey looks at the Irish Republican Army and the nationalist cause with a very critical eye.

He had become disillusioned with the cause because he believed the nationalists put their nationalism before socialism, forgetting about the everyday working lives of the poor people of Ireland.

O’Casey was more concerned with presenting the poverty and alienation faced by the working-class inhabitants of Dublin slums than he was with nationalist ideals.

He believed that nationalism and the call to take up arms for one’s country was in fact bad for working-class people.

O’Casey himself had worked as a labourer and was well aware of the lack of rights and opportunities open to the working-classes.

He became a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, writing articles for the Irish Worker, a newspaper founded by James Connolly.

Therefore, the play is not biased towards nationalism. Instead O'Casey dramatises the impoverished living conditions and stressful lives of Dubliners without idealising nationalists or republicans.

The Irregulars, for example, are not portrayed in a positive light. The men who come to take Johnny away for execution are rude and violent.

O’Casey himself did not approve of the patriotic glorification of violence, something explored in his other plays. He considered it at odds with improving the lives of the working class.

Johnny’s idealistic political views trap him in a life of fear and violence. When the play begins we see that he has already lost an arm due to an injury he sustained in the Easter Rising.

When the Mobilizer comes for him at the end of Act II, Johnny cries "Haven't I done enough for Ireland! I've lost me arm, an' me hip's desthroyed so that I'll never be able to walk right agen! Good God, haven't I done enough for Ireland?"

The young man replies, "Boyle, no man can do enough for Ireland!"

However, O’Casey’s disillusionment with this patriotic call to bear arms is echoed in other plays from his Dublin trilogy.

For example, in Shadow of a Gunman the character Seamus Shields remarks in Act II, “It’s the civilians that suffer; when there’s an ambush they don’t know where to run. Shot in the back to save the British Empire, an’ shot in the breast to save the soul of Ireland … I believe in the freedom of Ireland, an’ that England has no right to be here, but I draw the line when I hear the gunmen blowin’ about dyin’ for the people, when it’s the people that are dyin’ for the gunmen!”.

Perhaps this is O’Casey’s response to those who suggest "no man can do enough for Ireland".