The Plough and the Stars

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The Plough and the Stars
Written by Seán O'Casey
Characters Fluther Good
Peter Flynn, Mrs Gogan, Bessie Burgess
Nora Clitheroe
The Young Covey
Jack Clitheroe
Cpl. Stoddart
Sgt. Tinley, Captain Brennan, Lt Langon, Voice of the man,Rosie Redmond
Date premiered February 8, 1926 (1926-02-08)
Place premiered Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Irish Free State
Original language English
Subject Easter Rising
Setting Dublin: A tenement house and a pub

The Plough and the Stars is a play by the Irish writer Seán O'Casey first performed on February 8, 1926 by the Abbey Theatre in the writer's native Dublin.[1][2] The play's title references the Starry Plough flag.

It is the third play of his well-known "Dublin Trilogy" – the other two being The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and Juno and the Paycock (1924).


The first two acts take place in November 1915, looking forward to the liberation of Ireland. The last two acts are set during the Easter Rising, in April 1916.


Residents of the tenement house:

  • Jack Clitheroe: a bricklayer and former member of the Irish Citizen Army.
  • Nora Clitheroe: housewife of Jack Clitheroe.
  • Peter Flynn: a labourer, and uncle of Nora Clitheroe.
  • The Young Covey: a fitter, ardent socialist and cousin of Jack Clitheroe.
  • Bessie Burgess: a street fruit-vendor, and Protestant.
  • Mrs Gogan: a charwoman.
  • Mollser Gogan: daughter of Mrs Gogan, dying from consumption.
  • Fluther Good: a carpenter, and trade-unionist.

Additional characters:

  • Lieutenant Langon: a civil servant, and lieutenant of the Irish Volunteers.
  • Captain Brennan: a chicken butcher, and captain of the Irish Citizen Army.
  • Corporal Stoddard: a corporal of the Wiltshire Regiment of the British Army.
  • Sergeant Tinley: a sergeant of the Wiltshire Regiment of the British Army.
  • Rosie Redmond: a daughter of "the Digs," and a prostitute.
  • A Bartender.
  • Moira O'Hara- An upper class woman
  • Ailis O'Hara- Daughter of Moira O'Hara
  • The Portrait In The Window: Unmentioned but uses quotes attributed to Padraig Pearse.

Act I[edit]

The first act is a representation of normal working-class life in early twentieth century Dublin. The majority of major characters are introduced. The act opens with gossip from Mrs Gorgan, a Catholic charwoman. Some other characters introduced are: Fluther Good, a trade unionist and carpenter; "the Young Covey", an ardent communist and fitter; Jack Clitheroe, the Covey's uncle and a former member of the Irish Citizen Army, at that time led by James Connolly. There is also Nora Clitheroe; Jack Clitheroe's wife. Later in this act, Captain Brennan knocks on the door of the Clitheroes' home and asks to see "Commandant Clitheroe", which surprises Jack Clitheroe, as he was not aware he'd been promoted. Nora begs him not to answer the door, but he does, and meets Captain Brennan, a chicken butcher and a member of the Irish Citizen Army. Captain Brennan hands Jack Clitheroe his orders telling him that he and his battalion are ordered to join General James Connolly at a meeting. Jack Clitheroe asks why he was not informed that he was made commandant. Captain Brennan claims he gave a letter to Nora Clitheroe explaining his new promotion. This is when Jack Clitheroe starts fighting with Nora because Nora burned the letter that told Jack Clitheroe he was promoted.

Act II[edit]

This act was originally a single-act play, called The Cooing of Doves.

The setting is the interior of a public house. A political rally is in progress outside. From time to time an unnamed man is heard addressing the crowd. His words are taken from various speeches and writings of Patrick Pearse. Rosie Redmond, a prostitute, is complaining to the barman that the meeting is bad for business. Peter Flynn, Fluther Good and Young Covey come in and leave again at intervals, having a quick drink during the speeches. Bessie Burgess and Mrs. Gogan also come in, and a fight breaks out between them. After they have left, Covey insults Rosie, leading to a row between him and Fluther. Jack Clitheroe, Lieutenant Langon and Captain Brennan enter the bar, in uniform and carrying The Plough and the Stars flag and a green, white and orange tricolour. They are so moved by the speeches that they are determined to face imprisonment, injury or death for Ireland. They drink quickly and leave again in time to march their respective companies away. Fluther leaves with Rosie.

Act III[edit]

This takes place on Easter Monday, the opening day of the Easter Rising. Bessie gloats about the Rebels' imminent defeat. The characters loot the shops of Dublin. Brennan and Jack appear with a wounded rebel, but Jack ignores Nora's plea to leave the fighting. She then goes into labour.

Act IV[edit]

This takes place later in the rising. Mollser, a local girl, has died of tuberculosis, while Nora has had a stillbirth. She is delirious, imagining herself walking in the woods with Jack. Brennan arrives and tells the others that Jack has been shot dead. Two British soldiers arrive and escort the men away — civilians are suspected of aiding a rebel sniper. Nora goes to a window, calling for Jack; when Bessie pulls her away, Bessie is shot in the back, mistaken for a sniper.


W. B. Yeats famously declared to rioters against the play, in reference to the "Playboy Riots" (The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge):  "You have disgraced yourselves again; is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?"

In performance[edit]


Elie Siegmeister used the play as the subject of his opera of the same name, composed in the 1960s.[3] The opera was given its New York premiere at Symphony Space in October 1979 by the New York Lyric Opera.[4]

In 1936, the play was adapted into a film by American director John Ford, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Foster. In 2011, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a production directed by Nadia Molinari with Elaine Cassidy as Nora and Padraic Delaney as Jack.[5]


In 2015, Mercy secondary school, Mounthawk, Tralee, Co. Kerry, performed the plough and the stars in a local theatre, Siamsa Tíre. The sell out performance was nominated for best school play at the board gais energy theatre student awards which they went on to win. The show has been constantly praised by the local people of tralee and by the bord gais theatre.


  1. ^ Andrew Moore. "The Plough and the Stars". Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  2. ^ "Sean O'Casey and the 1916 Easter Rising". Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Elie Siegmeister, 82; American Composer". Los Angeles Times. March 12, 1991. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "Other". New York Magazine. October 22, 1979. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  5. ^ "BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3, The Plough and the Stars". BBC. Retrieved 13 November 2015. 

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