“Juno and the Paycock” – A Play by Sean O’Casey, 1924
I understand that St Patrick’s Day in Ireland is a religious rather subdued holiday. In the United States, with the huge parades, green beer, and men and women dressed as leprechauns, St Patrick Day, even though it isn’t a work holiday, is anything but subdued. Here are some comments from a few residents of Hoboken, New Jersey on their St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
- “St. Patty’s Day 2009 was a complete and utter atrocity and should never be allowed to occur again!!!!! If you all have to get that inebriated and belligerent, and end up breaking in to people’s apartment buildings to urinate and defecate in their hallways and stairs, than you are all losers! I will be more than happy to sign a petition to NOT ALLOW ST. PATTY’S DAY IN HOBOKEN TO EVER EVER BE PLANNED AGAIN!”
- “The parade is an excuse to get wasted and try and get laid….let’s be honest here. you don’t like to get laid? you don’t like to party? get your life together and stop being a little bitch.”
- “Tons of drunk 20 somethings all over the street. Bars have lines out the door starting at noon.”
Sometimes at my least charitable, I look at the cringe-worthy cheap sentimentality of St Patrick’s Day perhaps best exemplified by the song “The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers. What’s so special about the Irish? It just seems reasonable that the family, the ancestry, the nationality of every person in the world is just as valid as anyone else’s. Except for billionaires; they don’t count. During some years I’ve even avoided Irish books just so I won’t encounter any of the cheap sentimentality.
So what does St. Patrick’s Day have to do with Sean O’Casey’s play? Despite the above, I’ve read many Irish writers who far transcend sentimentality. Many great reading experiences have been with Irish writers, writers like James Joyce, Maeve Brennan, Flann O’Brien, Bernard MacLaverty, Edna O’Brien, Mary Lavin, William Butler Yeats, and, yes, Sean O’Casey. A current superior Irish writer is Sebastian Barry whose books “A Long, Long Way” and “The Secret Scripture” are excellent.
O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” takes place when the Irish were fighting each other, the Republicans versus the Free-Staters. I know less than nothing about Irish politics, but this was at a time when men in the same apartment building could be at war with each other. What I’m trying to say is that sentimentality in “Juno and the Paycock” is well-earned because the conditions of this family’s life, the poverty and the violence, are so terrible these people deserve an interlude from their current circumstances by reminiscing about the past.
Joxer Oh that’s a darlin’ song, a daarlin’ song!
Mary (bashfully). Ah, no da. I’m not in a singin’ humor.
Mrs. Madigan. Gawn with you, child an’ you only goin’ to be married; I remember as well as I remember yesterday, it was on a lovely August evenin’, exactly, according to date, fifteen years ago, come the Tuesday folleyin’ the nex’ that’s comin’ on, when me own man – the Lord be good to him – an’ me was sittin’ shy together in a doty little nook on a country road adjacent to The Stiles. “That’ll scratch your lovely, little white neck,” says he, ketchin’ hoult of a danglin’ bramble branch,, holdin’ clusters of the loveliest flowers you ever seen, an breakin’ it off, so that his arms fell, accidental-like, roun’ me waist, an’ as I felt it tightenin’, an’ tightenin’, an’ tightenin’, I thought me buzzom was every minute goin’ to burst into a roystherin’ song.
All of “Juno and the Paycock” is entirely in heavy Irish dialect. Here the dialect has the effect of slowing the reader down so the reader can appreciate the beauty of the phrasing. I found myself lingering over many of the parts of the play because the beauty and originality of the words were much like poetry. Sean O’Casey has an exquisite way with words.
I enjoy reading plays. For me, dialogue, the back and forth between characters, is one of my favorite parts of novels and stories, and plays are mostly dialogue.
“Juno and the Paycock” is a classic. I highly recommend reading this play or perhaps seeing it if you get the opportunity.