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IVY DAY IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM
It is anniversary of the death of Parnell, a great Irish patriot and leader of the struggle against British colonial rule. Joyce uses the anniversary to expose the passive and degraded state of Irish politics, in contrast to Parnell’s fiery sincerity.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
A young embittered idealist, sharply critical of corrupt politicians.
A middle aged professional campaigner, willing to compromise on any issue for money.
A young campaigner unwilling to work in the rain, but somewhat sympathetic to Hynes’ views.
The old janitor. He represents the poor working-man who doesn’t know his own interests and sides with whoever employs him.
The employer of Old Jack, Henchy and O’Connor, he is the archetypal corrupt politician. He does not appear in the room.
Joe Hynes is a young nationalist with Labour Party sympathies. He is bitterly critical of all the political activists around him who are prepared to compromise with the British.
John Henchy-a middle-aged seasoned political campaigner, he has no loyalties or scruples. To him, politics is just a job and any compromise is possible.
There is little action, hence no real climax. Yet, the reading of Hynes’ Ode to Parnell illuminates the false sentimentality and insincerity of the whole group of activist present.
The reading of the poem throws light on the bleak outlook of an Ireland lacking in any sort of principled or honest political leadership.
The mood is dark and one of unrelieved gloom. From time to time in the conversation Joyce is at his ironic best.
Old Jack, the janitor, is trying his best to fan the fire in the dingy, cold committee room, where he sits along with Matt O’Connor. They are working for Richard Tierney, a candidate for the forthcoming municipal elections. Since it is raining heavily O’Connor is passing time at this office instead of canvassing votes in the ward area. O’Connor is said to be wearing a dark green leaf of ivy in the lapel of his coat. This signifies that it is the anniversary of Charles Stuart Parnell, a great charismatic leader of the earlier phase of the Irish struggle for freedom from Britain. O’Connor has a sentimental loyalty towards Parnell and wears the ivy leaf in memory of him.
Old Jack begins moaning about his teenaged son-who he says has gone "boozing about." He mourns "what’s the world coming to when sons speaks that way to their father?" The door opens just then and the new comer is "a tall, slender young man with a light brown moustache" called Hynes. He is surprised at them sitting in the dark. After this, old Jack bustles about getting two candlesticks, which he lights, from the fire. This brings into view a "dimmed room" and "the fire lost all its cheerful color." Hynes mockingly asks whether Tierney has paid them yet, to which O’Connor hopes they won’t "be left in the lurch again." While Jack scornfully says at least Tierney has the money, unlike "the other tinker." This is a scornful reference to Colgan, the Labour candidate in the ward. Hynes defends Colgan as "a plain honest man with no hunker-sliding about him." and adds "The working-man is not going to drag the honor of Dublin in the mud to please a German monarch." To the others’ query, he says the municipal administration plans to present an address of welcome to Edward VII of Britain on his planned visit the following year, and calls it "kowtowing to a foreign king." They argue about Tierney’s likely stand on this subject. Hynes is sure he will support the proposal as he is called "Tricky Dicky Tierney." They fall silent, hoping for some alcohol Tierney was supposed to send them.
Another team member-John Henchy arrives. He and O’Connor discuss their work that morning. Henchy calls Tierney "a mean little tinker" and talks of the days when Old man Tierney, the father had kept a small second hand clothes shop in a back street. The reason for his anger is that Tierney has once again avoided paying them. Hynes goes away, mockingly telling them "It’ll be all right when King Eddie comes." Immediately Henchy questions Hynes’ presence at their office. O’Connor defends him, but Henchy insists "he’s a spy of Colgan’s." He compares Hynes unfavorably with his dead father who had "done many a good turn in his day." He accuses the son of sponging. Old Jack supports him. Henchy rambles on about all their opponents being "in the pay of the Castle." Just then a strange-looking man enters, who from his dress could be "a poor clergyman or a poor actor." He asks for a Mr. Fanning and fending him away, leaves hastily, with a shifty air. The man is addressed as Father Keon and both men wonder what his "business" is. Henchy is disappointed because he had expected the knock to mean, Tierney had sent the promised stout. Again he abuses their boss as "the little hop-o’-my-thumb" and a "shoe boy." They talk of him being in an underhand deal with Keon and an Alderman Cowley. Henchy says to be made Lord Mayor, one has to owe money to the City Fathers. Jack brings up some gossip about the miserly ways of the Mayor. Then there is a knock and a boy arrives with the promised stout from Tierney. Immediately, their mood lightens. Henchy says, "he’s not so bad after all. He’s as good as his word, anyhow." They even offer some to the boy who serves them. Old Jack mutters disapprovingly, at the boy’s youth.
Two more election canvassers, (one of them-Crofton) come in. They spar with each other about their methods of work. Henchy boasts about his superior style of canvassing. They come back to the topic of King Edward’s visit. Henchy vociferously defends the king, and the policy. "The king’s coming here will mean an influx of money into this country...Look at all the money there is in the country if we only worked the old industries..." O’Connor protests that Parnell would have opposed it. Henchy insists that Parnell is dead while the English King is "a jolly, fine, decent fellow." Another agent, Lyons questions Edward’s personal morality, but Henchy says he’s just "an ordinary knockabout like you and me." Though "fond of his glass of grey and a bit of a rake, perhaps." They have all forgotten Parnell’s anniversary. Lyons says if Parnell was not fit to lead them on account of his personal morality, how is Edward the Seventh considered fit?
Suddenly everyone becomes emotional about Parnell. Crofton, who is a conservative agent, says his party respects Parnell as a gentleman. Henchy fiercely proclaims that Parnell alone could keep the opposition in order. Their intensity increases as the stout in the bottles goes down. They see Hynes return and invite him in eagerly. He is subdued and depressed. Henchy does an about-face and praises Hynes to the skies for his staunch devotion to Parnell. They remember Hynes’ poem in memory of Parnell, written after his death in 1891. They urge him to read it aloud. Hynes hesitates, seems unwilling. Finally, he removes his hat and recites an Ode-"To the Death of Parnell, 6 th October, 1891"
The Ode’s first two stanzas read:
"He is dead. Our uncrowned King is dead.
O, Erin mourn with grief and woe.
For he lies dead whom the full gang
Of modern hypocrites laid low.
He lies slain by the coward hounds
He raised to glory from the mire;
And Erin’s hopes and Erin’s dreams
Perish upon her monarch’s pyre."
In a later stanza, Hynes speaks of "the rabble-rout of fawning priests’-no friends of his." He hopes that one day "his spirit may, Rise like the Phoenix from the flames." He finishes and sits down quietly. All applaud, and drink in silence. A bottle is opened for Hynes, who seems to have no interest in accepting it, Henchy and Crofton agree "it was a very fine piece of writing."