The shell of Dublin's GPO. By permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA
The Plough and the Stars takes place in a tenement block in Dublin between November 1915 and spring 1916, when the Easter Rising set in motion the events that would lead to Irish Independence from Britain. Here are 16 facts that give an insight into the life and times of the play’s characters.
- Until the late 19th century, Dublin was the second largest city in Ireland, after Cork. By 1911 (the most recent census), it was the largest city, with a population of 477,000.
- In 1916, Dublin was home to Plough writer Sean O’Casey, who lived in Mountjoy Square on the city’s north side. At other times, the square was home to James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, as well as the legendary brewer Arthur Guinness, who died there in 1803.
- Many of Dublin’s poor lived in the sort of tenement blocks where The Plough and the Stars is set. These were ranked from first to fourth class.
- One report about a building that housed 20 people said: ‘It has one water closet, is in good repair and I regard this as a first-class tenement.’
- As you might expect, it did get worse. A report by the Dublin Citizens’ Association Committee on Housing shows what a third or fourth-class tenement was like: ‘There are many tenement houses with seven or eight rooms that house a family in each room and contain a population of between 40 and 50 souls. We have visited one house that we found to be occupied by 98 persons, another by 74 and a third by 73.’
- Security was also likely an issue. The same report tells that: ‘The entrance to all tenement houses is by a common door off either a street, lane or alley, and, in most cases, the door is never shut, day or night. The passages and stairs are common and the rooms all open directly either off the passages or landings.’
- By 1916, there was already a growing independence movement in Ireland. Sean O’Casey, writer of The Plough and the Stars, had briefly been General Secretary of the Irish Citizen Army two years earlier.
- From 24 April 1916, members of three republican groups: the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan [The Irishwomen’s Council], seized key locations around Dublin in what became known as the Easter Rising.
- One of the buildings occupied was the Imperial Hotel. It was held by the Irish Citizen Army, who flew the Starry Plough flag, from which The Plough and the Stars takes its name.
- The British army, with significantly greater weaponry and military power, suppressed the uprising within five days.
- Over the course of the Rising, there were at least 485 deaths. Of those, over 50% were civilians.
- In total, 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested.
- Originally, public opinion was mixed – many Irish were in favour of constitutional nationalism by peaceful means, rather than an attempt at republicanism through force.
- Over nine days from the 3 May to 12 May 1916, British forces put to death 14 of the Rising’s leaders at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. This had a huge impact on public opinion, especially the execution of James Connolly, who was too badly injured to stand before the firing squad.
- Members of the company of the Abbey Theatre, where many of Sean O’Casey’s plays, including The Plough and the Stars, debuted, fought in the rising: Sean Connolly (killed in action), Arthur Shields (interned), Helena Molony (interned), Barney Murphy, Peadar Kearney and Ellen Bushell.
- Modern commemorations of the Easter Rising are actually 25 minutes early. At the time of the Rising, Dublin was on Dublin Mean Time (DMT), which was just under half an hour before its Greenwich namesake.
To learn more about the production and buy tickets, visit the Plough and the Stars page.