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James Joyce

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Ivy Day in the Committee Room

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" from James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Dubliners | Ivy Day in the Committee Room | Summary



A city campaign worker named Mr. O'Connor and a caretaker named Old Jack chat with each other while Mr. O'Connor waits for his candidate, Mr. Tierney, to arrive. Mr. O'Connor is supposed to be out canvassing for the candidate, but bleak weather has kept him indoors by the fire. Old Jack tells Mr. O'Connor of his worries for his son who has left school, has no job, and drinks heavily despite Old Jack's efforts to educate and civilize him.

Mr. Hynes, another campaign worker stops by to see if Mr. O'Connor has been paid yet. He has not, but he hopes Mr. Tierney will show up soon. Mr. Hynes asks Old Jack's opinion of the candidate, and Jack declares Mr. Tierney is better than his opponent, Colgan. Mr. Hynes defends Colgan as a working man with as much right to be in city government as the wealthy Mr. Tierney. He says Colgan is not corrupt and will not sell them out to the English. There is a possibility King Edward VII will visit in the coming year, and the city's decision to deliver a welcome address to him is a controversial topic. Mr. O'Connor argues that Mr. Tierney will not sell them out, either, but Mr. Hynes remains skeptical. To make amends, Mr. Hynes gestures to the ivy leaf pin on his jacket—a symbol of the fallen Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Parnell—and says if Parnell were still alive there would be no question of a welcome address for the king. All the men agree on this point.

Mr. Henchy, another worker, arrives to announce there is no money tonight for them and checks in on Mr. O'Connor's work for the day. When Old Jack leaves the room to get coal for the fire, Mr. Henchy expresses his anger and disappointment at Mr. Tierney for not paying them, and Mr. O'Connor is also irritated. Mr. Hynes treats the news as confirmation of his worst suspicions about Mr. Tierney, whom he calls "Tricky Dicky." The men speculate how Mr. Tierney learned to be tricky in his father's second-hand clothing shop as a child. Mr. Hynes bids them a good night and leaves.

Mr. Henchy and Mr. O'Connor talk about Mr. Hynes because Mr. Henchy does not understand why Mr. Hynes is working for a campaign he does not believe in. Mr. O'Connor thinks Mr. Hynes just needs a job, but Mr. Henchy and Old Jack think Mr. Hynes may be a spy for Colgan. The men discuss this point and agree to disagree, while Mr. Henchy speculates about other groups and individuals in government who may also be untrustworthy.

A delivery boy brings several bottles of stout, sent by Mr. Tierney, and the mood in the room settles a bit. Other campaign workers, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Crofton, arrive from canvassing and talk about the votes they have secured. The conversation turns back to the king's visit, which Mr. Henchy thinks will be good for Ireland's economy. Mr. O'Connor objects in principle, again referencing Parnell, which Mr. Henchy dismisses by saying, "Parnell ... is dead." Mr. Lyons declares neither the king nor Parnell have or had the moral fiber to lead them. O'Connor defends Parnell's memory on his anniversary, and that he deserves respect. The Conservative Mr. Crofton says Parnell was a gentleman, and Mr. Henchy praises Parnell's leadership. They open another bottle of stout, and Mr. Hynes returns. The men convince Mr. Hynes to read a poem he wrote about Parnell, and all the men applaud when he is finished, including Mr. Lyons and Mr. Crofton.


"Ivy Day in the Committee Room" stands out among the stories in Dubliners because of its focus on the political rather than the personal. Ivy Day is an Irish holiday commemorating the death of home rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell. The other stories in the collection make passing references to Irish Nationalism and allusions to political figures and causes, but in this installment the focus is less about a personal struggle to discover identity and more about larger issues of national direction and identity. Individual identity only comes into play as an expression of personal political beliefs and leanings, as disparate opinions clash, more or less amiably, in the committee room.

Certainly, Mr. O'Connor and the other campaign workers worry about whether or not they will be paid, and Old Jack has worries about his family, but the primary conflict revolves around an upcoming visit from King Edward VII of England. Mr. Hynes, a strident Nationalist based on his ivy lapel pin and his poetry commemorating Charles Parnell, fears Mr. Tierney will bow down to the king and offer him a welcome address, a move he considers tantamount to acceptance of English rule over the Irish people. Mr. O'Connor and some of the others would prefer the king not visit, but none of them share Mr. Hynes's passion for the cause. Mr. Hynes's opinions about the rights of working men and the resistance of English rule even arouse suspicion that he is a spy for the competing candidate, because his views are so far out of line with Mr. Tierney's. Other campaign workers, such as Mr. Henchy, fall on the other side of the issue. Mr. Henchy does not necessarily support English rule, but he supports the king's visit because it will bring much-needed capital into his impoverished city. For Mr. Henchy, Ireland's practical need for money outweighs his sense of nationalism. Mr. Lyons and Mr. Crofton are quiet about the issue, but their characterization as Conservative and their criticism of Parnell hint toward their sharing Mr. Henchy's view. The conflict in the room reflects a larger conflict surrounding the move for independence in general: the ideal of a free and independent Ireland versus the possible financial suffering that could come from cutting ties with the English government.

Parnell's legacy is another point of contention for the campaign workers. Charles Stewart Parnell was nearly successful in his bid for Ireland to attain home rule, which would have granted Ireland an independent government within the British Empire. As a solution to the dilemma between freedom and financial stability, the move would have been beneficial. However, Parnell became embroiled in a scandal when his affair with a married women came to light. His political allies abandoned him, home rule failed to pass in Parliament, and Parnell died soon after. Like many of Parnell's own peers, Mr. Lyons remains critical of Parnell's moral choices; in fairness, he has a low opinion of the king's morals as well, but most of the other men agree to respect Parnell.

Mr. Hynes reads a poem about the death of Parnell, elevating Parnell to heroic status. The poem itself is reminiscent of one a nine-year-old James Joyce wrote about Parnell's death, though this is likely not the same text. Mr. Hynes's poem reminds all the men in the room that while their opinions may differ, they all love their country and want what is best for Ireland. The ending of the story advocates for civility and mutual respect in political discourse, recognizing that everyone is working for a common cause.

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