The Shadow of a Gunman was the sixth play by Sean O’Casey to be sent to the Abbey Theatre and first to be accepted and produced at the theatre in 1923. The play is set in 1920 during the Anglo-Irish War. It is described as a tragedy in two acts and has a cast of eleven.
The action takes place in a return-room of a tenement house in Hilljoy Square, Dublin. The room is occupied by Seumas Sheilds, a pedlar, and Donal Davoren a would-be poet is lodging with him until he can find a room of his own. The rest of the tenement dwellers believe Davoren to be a gunman on the run, a member of the IRA (The Irish Republican Army) that are fighting the British. A pretty young tenant Minnie Powell, herself a Republican, is thrilled by Davoren and promptly falls in love with him.
A pedlar friend of Seumas’s leaves a bag in the room for them to look after and just as a raid by the British Black and Tans is about to take place Davoren and Seumas open it to find a cache of mills bombs. Minnie dashes to see if they need her help, finds the bombs with two helpless men in shock, and takes them to her room. Minnie is arrested and in an ambush by the IRA is shot in the crossfire. Davoren is distraught by his cowardice.
Davoren: It is your fault and mine, both; oh, we’re a pair of dastardly cowards to have let her do what she did.
Seumas: She did it off her own bat – we didn’t ask her to do it.
Image credit: The Shadow of a Gunman, Tricycle Theatre – Dominic Dromgoole (Director), Michael Taylor (Designer), Mark Doubleday (Lighting Designer) – Photograph © Mark Doubleday