Juno and the Paycock is the second of three O’Casey plays in what is known as the “Dublin trilogy,” set in the tumultuous years of 1916-1923. During Easter Week in 1916, Irish nationalists rose against the United Kingdom in an attempt to secede from the union and establish an independent Irish Republic. While the Easter Rising was quickly suppressed, it brought the republican cause to the forefront of Irish politics. In December 1918, republicans won 73 of 105 seats in the General Election to the British Parliament, and in January 1919 they declared the independence of the Irish Republic. The declaration coincided with the start of a guerrilla war fought between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government, fought between 1919-1921. The first play of the trilogy, The Shadow of a Gunman, takes place during this war, while the third, The Plough and the Stars, is set at the time of the Easter Rising.
In 1921, the IRA signed a peace treaty with the British government which gave self-government to 16 of 22 Irish counties. The treaty was highly controversial, with die-hard Republicans insisting on the independence of all of Ireland. From 1922-3 a civil war ensued between the Republicans (also known as Diehards or Irregulars) and the Irish Free State forces, who had accepted the treaty. This is the setting for Juno and the Paycock, which depicts the life of the Boyle family set against the backdrop of factional struggles.
In Juno, O’Casey draws upon his firsthand knowledge of slum tenements and workers’ suffering during the 1913 Lock Out to depict the ensuing hardships of poverty, malnutrition, disease, and lack of privacy. The play has been praised for O’Casey’s realistic representation of idiomatic Dublin speech, rich literary allusions, characterization, social conscience, and blend of comedy and tragedy.
Juno premiered on March 3, 1924 at the esteemed Abbey Theater and was an immediate success, playing for a second week for the first time in the theater’s history. It is one of the most highly regarded and often performed plays in Ireland. It has since been reproduced for other media, including a British film adaptation directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1930.