Young Cassidy (1965)




Director:     Jack Cardiff, John Ford.

Starring:     Rod Taylor (John Cassidy), Julie Christie (Daisy Battles), Maggie Smith (Nora), Michael Redgrave (W.B. Yeats), Edith Evans (Lady Gregory), Flora Robson (Mrs. Cassidy), Jack MacGowran (Archie), Si‚n Phillips (Ella), T.P. McKenna (Tom), Julie Ross (Sara), Robin Sumner (Michael), Philip O'Flynn (Mick Mullen), Pauline Delaney (Bessie Ballynoy).

early life of Irish playwright and socialist Sean O'Casey; 1910 Dublin slums; poverty and tram-strike



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the film. 

Ireland, 1911.  There is a growing protest against British rule in Ireland.

The Cassidy family lives in poverty.  John Cassidy, a worker,  lives with his mother.  His sister with three children has fallen on hard times and now lives at the Cassidy home.  Also there at times are his brothers.  John is a good writer and he writes some pamphlets for the labor cause.  In the coming labor struggle, the activists want him to write more inspiring words for the laborers.  John is willing to write the literature. 

Many of the people striking against the trams are brutally beaten by the Royal Irish Constabulary.  They hit the people, men and women, with their batons opening large cuts that bleed extensively.   

John Cassidy is there in the strike and he knocks one of the policemen down.

John tries to steal some books from a book store.  Nora the bookseller catches him and scolds him, but does not call the police.  She takes the three books from him.  (Later she sends the three books to his house as a gift.)

John goes up into the hills and trains with other Irish men to fight the British.  The guys have little military training but do their best to master the training. 

The neighbor girl comes over to say that her father died. John's good friend McMullen says: "Damn poverty altogether."

Some of the military trainees talk about buying nice looking uniforms.  John doesn't like the idea.  He thinks they need to be guerilla fighters, not nice uniformed incompetents.  The leader of the group backs the decision to buy the uniforms.  They then they come out with a new flag: the plough and the stars, colored in blue and yellow. 

Johnny and McMullen here shooting.  There is fighting in the streets of Dublin.  Johnny figures it's the rising [called the Easter Rising].  They have taken the Post Office.  John says the fools, the bloody magnificent fools.  The rebels are up against the British army complete with grenades and machine guns.  The rebellion is defeated. 

Johnny doesn't come back for two days.  Mrs. Cassidy is very upset about it.  Just then Johnny returns home and he also is very upset.  Mother asks him:  "Will there be peace now?"  "Aye, for the dead", says Johnny.

He has a book that will be published.  He's very happy about that,  At the same time, he is worried about the declining health of his mother. 

Johnny is paid 15 English pounds for his book.  He is reluctant to take a check for it, but that's the only thing the firm will give him.  He's reluctant because he has no money and therefore no accounts with any of the city's banks.  No bank will cash his check.  He goes to the general store in his neighborhood and gets some extended credit because he has a  check.  He buys his mother some food and tea.  He borrows a hot water bottle from the shop owner. 

He goes and into see his mother, but finds her dead.  He cries over her death.  A funeral is held.  John does not have the cash to pay the funeral men so he has to rush over to the store owner again and get the money to pay the men. 

After the funeral, McMullin and Johnny go to the local tavern.  John gets a bit drunk and then he gets a bit rowdy.  McMuloin wants to take him home.  As they walk, John sees Nora walking on the street.  Being drunk, he is less inhibited and he kisses her.  Nora is not pleased at this freshness.  She says this should be done at another time when John is not drunk.  John is offends and tells Nora:  "Maybe there won't be a next time."  He also says that she give him back his kiss.  So she kisses him.  This still leaves John a little upset with Nora.

Johnny now lives with McMullen, who is a night watchman.  He goes down the step but runs into a neighbor woman who flirts with him.  He avoids her. 

He waits on the street for Nora.  She looks a bit scared of him and avoids him.  She goes into her house and closes the door.  He gets mad and bangs on her door.  He bangs very hard and demands that she come down and answers the door.  She comes down and he apologizes to her about his behavior last night.  He tells her he has written a book and has had it published.  He adds that great writing will be produced by brutal men like himself.  Why don't you be a part of it?

John Bates Yeats reads his play.   He likes it but does not accept it. 

It's the time of the Black and Tans (men from Great Britain who joined the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as Temporary Constables).   This force was the scourge of Ireland because the constables were merciless toward the native Irish.

Mrs. Bessie Ballynoy dressed only in a towel comes to visit John.  She says there's been no peace since the Rising.  She mentions that her husband is away.  John is a bit wary of the woman, but he does give in to her seducement.  The are interrupted by the Blacks and Tans.  They start moving people out of the apartment building.  Mrs. Ballynoy says that here husband is very afraid of the Black and Tans.  John has to go outside.  Mrs. Ballynoy takes her time coming down the steps. Once out in the streets the people learn that Mr. Ballynoy is being arrested as a bomb maker.  They moved the people inti the strett to make sure no one hurt if one of the bombs goes off.  They bring out in handcuffs Mr. Ballynoy   Shortly after this, a large bomb explodes inside the apartment building. 

A peace treaty is signed.  John tells Nora that now we can turn to the real things of life.  Nora says I love you, Johnny.  He asks if he can kiss her?  They kiss.  She says he's so sure of himself, but he's still got a long distance to go.  John says he's not afraid. 

John stands outside the theater.  He hears applause for his play.  Nora and McMullen attended the play and Nora says the play was good.  Management wants to speak with Johnny.  Lady Gregory wants to talk with him.  He sits down.  They like his play because it gives the audience pleasure and excitement.  He has some reservations about the play, but she hopes that John will still keep writing more plays.

WB Yeats tells John that he is a great talent and hopes he can keep faith with his gift and continue working.  He's in a hurry, but says the two of them will see each other later.

John gets bad reviews in the newspapers.  He grabs the papers from Nora and throws the papers down onto  the street.

The train leaves in a hour for Lady Gregory's house.  John wants Nora to go with him.  He tells her that she is wonderful and good, but too timid.  Nora says she only feels safe with the things she knows.   She doesn't understand his dreams  He asks her to go with him. 

Johnny goes to see Lady Gregory alone.  He is warmly received.  The maid takes him up to his room where he will be staying.

Lady Gregory says she hopes that he will write for workers to be able to watch his plays.   He gets all excited about the idea and givers a debate argument.  She laughs and says his enthusiasm proves that they will have some brave talks together.  Lady Gregory says that You are a handsome man, Johnny.  Do you have a girl in your life?  He replies:  Yes, Nora. 

He says he feels at home here like the wonderful days he would sit with his mother at home.  Lady Gregory likes that compliment.  She walks with him outside and has him carve his initials on a tree trunk along with some other famous riders like Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. 

At home John walks with Nora.  She will wait for him outside as he goes in to talk with Yeats.  The great writer says that Johnny's The Plough and the Stars is very good..  He adds:  "You are the Irish Dostoevsky."  Yates love his new play. 

When John comes and tells Nora about his meeting with Yeats, she tell him:  "I feel far away from you."  He says he too has his insecurities.  John needs the safety of his own crowded tenement. And sometimes he condemns others for the wrong reasons.

Another play by John makes Lady Gregory a little doubtful about the says.  She says the play is rather explosive.  Others are disturbed by the working class elements in the play with their less educated language.  Many women are especially upset that there's s prostitute in the play.  Yates rejects the criticisms and supports the playwright.  The audience keeps upset and react very outspokenly at the common coarseness of the language and the actions of the characters.  Some say it dishonors Irish women.  Others say the play slanders the whole Irish race. Audience members start throwing things at the actors.  Nora is in the theater and looks scared by the hostile reaction that is stopping the play from proceeding. 

Yates comes out on the stage and declare that the Irish audience has once again disgraced itself.  He goes on to say that John Cassidy is a great Irish genius and he is ashamed of their reaction.  And this is not the first Irish genius who has gotten a bad reaction at first from the Irish people.

The audience finally quiets down.  The play can go on. 

McMullen also saw the play and he is mad as hell.  He complains that he made a mockery of working class people.  John made them all sound guttural.  He also says John made fun of his own friends  in the play.  The says the place puts him, McMullen, in the play as a chicken.  So now Johnny can pack up his things and move out immediately.  He adds:  I don't ever want to see you after what you've done to me!

Yeats asks John:  "You're not afraid of a battle?"  I love it, John replies.  Yeats says that Johnny is good  and the audience doesn't like it because Johnny is dangerous.  But would Johnny prefer to be bland?  No, absolutely not. 

Nora says she loves Johnny but she can't live in that world of genius that he is now entering.  She can't go with him.  She is too afraid.  Nora leaves him.  


Good movie and it shows some key parts of Irish history.  SeŠn  O'Casey had a very interesting life in a time of great political disturbance in Ireland.  He thrived in this atmosphere because of his deep interest in and concern for Ireland and Irish politics. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Historical Background:


1889   --  SeŠn  O'Casey was born in Dublin, Ireland, as John Casey or John Cassidy to Michael and Susan Archer Casey in a house at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin. He grew up in the working class society in which many of his plays are set. In fact, his family were considered as "shabby genteel". He was an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifted away from the church.

from the early 1890s  --  O'Casey and his older brother, Archie, put on performances of plays by Dion Boucicault and William Shakespeare in the family home. He also got a small part in Boucicault's The Shaughraun in the Mechanics' Theatre, which stood on what was to be the site of the Abbey Theatre.

1895  --  O'Casey's father died when SeŠn was just six years of age, leaving a family of thirteen.

The family moved from house to house around north Dublin.

1902  --  SeŠn had poor eyesight, but taught himself to read and write by the age of thirteen.

1903  -- SeŠn left school at fourteen.  He spent nine years as a railwayman.

1906  --  he was very interested in the Irish nationalist cause and joined the Gaelic League in 1906 and learned the Irish language.  Later, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

              He became involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had been established by Jim Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled laborers.

1913  --  Irish nationalists establish the Irish Volunteers, a military organization.  .

1913 (August 26) to 1914 (January 18)  --  the Dublin Lock-out was a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers.  SeŠne participated in the Dublin Lock-out, but was blackballed and could not find steady work for some time after that.

1914 (March)  --  he became General Secretary of Larkin's Irish Citizen Army, which would soon be run by James Connolly.

1914 (July 24) --   SeŠn resigned from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers was rejected. 

1916  --  the Easter Rising fails. 

1918  --  he wrote The Frost in the Flower, which was commissioned by the Saint Laurence O'Toole National Club.  His sister and mother died in this year.  The play was not put on  on because of the fear the satirical treatment of several parishioners would be resented if it was staged locally.  SeŠn rewrote the play as The Harvest Festival

1923  --  O'Casey's first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, was performed at the Abbey Theatre

1924  --  he wrote Juno and the Paycock.  It deals with the effect of the Irish Civil War on the working class poor of the city

1929  --  he wrote The Plough and the Stars . It is set in Dublin in 1916 around the Easter Rising.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)