On a rainy Dublin election day, Mr. O'Connor sits by the fire in the Committee Room after canvassing on behalf of a candidate for city council named Richard Tierney. O'Connor is visited by fellow canvassers and others, including the caretaker Old Jack, Joe Hynes, John Henchy, a suspended priest named Father Keon, a delivery boy, Crofton, and Lyons (possibly the Bantam Lyons mentioned in "The Boarding House" and in Joyce's Ulysses). Because it is also Ivy Day, the anniversary of the Irish patriot Charles Stuart Parnell, talk turns inevitably to Parnell; eventually, Joe Hynes delivers a poem he has written in the patriot's honor.
Though it was Joyce's favorite of the tales in Dubliners, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" is a difficult story for most American readers to comprehend, thanks to its excess of Irish slang and references to turn-of-the-century Irish politics. However, the fact that most of the story is told by means of dialogue rather than narrative — an unusual, even radical, approach at the time "Ivy Day" was written — should be appreciated. Like the prior story ("A Painful Case"), it also includes a document quoted at length in place of a conventional, dramatic climax. In "A Painful Case," the document was the newspaper article about Mrs. Sinico's suicide, while here it is Joe Hynes's poem, which he recites from memory.
The story is for the most part a naturalistic one with little in the way of overt symbolism, and yet "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" reiterates the themes of corruption and death introduced in the collection's first story, "The Sisters." The canvassers are working for money, rather than out of any particular enthusiasm on behalf of the candidate they support, and some of them seem actually to be contemptuous of Tierney. At the same time, they criticize others for having been paid off by the Protestant authorities: "Some of those hillsiders and fenians are a bit too clever if you ask me. . . . Do you know what my private and candid opinion is about some of those little jokers? I believe half of them are in the pay of the Castle." Some also suspect Joe Hynes of spying for the rival candidate in this election. Gossip is one of the motifs of "Ivy Day in the Committee Room." As soon as any of the characters depart the room, at least one of the others begins bad-mouthing him.
Ivy Day is the anniversary of the death of Charles Parnell, the Nationalist and "uncrowned king of Ireland" whom the Irish turned on when his affair with a married woman came to light — thus further delaying Irish independence.
P.L.G. Poor Law Guardian; a welfare official.
cocks him up (slang) encourages an inflated self-image.
a sup taken had a drink of alcohol.
bowsy (slang) rogue.
tinker (Chiefly Irish and Scottish) gypsy.
shoneens (Irish) Irish who imitate English customs and behavior.
hunker-sliding (slang) shirking.
German monarch Edward VII (1841–1910); the king of Great Britain and Ireland (1901–10), son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, both of whom were of German descent.
Nationalist the Irish Parliamentary Party, which stood for Irish independence.
spondulics (slang) money.
musha (Irish-English) indeed.
'usha (Irish-English) the contraction of musha.
shoeboy a boot licker or insincere flatterer.
moya! (Irish) as it were!
had a tricky little black bottle up in a corner (slang) sold liquor illegally.
a decent skin (Irish slang) a good person underneath it all.
fenian a member of a secret revolutionary movement formed in New York and Ireland to free Ireland from English rule. The movement was mostly active in the 1860s and continued until World War I.
Castle hacks informers. The British ruled Ireland from Dublin Castle, in central Dublin just south of the River Liffey.
Major Sirr Henry Charles Sirr (1764–1841); an Irish-born officer in the British army who put down rebellions in 1798 and 1803.
knock it out get along financially.
goster (Irish-English) gossip.
yerra (Irish) really.
hop-o'-my-thumb a short person.
the Mansion House the official residence of Dublin's Lord Mayor.
vermin malapropism for ermine.
Wisha! (Irish-English) variant of musha.
a loan of influence on.
Did the cow calve? (slang) Is there a reason to celebrate?
Conservatives the party in favor of maintaining union with England.
big rate-payer a property owner.
Here's this chap comes to the throne after his old mother keeping him out of it till the man was grey Because Queen Victoria ruled England and Ireland for over six decades, her son Edward VII did not inherit the throne until he was sixty years old.
The old one never went to see these wild Irish Queen Victoria never visited Ireland (not, in fact, the case).
the Chief a nickname for Parnell.