The Colleen Bawn

The Colleen Bawn

The Colleen Bawn (also sometimes referred to as The Brides of Garryowen) is a melodramatic play written by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault. It was first performed at Miss Laura Keene's Theatre, New York, on 27 March 1860 [Parkin, Andrew. "Selected Plays - Dion Boucicault". The Guernsey Press Co. Ltd. Great Britain: 1987. p.192] with Laura Keene playing Anne Chute and Boucicault playing Myles-na-Coppaleen. It was most recently performed in New York by the Irish Repertory Theatre in October and November 2003 [ [ CurtainUp Review of The Colleen Bawn] ] .


Hardress Cregan and his mother have fallen on hard times. His mother tries to persuade Hardress to marry the wealthy Anne Chute. He agrees, although he is already secretly married to Eily O'Connor, a beautiful fair-haired girl (in Irish "cailín bán" or "colleen bawn") who has many admirers including the roguish Myles-na-Coppaleen. Anne, seeing Hardress with Eily one night, mistakes him for her lover, Kyrle Daly, and, angry at Kyrle, she agrees to marry Hardress. Hardress's servant, the hunchback Danny Mann, offers to murder Eily so that Hardress will be free to marry Anne. Thinking that Hardress has agreed, he takes Eily to the lake where he attempts to drown her, but he is discovered and shot by Myles-na-Coppaleen. At the wedding of Hardress and Anne the police come to arrest Hardress for the murder of Eily, but before he is taken away Eily appears. Hardress is released, Eily is accepted by Mrs. Cregan, Anne and Kyrle are reconciled and Anne offers to pay off the Cregans' debt.

Detailed Plot

Set in Ireland.

Act 1, Scene 1Hardess and Danny discuss Hardess’ visit to Eily by boat.

Kyrle enters. Hardess explains to him why Danny is so loyal to him. Danny was injured in an accident caused by Hardess. He fell on rocks and hurt his back – he is now a hunchback. But Hardess did not leave his side and treats him as an equal.

Kyrle asks Hardess if he loves Anne Chute, because Kyrle himself has feelings for her.

Mrs. Cregan enters and explains that Anne and Hardess are engaged and that the only way for them to pay off their debt is through Anne’s money.

Corrigan enters. The Cregans are in debt to him. He tells Mrs. Cregan that Hardess has a mistress across the lake who he visits every night. Corrigan will accept a promise that Hardess and Anne will be married. He also gives Mrs. Cregan the option of marrying him instead. Hardess will not let her accept that offer.

Danny has overheard the conversations, and revels during a conversation with Hardess that Hardess is married to Eily, the Colleen Bawn. The two discuss the problem and Hardess exits.

Danny plots to help Hardess. He plans to turn Anne against Kyrle, so she will favor Hardess. He tells her that the boat is for Kyrle to cross the lake and see his mistress and tells her that the lights in the windows are signals.

Anne mistakes Hardess for Kyrle when he is wrapped in his cloak in the boat.

Act 1, Scene 2Myles and Corrigan discuss Colleen Bawn and who Hardess’ mistress is.

Act 1, Scene 3Father Tom, Myles, and Sheelah – Danny’s mother are in Eily cottage. They discuss how they will make the whiskey Myles brought into punch.

Hardess enters and argues with Eily over their presence and making punch. He also comments on her poor English. Hardess leaves saying that Eily will never see him again if she keeps her present company and behavior.

Father Tom makes Eily swear that she will never remove her marriage certificate from her breast.

Act 2, Scene 1Hardess and Danny discuss his marriage problem. Danny says that he will do away with the Colleen Bawn problem if Hardess will give him his glove as a symbol to do so. Hardess is upset at the suggestion and refuses.

Scene 2Anne questions Kyrle, still thinking that it was he who crossed the lake to see a woman.

Corrigan enters and expects Mrs. Cregan to accept the offer and marry him. Hardess still refuses to allow that to happen. Both Hardess and Corrigan exit.

Danny, at the window, explains to Mrs. Cregan his offer to solve Hardess’ ‘girl problem.’ All he needs is Hardess’ glove. Hardess left his gloves in the hall. Mrs. Cregan does not ask Hardess, but Danny thinks she did, she simple gives Danny the glove. Therefore, Danny believes that Hardess has changed his mind.

Scene 3Sheelah tries to comfort Eily about Hardess.

Anne enters the cottage to ask about Kyrle. Eily thinks that she is aking about Hardess and tells her that she is married to him. Danny enters and is afraid of what Eily has said but learns that Anne thinks she confessed to being married to Kyrle. Anne exits.

Danny tells Eily that Hardess told him to bring her to meet him. They would have to go by boat.

Scene 4Anne is upset by what she just learned and her horse was scared off by the thunder. Myles takes her home.

Danny and Eily enter and get ready to go by boat to “Divil’s Island Cave.”

Anne tells Hardess that she will marry him. Hardess replies that she does not know everything about him.

Scene 5Myles sings and is planning on going to his whiskey still near the cave.

Scene 6Myles enters the cave and decides to go get his gun and shoot otters. He leaves.

Danny and Eily enter. Danny demands that Eily give him the marriage certificate. She refuses. He pushes her off the rock. Myles shoots Danny thinking that he was an otter. Danny falls into the water. Myles sees Eily in the water and dives in after her.

Act 3, Scene 1Danny is in his mother’s cabin. He tells her about Hardess’ instructions to him to kill Eily. Sheelah tells him that she is going to get a doctor, but brings Father Tom back instead.

Danny tells Father Tom about what he did. Father Tom believes that it was Myles who shot Danny.

Corrigan has overheard what Danny has said and goes to draw up a warrant of arrest for Hardess.

Scene 2Kyrle and Anne argue back and forth. She tells him Eily confessed to being his wife. Kyrle says that is not true.

Kyrle realizes that it is Hardess who is married to Eily, but does not want his friend to lose his estate to Corrigan, so he keeps quiet.

Scene 3Father Tom goes to Myles’ house and discovers Eily alive.

Scene 4Corrigan enters with troops to arrest Hardess. They have Sheelah with them.

Scene 5Guests arrive for Anne and Hardess’ wedding. O’Moore must leave because as the magistrate he must deal with the murder that has just occurred (not knowing it is Hardess to is accused).

Hardess confesses to Anne about being married to Eily and is upset that she has committed suicide.

Mrs. Cregan tells Hardess to flee. But he is found by the troops.

Father Tom enters and brings Eily with him.

Anne and Kyrle and Hardess and Eily end up together. Danny is most likely going to die from his wound.


The play was based on Gerald Griffin's novel, "The Collegians". In the novel, Eily O'Connor actually was murdered by Danny Mann, who was hanged while Hardress Cregan was exiled.

The novel was based on the true-life story of Ellen Scanlan (née Hanley), a fifteen-year-old girl who was murdered on 14 July 1819. She was recently married to John Scanlan, but when he saw that she would not be accepted into his family he persuaded his servant, Stephen Sullivan, to kill her. Sullivan took her out on the River Shannon near Kilrush, County Clare where he killed her with a musket, stripped her and dumped her body in the river, tied to a stone. Her body was washed ashore six weeks later at Moneypoint. Both men had fled but Scanlan was found first and arrested for murder. At his trial he was defended by the famous barrister Daniel O'Connell. He was found guilty and hanged at Gallows Green, the place of execution at the Clare side of the Shannon. Sullivan was apprehended shortly afterwards, confessed and was also hanged. [ The Colleen Bawn (1803 - 1819)]


Sir Julius Benedict composed his opera "The Lily of Killarney" from a text provided by Boucicault and John Oxenford based on "The Colleen Bawn". It opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 8 February 1862 and remained a highly regarded and popular opera throughout the Victorian era. In "Kobbé's Complete Opera Book", first published in 1922, it still merited a full summary of the plot, which remains in the current edition. [ The Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie. "Kobbé's Complete Opera Book". Ebury Press, London 1997.]


* Michael Diamond, "Victorian Sensation", (Anthem Press, 2003) ISBN 1-84331-150-X, pp.225-226.

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