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In Ireland, inspector Michael Dillon leaves the police barracks of Ballinalough and proceeds on foot through the rural countryside, his journey marked by two neighbors and by Micky J., a poteen maker or moonshiner, who tries to elude him. Although Michael catches him, Micky is relieved to learn that the policeman's destination is the ancestral estate of Dan O'Flaherty, and follows him the rest of the way. Dan greets Michael as an old friend and invites him into his cottage below the old castle tower. The men have a friendly chat about old times, poteen and other matters. Then the two neighbors arrive, offering to pay Dan's fine, thus revealing the true purpose of Michael's visit: Michael has a warrant to take Dan to prison for failing to pay the fine he was charged after hitting Phelim O'Feeney, the family enemy, in the head. From under a rock in the floor, Dan retrieves twice the amount of money needed to stay out of prison. However, as Dan believes that paying the fine would be admitting that Phelim, who called him a liar, did not deserve the contusion, he returns the money to its place and thanks the neighbors for their generosity. Dan arranges with Michael to come to the jail on Friday after dinner. At the appointed time, while Dan bids his family and neighbors farewell, Phelim himself arrives and offers to pay the fine, but Dan proudly insists on serving the prison sentence, which he believes is the way to uphold the O'Flaherty name. At the barracks, Michael is waiting for him and the two friends, with arms around each other, enter the prison building.
At the Dunfaill railway station, the Ballyscran and Dunfaill train pulls in and the porter, Paddy Morrisey announces to the passengers that there will be "one minute's wait only" before it departs. At his suggestion, the coach passengers briskly head for the station's refreshment bar manned by Pegeen Mallory. Mr. O'Brien, the engineer, drinks a beer and entertains the lively crowd with a ghost story. Outside Mrs. Falsey, traveling with her niece Mary Ann McMahon, encounters farmer Barney Domigan and his son Christy. When Barney explains that he is taking his son to arrange a marriage with Mary Ryan, who has a three-hundred-pound dowry, Mrs. Falsey listens thoughtfully. From the first-class compartment, Col. and Mrs. Charles Frobishire, an older, stern-faced British couple, ask Paddy to open their door, but the porter cheerfully explains that he no longer has the key. Instead he offers to water Mrs. Frobishire's bouquet of flowers, which he mistakenly presumes is a bridal bouquet. After the passengers are called back to the train, Paddy opens the door, which was not locked, and returns the freshened flowers, wishing Mrs. Frobishire "a child for every blossom." The train is ready to depart when a prize goat is delivered and another "minute's wait" announced. As the railroad workers argue about the wisdom of putting the animal in the baggage department, the passengers scurry back to the bar, where O'Brien continues his ghostly tale. Mrs. Falsey and Barney continue their conversation, oblivious to Christy and Mary Ann's growing attraction to each other. After Paddy moves the confused Frobishires to a third-class compartment, places the goat inside their first-class cabin, and the passengers are re-boarded, another "minute's wait" is announced. Mrs. Kinsella, the fisherwoman, has just arrived and insists on loading lobsters for the Bishop's Golden Jubilee Dinner. The passengers race back to the bar, while the lobsters are crammed in with the Frobishires. The passengers are then re-boarded and the train is ready to leave, when the telephone rings. Pegeen reports that the Ballyscran Hurling Team's bus has broken and the team is on its way. As the athletes, who have won a championship match, parade alongside bagpipers to the station, Mrs. Falsey suggests to Barney that Mary Ann would be a better choice for Christy than Mary Ryan. Assuming that Mary Ann is penniless, as her father died fighting with the Americans in the war, Barney patiently insists that a bride needs a dowry. At that, Mrs. Falsey triumphantly pulls out a bank statement, revealing that Mary Ann inherited her father's $10,000 government "bonus" for "getting himself killed." The Frobishires ask for a cup of tea, so Paddy takes them to an outdoor table away from the heightened gaiety. Paddy then goes inside the bar and joins Pegeen in a jig. Mrs. Falsey and Barney come to an agreement, while Mary Ann and Christy come to a similar decision while kissing in a boxcar. After passengers are recruited to help attach an additional carriage to the train for the hurlers, Paddy and Pegeen, who have been "walking out together" for almost twelve years, are left alone. The passengers are returning to their seats, when Christy confronts Barney with an ultimatum: he will wed Mary Ann or join the foreign legion. His independent thinking irritates Barney, who then offends Mr. Rourke, the station master, by recalling a lapse in his great-grandfather's good behavior many years ago. When Rourke protests that the old story is a lie, the two prepare to fight. Inside, Pegeen answers affirmatively when Paddy asks if she wants to be "buried with his people." The train whistle blows, prompting almost everyone to return to his proper place, and the train chugs out of the station, leaving the forgotten Frobishires behind.
In Galway, in 1921 during the "Troubles" of the "Black and Tan War," political prisoner Sean Curran awaits his execution, while sympathizers gather outside the jail to pray for him. Two nuns, one of whom claims to be Sean's sister, ask a sympathetic warder to be allowed a last visit with the condemned man. The warder takes them inside and the major in charge, who is weary of his "hangman" role, orders the women escorted to Sean's cell. Later, when the clock strikes the hour, the nuns leave, one of them doubled over in grief. Sgt. Michael O'Hara helps the nuns into a cab and notices that one wears high heels, but shrugs it off. Afterward, when the major and his soldiers come to take Sean to the gallows, they find only Peggy O'Donnell, an actress from Brooklyn, in his cell. The police search the town, while Sean and his rescuer slip into a theater. After dark, Sean, disguised as a balladeer and accompanied by a donkey, passes through the police blockade with the help of the warder, who confirms that Sean is the minstrel Jimmy Walsh. O'Hara is guarding an area of the waterfront called the Spanish Arch, when his temperamental wife, to whom Sean is a hero, arrives with his dinner. Although she has been nagging O'Hara all evening about his part in executing "the greatest man in Ireland today," when she sees a five-hundred-pound reward for Sean's capture, she considers the futility of his plight and the usefulness of the money. The disguised Sean arrives with his donkey and offers to sing. In his repertoire is the revolutionary song, "The Rising of the Moon," which O'Hara, his wife recalls, used to sing during their courting days. The couple begins to bicker, allowing Sean to board a rowboat that has come for him. When O'Hara realizes that Sean is escaping, he calls to the rowers, threatening to shoot, but then has second thoughts, prompted by his love of Ireland. He begins to sing the song, which, he admits, is somewhat treasonous, and his wife joins in. Afterward, in a loving mood, she returns home, leaving O'Hara to wonder if he has been a fool. Meanwhile, Sean rows to freedom.