"The Rising of the Moon" is a typical Irish play that explores the central conflict between the English oppression on the Irish people and the latter's patriotic fight for freedom. The play takes place on "a quay in a seaport town" in Ireland where a sergeant and a couple of his men are hanging a placard for a fugitive. As one goes through the play, one would come to understand that the Man is the protagonist; the key antagonist is the Sergeant; whereas the central conflict of the play is the struggle between the Man and the Sergeant as to whether the fugitive will be allowed to pass unmolested and make his escape. .
The Man, as it would be known, is the representative figure of the Irish. He is a partisan rebel fighting against the English oppression. The Sergeant on the other hand, although Irish, is a representative of English law and order. He has given up the republican sentiments of his youth and has become a "collaborator" with the oppressor. We can notice the differences between these two men in the contrast way they view life; to the Sergeant his duty is to "keep law and order" and that "if it wasn't for us" the "down would be up and those that are up would be down". However, the Man believes that freedom would be attained when "the small rise up and the big fall down".
As the Man vies with the police sergeant to execute his escape, he actually causes a more profound change in his adversary. Through a series of well-timed verbal jousts, and recitations of song and poetry, he causes the sergeant to revive the patriotic feelings of his youth, and identify, at least momentarily, with the rebel's patriotic cause, letting the partisan soldier escape arrest. Using his intellect, the Man employs on the Sergeant's "great spirit" of the past by trying to convince the military soldier that, if the circumstances were different the Sergeant himself "might be in trouble now".