Riders to the Sea

“Riders to the Sea” by J.M Synge is a tragic play regarding the sacrifice of one family to
an invisible character on an island west of Ireland. The play begins in a cottage where two sisters
are trying to hide a bundle from their mother. The small bundle, wrapped in a shawl, consists of
a shirt and a stocking removed from a drowned man at Donegal. They fear that the clothes may
belong to Michael, their brother, whose body has not been recovered from the sea. He has been
missing for a week.

The sisters have no wish to sadden their mother further and so they decide to hide the
bundle. As they are climbing down from the loft, the mother arrives; she pretends that she was
getting turf for the fire. The conversation then turns to Maurya’s worries about her son Bartley.
She fears that he, too, will be lost in the sea, just as his five brothers. She is aware of his desire to
go to the fair, but she is sure that the young priest will dissuade him from going. The weather is
not at all propitious: high tide and extreme winds.

Bartley enters the cottage, looking for a piece of new rope he had bought in Connemara.
Maurya cautions him to leave the rope on the nail, but he insists that he needs it to make a halter
for the horse. This detail underscores the family’s economic plight. Bartley tries to reason with
his mother that the fair promises to be a good one for the sale of horses. But she turns her
attention to some white boards to make a coffin for Michael whenever his body is recovered
from the sea.

Maurya tries to warn him of the dangers, but he insists that he must go. He will take the
family’s red mare, with the gray pony tied behind. After announcing his plans, he asks his
mother for a blessing, but Maurya refuses to give it. When Cathleen and Nora realize that he has
left without food, Cathleen asks her mother to walk quickly to meet him by the well, to give him
bread and the blessing. Maurya goes to look for Bartley, lamenting, “In the big world the old
people do be leaving things after them for their sons and children, but in this place it is the young
men do be leaving things behind for them that do be old.”

Once she is gone, the girls hurriedly retrieve the bundle of clothes to examine them more
closely. They discover that the stockings belong to Bartley. When Maurya returns to the cottage,
however, she is more upset than before. Maurya tells them that she has seen Michael. To give her
a sense of reality, the daughters show her Michael’s clothes and assure her of the clean burial he
has had in the sea.Saddened, Maurya then tells the girls that she saw Bartley also.Her speech is
interrupted by the sound of the islanders returning with the body of Bartley, who has been
thrown into the sea and drowned. As the men were loading the animals on the boat, the gray
pony, unsettled by the wind, kicked Bartley into the sea.

The white boards that had been bought for Michael’s coffin, is now used to make
Bartley’s. Maurya, having lost six sons to the sea—triumphantly announces, “There’s no more
the sea can do to me. . . it’s a great rest I’ll have now”. The play ends, having recounted the
hardships of an Irish family—hardships brought on by economic destitution.

She realizes that she will not long survive these deaths. She sprinkles Holy Water over the dead Bartley and asks God’s mercy on the souls of her men. the next from youngest son. Maurya’s nobility and maturity of spirit enable her to see the good in all of her men now being together. powerful. Bartley. drowned nine days earlier. When her two daughters. Maurya recognizes that the sea can do no more to harm her. She sends Maurya with some bread to give him. she sees her mother as old. He nevertheless asks God’s blessing on the family and rides off on the red mare. an old peasant woman living on one of the Aran Islands at the mouth of Galway Bay on the western coast of Ireland. she takes the lead in expressing concern and making arrangements. and she tries to dissuade her last son. Twice unable to give him a journey’s blessing. and lamenting excessively. She sympathizes with her brother’s need to go to sea and criticizes her mother for repeatedly trying to stop him and for not giving him a blessing. as when she identifies some clothes as belonging to her other brother. generously. four of whom are known to be dead. When his mother subsequently stands on the path trying in vain to say the blessing. Preoccupied with practical exigencies. who has been absent unexpectedly for some time.Characters Maurya Maurya (MOY-ruh). being the last surviving male of the family. the youngest of six sons. whose fierce tides and winds make life difficult and dangerous. Michael. and. villagers enter to announce the death of her last son. after identifying as Michael’s some clothes found on a drowned body. so that they can be sold at the mainland fair. on her own. because she has lost all her men. desolate. There is an end to anxiety and a beginning of peace for her. As the older of two sisters. who was knocked into the sea by his pony. Cathleen is matter-of-fact and impatient with her mother’s lamentations and visions. a daughter about twenty years old. Nora . impoverished area. telling Maurya of the evidence of Michael’s death. leading the pony. and mature emotions. His mother foretells his death and omits the giving of a blessing to him. Cathleen is effective in dealing with practical details. inform her of Michael’s death. As she is being persuaded that he is dead. he ignores his mother’s request that he not go to sea. Cathleen stands in sharp contrast to her mother’s deep. is drowned also. on the souls of everyone left living in the world. He earns income by riding horses into the sea to the steamer anchored far offshore. a wild. an omission considered bad luck. though there will be little to eat. Bartley Bartley. he gives her his blessing. Instead of becoming bitter and angry. She has reared six sons. she recites the list of the others’ deaths and the circumstances. Cathleen Cathleen. she has a vision foretelling his death. Bartley. She is afraid that Michael. Filled with life herself. broken. now the sole support of the household. from crossing over the tumultuous sea to sell two horses at the fair on the mainland. as are her husband and her husband’s father—all from the ravages of the sea.

a young girl. another of Maurya’s daughters. Her main function in the play is to talk with Cathleen and enable the exposition of background and commentary on the action. She speaks more respectfully to her mother than does Cathleen and with pity about her dead brother. .Nora.