Riders To The Sea: A Detailed Summary

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The Setting and the Background

      The play Riders To The Sea opens in a cottage kitchen, with nets, oil-skins, spinning wheel and some new boards standing by the wall. Cathleen, a girl of, about twenty is busy in baking a cake and interrupted by her sister Nora’s, sudden question that where her mother is. Cathleen satisfies her that she is sleeping if she could have somehow. Then Nora, takes out a bundle, given to her by the priest to confirm whether the belongings in it are of their brother Michael’s who is reported missing for nine days.

Bartley’s determination

      Bartley, another son of Maury a, is determined to cross over to the Mainland for some business purpose. His red mare and grey pony are his companions in the journey and these ponies would be sold in the Galway fair. The weather of sea does not permit him to start, but Bartley accepts the challenge and nothing can alter his way. Nora is baking cake for Bartley as he’ll need it in the journey. Cathleen hides the bundle brought by Nora, so it may not fall in the hands of broken-hearted mother.

Maurya’s Lamentations

      Cathleen informs Maurya that Bartley is sure to go to the Mainland in spite of the unfavorable weather. Maurya hopes that the boy would be stopped by the Young Priest but Nora tells her that the priest has denied to do so because he is sure about Bartley’s safety. Just then, Bartley arrives on the scene with searching eyes and demands a rope, which was bought in Connemara. He tells them that he will be riding on the red mare and the grey pony will chase him. Maurya, is grief-stricken at the thought of his risky journey and puts all her efforts to divert his path, which may lead him towards doom. So, she make different excuses to stop him and on one occasion, she says that he should drop the idea because she needs her help in making a coffin for her dead son Michael which would be washed ashore someday and secondly because the weather is furious and dangerous. Without paying any attention to Maurya’s advice, Bartley leaves the house. On the doorstep, Maurya says that itis her last meeting with him and now she is alone in this world, whose all sons have left her to face the hardships of life., Cathleen gets irritated listening these words and interrupts her mother for uttering such words.

Cathleen’s suggestion to Maurya

      Cathleen forgets to give the prepared cake to Bartley. So, she suggests her mother to hand it to him as he would not have gone far away. Cathleen says that Maurya can also give her love and well wishes to Bartley, which she could not give due to her anger. Doing this she can nullify the effect of the words which she had spoken earlier.

Identification of Michael’s dress

      In Maurya’s absence, both of the sisters open the bundle, which would decide their fate. Comparing the shirt with a shirt sleeve already in the house they investigated that both of the shirts are made of same flannel. But only this cannot confirm the death of Michael as the shirt of the same flannel could have been worn by any other sailor who was a failure in fighting with the sea-calamities. On counting the stitches of stocking by Nora, proved that the dead body was of Michael because she finds that the stocking is the same which she herself had knitted.

      Cathleen is shattered on the thought how his brother’s dead body was rotting over the sea and only birds would have mourned his death, with nobody of his family member. Nora regrets that such a great sailor and fisher, has got such a terrible ending, whose existence could be proved only by a bit of an old shirt and a plain stocking.

Maurya’s Premonition

      On feeling Maurya’s presence, Cathleen and Nora hide the bundle of clothing so as not to trouble their mother, anymore. Maurya is waiting and moaning. It seems as if she is out of mind. She is behaving odd and tells her daughters that she has seen the most dreadful sight, which has shaken her completely. Cathleen and Nora, are confused by their mother’s remarks and asks for the reality. She replies that she first saw Bartley on the red mare and Michael on the grey pony. It seemed to her as Michael is chasing Bartley, which suggests Bartley’s death. Maurya’s had tried to bless Bartley but something had choked the words in her throat. She could not provide her son with the bread, which troubled her most. Maurya is now sure that Bartley will also disappear in the sea. The deaths of several other members of her family, could not move her because she had last hope namely Bartley. But now this hope seems to be shattering.

Bartley’s Tragedy


      Maurya is telling about the death of her son Patch, to her daughters. Just then a number of old women and men entered the house carrying something, wrapped in a piece of a sail. The women are wailing and moaning. The dead body of Bartley has been brought in, who was knocked down by the grey pony in ther water. Thus Maurya’s statement proved to be true.

Outstanding patience of Maurya

      Maurya laments on the death of her two sons, from one of whose dead body could not be found. She throws all the responsibility on the sea for her loss. Sea has eaten up all her sons, for which it sould be punched by God. She says that now sea can do nothing harm to her. She has now enough time for plenty of rest. Now, all the anxieties are to be buried with the dead bodies of her son. Even though, the problem of bread and meat, will be felt by her. After sprinking holy water on the dead body of Bartley and the clothing of Michael, Maurya invokes God’s mercy on the souls of dead persons and on the souls of alive too. Thus, accepting her fate, she gives a decent burial for both of her sons. Everyone has to die one day and to grumble on the deaths of the family members is of no use. Thinking such, Maurya shows an outstanding patience to resign herself from the tragedies.

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