DruidSynge: Riders to the Sea

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Riders to the Sea

A one-act play, Riders to the Sea was written in the summer of 1902. It draws directly on Synge’s experiences of four visits he made to Inis Meain (the middle island of the Aran Islands) between 1998 and 1901. Riders to the Sea distills into a compressed stage action Synge’s sensitivity towards the menace of death that he felt reach into the lives of the menfolk he met on the island, and concentrates this feeling in Maurya, a mother who has lost five sons to the sea at the beginning of the play and is in dread of losing her sixth, Bartley. Maurya refuses her blessing to Bartley when he leaves for a boat to a horse fair in Galway. Kathleen ushers her mother out to intercept Bartley leading horses to the pier, and so give him her blessing at last and a cake of bread for his journey. Maurya returns, the bread still in her hand and the fearfullest story to tell, how she met Bartley riding the red mare in front and the missing son Michael on the grey pony behind. Bartley is brought into the house soon after, laid out on a plank, dripping sea water, a sailcloth over him. Maurya takes up the ‘keen’, a traditional lament for the dead, from the women mourners who have entered the kitchen around her and Synge gives to her great threnody the final line ‘No man at all can be living forever and we must be satisfied’, a line Synge translates direct from a letter written in Irish by the young islander with whom he found himself in most sympathy, Mairtin Mac Donnchadh. Riders to the Sea was first performed at the Molesworth Hall, Dublin, 25 February, 1904. It was first published with The Shadow of the Glen by Elkin Mathews in London in 1905.

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