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Riders to the Sea summary I John Millington Synge

Riders to the Sea summary I John Millington Synge

Writer’s Intro:

John Millington Synge (April 16, 1871 – March 24, 1909) was an Irish dramatist, poet, prose writer, and collector of traditional stories. One of his most famous tragedies is Riders to the Sea.As a result, reading the Riders to the Sea summary is critical for honors second year students.



Character Lists

  • Maurya is a grief-stricken widow and mother of eight children: Cathleen, Nora, Bartley, Shawn, Sheamus, Stephen, Patch, and Michael.
  • Cathleen, Maurya’s eldest daughter, tries to keep her mother from dying of grief by identifying her deceased (dead) brother Michael’s clothing.
  • Nora, Maurya’s youngest daughter, helps her sister with their mother.
  • By the end of the play, Maurya’s youngest and only living son, Bartley, has died. 
  • Maurya’s sons had all died by the time the performance began: Shawn, Sheamus, Stephen, Patch, Michael, and Maurya’s spouse. 
  • A priest is a character as well. Although Cathleen and Nora refer to him or her at the play’s commencement, he or she is never seen.



Setting of Riders of the Sea

J.M. Synge’s one-act drama Riders to the Sea, which he wrote in 1904, has a brief and straightforward plot. Synge’s play is brief and enigmatic, much like a fairy tale. It prompts the reader to consider the effects of historical change and loss on individuals and their families. The sea plays a significant role throughout the play since it supports the family’s livelihood. The water has also brought death. As a result, Maurya’s husband and six boys passed away.


Background: Riders to the Sea

Irish playwright John Millington Synge wrote “Riders to the Sea,” which is a one-act play. After visiting the Aran Islands, which are near the coast of Ireland, J.M. Synge was inspired by the way people lived in rural Ireland. He started taking trips every summer to study the lives of regular people and learn about their culture, beliefs, and folklore.

This play was based on what he saw and did while he was there. During one of his trips, he heard about a man whose body was found on the beach of one of the Aran Islands. After he heard that story, he got the idea to write “Riders to the Sea,” which is a play.


It is thought to be one of the best one-act plays in modern theater. It combines parts of rural Irish life and its pagan influences with Greek tragedies. He does a great job of showing how sad life in the Irish countryside is and how hard it is for the people to live there.

People who live on the islands of Western Ireland are at war with the stormy sea, which has killed many people. This play shows how people have to accept the cruelty of an enemy they can’t fight because there’s nothing they can do about it.


Riders to the Sea Summary

Openning of the summary of Riders to the Sea

At the beginning of the story, Nora brings in a small bundle and tells Cathleen that it might be their brother Michael’s clothes. A drowned man’s body was found in Donegal, and the priest is worried that it could be Michael.


They are afraid to open it because they don’t want their mother, Maurya, to find out. Michael has been missing for a week, and the family has already lost five men to the sea: the father, the husband, and their four sons. They hide the bundle in the cottage’s turf loft.


Maurya is ready for her son’s funeral, so she has whiteboards set up at the cottage. Then Maurya comes in. She is always crying and worried that none of her sons will ever return from the sea. Then, the three women talk about their last son, Bartley, who is also planning to go to the sea to sell the family’s animals so that they can get some money for themselves. Nora and Cathleen are sure that Bartley will sell the animals at the fair in Galway, but Maurya is still hoping that the priest will not let him go in such dangerous weather.

Middle part of the summary of Riders to the Sea


Bartley goes into the cottage to find some new rope. Maurya tries to stop him, but he says he wants to make a halter for the horse. This shows that Bartley will also be going to the sea. Again, Maurya tries to discourage him by showing him the whiteboards that were brought to make Michael’s coffin.

Bartley still changes his clothes, asks his sisters to take care of the sheep, and leaves without his mother’s blessing. In Ireland, it is customary for the son to get his mother’s blessing before going anywhere. Maurya breaks this custom, and we can see how unwilling she is to let Bartley go.


Bartley, on the other hand, wants to make more money for his family, so he leaves with a red mare and a gray pony tied behind him. Then, Cathleen notices that he hasn’t eaten, so she tells Maurya to go down to the well, give Bartley his food, and give him the blessings. Maurya walks away with a stick that Michael brought. She complains that most old people leave things for their children, but not in her family.


When she leaves, the girls get the pile of clothes from the loft to see if any of them belong to Michael. They try to check the shirt by looking at the flannel of another shirt, but they realize that Bartley wore Michael’s shirt because it was newer. This shows again how bad the family’s finances are. Then, Nora realizes that Michael’s stockings are really his because she stitched them. They count the stitches and figure out that Michael is dead and buried.

Ending part of the summary of Riders to the Sea

They hide the clothes again because they think Maurya will be happy when she gets back because she got to bless Bartley. But when Maurya gets back, she is even more upset than before. She tells her daughters how she was so shocked when she saw Michael on the gray pony that she could not bless Bartley. Nora and Cathleen show Maurya Michael’s clothes and tell her that he had a clean burial to calm her down. Maurya is crying when islanders bring Bartley’s body into the cottage and tell the women that the grey pony pushed Bartley into the water, where he drowned.


Then, Maurya kneels down next to Bartley’s body and sprinkles holy water on him. She finally accepts her fate, and we can see that the woman will finally be able to sleep at night now that she doesn’t have to worry about anyone. All of her family’s men have died at sea. We can see that Bartley will be buried with the whiteboards that were supposed to be Michael’s coffin. Maurya prays for her husband, her husband’s father, and her four sons’ souls to be at peace, and then she closes the curtains.


Theme: The dominant theme of Synge’s “Riders to the Sea” is fate.

“No man can live forever, and we must be satisfied.” 


You can read more summary:

Arms and the Man
As You Like It

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