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Written by Timothy Sexton
Maurya has given birth to six sons during her life on the desolate coastal island lying of at the mouth of Ireland's Galway Bay. Four of them are already dead and they have joined their dad among the dead. She is old and poor and fears that the extended and uncharacteristic absence of her son Michael means he is about to added to the list of her loved ones in the afterlife. As if worrying that Michael has already drowned is not enough stress, she doesn’t appear to be very successful as persuading her other remaining son, Bartley, from crossing over to the mainland in a bid to deal away a couple of horses. In the end, Maurya has only the warm comfort of her daughters to help with the cold comfort of knowing that part of the bargain God has made for taking every last one of the men in her life is conferring upon at last a sense of peace and serenity now that her greatest anxiety has been lifted.
Bartley is the youngest of Maurya’s six sons and when Michael’s death is confirmed, he steps up to become the sole support. His means of supporting the family is what gives the play its title: he rides horses out to sea and to the steamer ship which must lay anchored far offshore. This transfer of horses is for the purpose of selling them at the fair located on the mainland. His mother is not just being a lovingly selfish mom by trying to convince him to stop riding the horses to the sea; it is dangerous work and if he dies, so does the family’s income. Maurya refuses to give Bartley her blessing after having a vision of his impending death.
Cathleen is the eldest of Maurya’s daughter. Cathleen is 20 years old, commiserates with Bartley’s position and is scornful of her mother’s superstitions. In reaction to the somewhat mystical bent of her mother—given to lamentations and omens—Cathleen is pure practicality in action; a great necessity when living with someone like Maurya.
The youngest member of the clan, Nora reveals much greater patience with mother’s penchant for self-pity than her oldest sister. At the same time, she provides a great sounding board for Cathleen to express her contrarian views.
The priest is never actually seen on stage, but his presence is so vital that he must be considered at least as important a character as Nora. It is the priest who delivers the message through Nora that Maurya must put her faith and trust in a God that would never allow every last one of her sons to die while she is still alive.
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