Riders to the Sea Summary

Riders to the Sea Summary

It begins with Nora bringing in a small bundle with her and telling Cathleen how this may consist of the clothes of their brother Michael. A body of a man who drowned was found at Donegal and the Priest fears it might be Michael. The sisters are scared to open it as they do not want their mother, Maurya, to know. Michael has been missing for a week and the family had already lost five men to the sea. They hide the bundle in the turf loft of the cottage.

Maurya is all set for the funeral for her son and hence she has whiteboards ready at the cottage. Then enters Maurya who is seen lamenting all the time and worrying that all her sons will never come back from the sea. Then the three women discuss about the last son, Bartley, who is also planning to go the sea to sell the family animals so that they could get some money for themselves. Nora and Cathleen are convinced that Bartley will go to the fair at Galway to sell the animals while Maurya is still hoping that the Priest will not allow him to go in such dangerous tides.

Bartley enters the cottage looking for a new piece of rope, Maurya tries to stop him but he says he wants to make a halter for the horse and this shows that Bartley will also be going to the sea. Maurya again tries to dissuade him by showing the whiteboards brought to make a coffin for Michael. Regardless, Bartley changes his clothes ,asks his sisters to take care of the sheep and leaves without receiving any blessings from his mother. It is a tradition in Ireland that the son receives the blessings of his mother before going anywhere but Maurya breaks this fashion and we see how adamant she is to not let Bartley leave.

Bartley on the other hand wants to upraise the financial condition of their family and leaves with the red mare and a grey pony tied behind. Cathleen then notices that he has not taken any food and hence she tells Maurya to walk down to the well, give Bartley his food and the blessings. Maurya leaves using a stick that Michael brought, lamenting over how generally the old people leave things behind for their heirs but how in her family its the opposite.

Once she is gone, the girls retrieve the bundle of clothes from the loft to check if they are Michael's. They try checking the shirt by the flannel of another shirt but realize that Bartley wore Michael's shirt as it was newer and again we get a peak into the drastic financial condition of the family. Nora then realizes that the stockings are truly Michael's because she stitched them and they count the number of stitches to arrive at the conclusion that Michael was dead and buried.

They hide the clothes again because they think that Maurya will be returning in a good mood as she got the chance to bless Bartley, but Maurya comes back only to be more distressed than ever. She tells her daughters how she saw Michael on the grey pony and could not bless Bartley due to the shock, to calm her down Nora and Cathleen show Maurya the clothes and tell her that Michael has had a clean burial. Maurya's laments are interrupted when islanders bring the body of Bartley in the cottage and tell the women that the grey pony knocked Bartley into the sea and he drowned.

Maurya then gets on her knees near Bartley's body and sprinkles holy water on him. She finally resigns to her fate and we see how the woman will finally sleep at night because she has no one to worry about, all the men of her family have died to the sea. We see that the whiteboards that were supposed to be used for Michael's coffin, will now be used to bury Bartley. Maurya prays that the souls of her husband, her husband's father and four sons may rest in peace and the curtains are drawn.

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