In 1897, J. M.Synge was encouraged by his friend and colleague William Butler Yeats to visit the Aran islands. He went on to spend the summers of 1898 through 1903 there. While on the Aran island of Inishmaan, J.M. Synge heard the story of a man from Inishmaan whose body washed up on the shore of the island of Donegal, which inspired Riders to the Sea.
Riders to the Sea is written in the dialect of the Aran islands: Hyberno-English. (Synge's use of native Irish/Gaelic language is part of the Irish Literary Renaissance, a period when Irish literature looked to encourage pride and nationalism in Ireland.)