Riots occurred in January 1907 during and following the opening performance of the play. The riots were stirred up by Irish nationalists and republicans who viewed the contents of the play as an offence to public morals and an insult against Ireland. The riots took place in Dublin, spreading out from the Abbey Theatre and finally being quelled by the actions of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The fact that the play was based on a story of apparent patricide also attracted a hostile public reaction. Egged on by nationalists, including Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith, who believed that the theatre was not sufficiently political and described the play as "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform" and with the pretext of a perceived slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood in the line "a drift of females standing in their shifts" (a shift (garment) being a female undergarment, similar to a nightgown), a significant portion of the crowd rioted, causing the remainder of the play to be acted out in dumb show. Nevertheless, press opinion soon turned against the rioters and the protests petered out.
Years later, William Yeats declared to rioters against Seán O'Casey's pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars, in reference to the "Playboy Riots": "You have disgraced yourself again. Is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?"
In the 1965 film Young Cassidy, a riot occurs during a play by the fictitious playwright Cassidy, following which the character Yeats refers to Synge and speaks similar words, starting with "You have disgraced yourselves again."
The production of Synge's play met with more disturbances in the United States in 1911. On opening night in New York, hecklers booed, hissed and threw vegetables and stink bombs while men scuffled in the aisles. The company was later arrested in Philadelphia and charged with putting on an immoral performance. The charges were later dismissed.