Riders to the Sea

Based on the 1904 play by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, this one-act tragedy, set in the Aran Islands, like all of Synge's plays it is noted for capturing the poetic dialogue of rural Ireland.

Riders to the Sea was shot in Connemara where Brian used the actors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and "the film reflects the disparity between the two, with the actors delivering their lines in a highly technical manner whilst the camera revels in the bleak, natural beauty of the coastline and sky. Hurst's visuals are invariably compared with those of his mentor, John Ford, and the opening shots of Riders... are markedly Fordian in their elementary quality".

Ruth Barton Irish National Cinema, Routledge, 2004, p.52, 53

Plot Synopsis: Maurya has lost her husband, father-in-law, and five sons to the sea. As the play begins Nora and Cathleen receive word that a body that may be their brother Michael has washed up on shore in Donegal, far to the north. Bartley is planning to sail to Connemara to sell a horse, and ignores Maurya's pleas to stay. As he leaves, he leaves gracefully. Maurya predicts that by nightfall she will have no living sons, and her daughters chide her for sending Bartley off with an ill word. Maurya goes after Bartley to bless his voyage, and Nora and Cathleen receive clothing from the drowned corpse that confirms it as their brother. Maurya returns home claiming to have seen the ghost of Michael riding behind Bartley and begins lamenting the loss of the men in her family to the sea, after which some villagers bring in the corpse of Bartley, who has fallen off his horse into the sea and drowned.

Brian Desmond Hurst's version is a 40-minute adaptation, with the screenplay written by Patrick Kirwan and Sara Allgood who also stars as Maurya.

Reviews of Film version Riders to the Sea (1935):

“JM Synge’s play, Riders to the Sea which has been filmed and is now being shown in the Theatre Royal, is the greatest tragedy of Anglo-Irish literature.  In it, Synge showed the lives of the people of Western Connemara, dominated, as they are, by the cruel sea beating on their shores, the sound always in their ears, and lives being stolen in ones or twos or threes, till in the end all the men of this family have been taken from it.  In the ordinary course of nature elsewhere the children mourn their parents, taken from them in old age, but here it is the old that mourn ever while the young men are taken, one by one in their prime”.
Irish Press, Dublin, 1936


Sara Allgood

  Riders to the Sea Cast  

The North Wall as mentioned in the caption is the North Wall in Dublin and many of the actors and actresses were from Abbey Theatre in Dublin - Photo Courtesy of the Allan Smith Collection


Starring: Sara Allgood, Kevin Guthrie, Denis Johnstone

Curraghs in Riders to the Sea

Courtesy of the Allan Smith Collection

The above photgraph illustrates the curraghs in Riders to the Sea and is the best-known of all traditional Irish boats and was at the core of Riders to the Sea. It was made of a wicker-work frame, covered with hides which were stitched together with thongs. They are used still round the coasts of Ireland but tarred canvas is now employed instead of skins.

Riders to the Sea (1935) Re-Mastered (12 February 2015)


Re-mastered and re-released to commemorate the 80th anniversay of the film's release and the 120th anniversary of the birth of the film's director on 12th February 1895 and can be viewed by clicking here: