Masters of the Sea

by  Gardner McKay

Full Length Play, Dramatic Comedy  /  13m, 4f

"An absolutely brilliant piece of playwriting." - Kansas City Star
"Rich language, broad humor, and true wit - an authentic piece of literature." - Missouri Rep

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Masters of the Sea

by  Gardner McKay

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  • Cast Size

    Cast Size

    13m, 4f
  • Duration


    105 Minutes
  • Accolades


    Not Applicable
  • Suggested Use

    Suggested Use

    • Cutting Approved for Competition
    • Scene work
    • Competition or audition material
  • Audience

    Target Audience

    • Appropriate for all audiences

Additional Info

From the deep stirrings within the core of a craggy island off the coast of Ireland comes the voice of this contemporary play. The island is Cliffhorn Heads and the islanders - great fisherman - face a famine caused by the international radar trawlers that have fished their waters clean. Yet there's still enough humor in these islanders to take the edge off their hunger. Masters of the Sea continues the action of Sea Marks; it is a sequel, though it stands alone and does not depend on its predecessor. Colm returns to his island followed by his wife-to-be (Timothea Stiles) who visits him only to bring him back with her. His father - The Macafee - appears to explain his own dying to his son. Colm murders an Englishman he has rescued from drowning.

From the author: "If this play is about anything it is about courage. Not the patriotic courage of a group passionate for a just cause. It is about one-by-one courage, the most troublesome kind; the individual effort. It is about the courage to save your exterminator's life, because your exterminator is a human being, the mininum requirement for salvation...This play is an homage to these masters of the sea and to their fellow islanders who cling to their doomed existence on a windblown craggy rock without remembering why they first came centuries ago. There is a ragged majesty seen in their will, in their power and their moments of joy...It is also about place. And knowing which is ours...It is about love...It is about abandonment; the exchange of a natural life for a lifestyle. It is about an island of lifers, whose lives depend upon each other, who know each other too well to be only friends. It is about optimism. And being protected by the old belief that there will always be "better news tomorrow." It is about not killing the thing you hate. Killing the thing you love being the luxury of another class...It is about vengeance and repatriation; coming to terms. It is also about faith versus faith; religious faith versus natural faith; testing inventions of faith against ancient, imbued beliefs. It is about oppression. It is about strength. It is about revenge. It is about the return of a young king, displaced, trying to take his place among his kin. It is about the return of a dead king, as a vision of truth for the young king. It is about absent love; the impossible love that still exists. It is about romance, yet it is the opposite of romance; it is a romantic tragedy. It is about the ecstasy of survival."

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"An absolutely brilliant piece of playwriting." - Kansas City Star

"Rich language, broad humor, and true wit - an authentic piece of literature." - Missouri Rep


Performing Groups

  • High School/Secondary
  • College Theatre / Student
  • Community Theatre
  • Blackbox / Second Stage /Fringe Groups


  • Caution Alcohol Alcohol
  • Caution Mild Adult Mild Adult Themes

License details

  • Minimum Fee: $75 per performance



  • Time Period: Present Day
  • Duration: 105 Minutes
  • Setting: The action of the play takes place during one week in late October and early November on an island named Cliffhorn Heads several miles off the Atlantic coast of Ireland: Captain Conneely's Public Drinking House; Colm's cottage. There are no strangers on Cliffhorn Heads. There is no soil on the island other than what has been made from seaweed and rotten potatoes by these islanders and their forbears. There are no trees. There are no cars and the narrow rock roads are bordered by loose rock walls made from the rocks strewn on the granite fields nearby. The sea pervades every scene. It can be heard as it responds to the wind. The islanders are held in siege by the sea close by and they can never be more than half-a-mile from it. And it is their main source of provender. The men have a calmness, a sureness; maybe from having mastered the sea, for now. It is important to the play to hear the sea, even through the blackouts.
  • Additional Features: Stage Combat, Special Effects
  • Features / Contains: Contemporary Costumes / Street Clothes


  • Musical Style: N/A (Not a musical)
  • Vocal Demands: N/A (Not a musical)
  • Chorus Size: N/A (Not a musical)


13m, 4f

DICK CURRAN [cur-ren] - The oldest human being alive at Cliffhorn Heads, a bit wise, a bit adream.
SHOUTER MACTOMAS [moc-toe-maash] -  Another ancient, a man of bearing, a man of old rules and superstitions.
SMIGGY FLAHERTY [FLAH-herty] - Colm's age, his closest friend. A quiet man, gently spoken, strong as the rest.
ROISIN FLAHERTY [ROE-sheen flah-herty] - Smiggy's wife. A handsome, erect woman of the same age.
CIARAN JOYCE [keer-on] - Not yet twenty and anxious to get off the island
GOBNAT CONNEELY [gaub-nit coe-neely] - Martin's very young wife. Helps him in the pub and still shy about it.
TIM-COLIE CURRAN [tim-coalie] - Ciaran's age. Deaf and mute; and so maybe the finest instinctive fisher.
REDMOND CURRAN [cur-ren] - Maybe 40. The new king. A man embittered by the abandonment of the island, especially by Colm's.
DEARBHLA CONNEELY [der-vlah COE-neely]: Nearly as old as Dick. A seeress, whose finger is on the island's pulse.
MARTIN CONNEELY [COE-neely] - Middle-aged owner of the Captain's Public Drinking House. Guiness importer, fish exporter, ex-postmaster, wood seller.
FATHER DIRANE [deer-RON] - Middle-aged or older. An outdoor priest, proud of his parish at the Heads.
AIDAN CURRAN [aid'n] - Redmond's son, undecided: to leave the island or become a lifer. Ciaran's age.
COLM PRIMROSE [coal-l'm] - In his thirties. A returned islandman, the MacAfee's step-son. The would-be king.
THE MACAFEE [mac-uh-fee] - Old. The revenant of Colm's step-father and fishing partner. Bearded.
LIAM FLAHERTY [LEE-um flah-herty] - A fisher of Colm's age, steady, just as strong but more withdrawn than the others.
CAPT DEREK CHAMBERS - Of the beam-trawler Surprise. British. Colm age, neatly bearded, midlands accent.

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Cast Attributes

  • Ensemble cast
  • Reduced casting (Doubling Possible)
  • Strong Role for Leading Man (Star Vehicle)
  • Strong Role for Leading Woman (Star Vehicle)
  • Parts for Senior Actors

Casting Notes

The accent of the western isles is misty compared to the Dublin accent. An accent that still drifts along after the Dubliners are through talking. It is the equivalent of a Virginia accent compared with a New York City accent. Or a Mexican accent compared with a Madrid accent. Softer, less urgent, confident, kinder, filled with humor. Men with short haircuts, red-skinned faces. Long-haired women bring color to the long seasons of silver-black sea and sky by the red wool they wear under their skirts and the ribbons in their hair. They wear no makeup or accessory except sometimes a comb in the hair.



Gardner McKay

George Cadogan Gardner McKay (1932-2001) was born in Manhattan, New York City. His early years were spent in France, Connecticut, and Kentucky. At age fifteen, he published his first story. He attended Cornell University where he edited the humor magazine, wrote a film review column for the paper, and was briefly presi ...

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