Jez Butterworth's play The Ferryman is about a family whose life on a farm in rural Northern Ireland is disrupted when the past comes back to haunt them. It was first performed at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 24 April 2017, and subsequently transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End on 20 June 2017.
The play is set in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in late August 1981.
A short Prologue, set the previous day in Derry, establishes the context: the body of Seamus Carney, who disappeared on New Year's Day 1972, when he was twenty years old, has been discovered in a peat bog in County Louth, just across the border; he had been shot in the head, apparently in retribution for his defection from the IRA. Now Seamus's widow, Caitlin, and their son, Oisin, live under the same roof as Seamus's brother, Quinn, a man who has had his own associations with the IRA, but who has long devoted himself to maintaining the family farm, as well as looking after his ailing wife Mary and their six children. Amongst the household too are Quinn’s uncle Pat, and his aunts, Patricia and Maggie, the one a staunch and bitter Irish republican, the other a gentle soul whose long silences are broken by voluble outbursts. Also present is an English factotum, Tom Kettle, a man of slow wits, but whose seemingly bottomless pockets provide amusement for the Carney children. Through it all, Quinn harbours an unspoken love for Caitlin as the family go about observing their ritual harvest celebrations, only to find their lives upended by the arrival of IRA power figure, Muldoon, out to prevent any further damage to the Republican cause resulting from the discovery of Seamus's body.
The premiere production of The Ferryman was directed by Sam Mendes and designed by Rob Howell. It was performed by Turlough Convery, Eugene O’Hare, Gerard Horan, Stuart Graham, Paddy Considine (as Quinn Carney), Laura Donnelly (as Caitlin Carney), Elise Alexandre, Meibh Campbell, Darcey Conway, Angel O’Callaghan, Clara Murphy, Bríd Brennan, Carla Langley, Des McAleer, Niall Wright, Sophia Ally, Grace Doherty, Rob Malone, Dearbhla Molloy, John Hodgkinson, Fra Fee, Genevieve O’Reilly, Tom Glynn-Carney, Conor MacNeill, Michael McCarth and Xavier Moras Spencer.