A Skull in Connemara


Why teach ‘A Skull in Connemara’ by Martin McDonagh for 2019?

It can be of great advantage to teach a new text for the comparative study– it’s something fresh and interesting, and your students will have an original combination of texts for the exam. So why consider ‘A Skull in Connemara’?


For one week each autumn, Mick Dowd is hired to disinter bones in certain sections of his local cemetery to make way for the new arrivals. As the time approaches for him to dig up those of his own late wife, strange rumours regarding his involvement in her sudden death seven years ago gradually begin to resurface.


  • It’s short and straight-forward. The play is 66 pages long. There are four characters and four scenes, making it very manageable to work through in class.
  • Each of the four characters are clearly defined and easy to identify – they are Mick Dowd in his fifties (the main character), Maryjohnny Rafferty in her seventies (his neighbour), Mairtin Hanlon in his late teens/early twenties (Mick’s helper), and his brother Thomas Hanlon in his thirties (the local garda).
  • The storyline is compelling, and it’s full of conflict and dark humour. But how does it fit the modes for 2019?

General Vision and Viewpoint

The play considers questions of death, violence, suspicion and betrayal and is full of black humour, so has a clearly defined, darker outlook.

Literary Genre

This short play has four characters and the action takes place over four scenes, set in a rural cottage in Galway, and the nearby graveyard. It is rich in tension, audience anticipation and conflict.

Theme/Issue - Relationships

I always choose Relationships as the theme/issue for consideration at Higher Level. Relationships in this play are generally destructive and conflict rich, with characters clashing. There is also Mick’s relationship with his deceased wife to consider, which adds further depth to the theme.

Hero, Heroine, Villain

Mick is a very engaging protagonist. The questions surrounding his wife’s death and his neighbours’ suspicions make the audience question his past crimes. He is a volatile character, providing much of the dark humour of the play and is very engaging and entertaining.


Conflict would work well as a theme here.

Overall, this play is engaging and straight-forward, and would work well with both Ordinary and Higher Level class groups.

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