A mystical figure often portrayed as an old woman who has been evicted from her home, the title character is an allegorical representation of an impoverished and colonized Ireland. In Yeats and Gregory’s play, she arrives at the Gillane home while they are preparing for the marriage of their son Michael to the wealthy Delia Cahel. She tells her tale through evocative speech and song, which is increasingly enchanting to Michael. She lists the Irish heroes who have given their lives for her, and continues to enlist young men to her cause. At the end of the play, it is suggested that the old woman turns into a young queen, revitalized by the devotion of her countrymen.
The eldest son of Peter and Bridget Gillane, set to wed Delia Cahel the very next morning. His life seems headed into a fruitful future, as he is not only marrying a beautiful girl, but has also received a dowry of a hundred pounds. He is initially dubious of letting the old woman into their home, but is soon enthralled by her words, and eventually rejects his stable future to go to war for Ireland.
Mother to Michael and Patrick, Bridget is a hard-working and opinionated woman. She is miffed when her husband casually mentions that, unlike their soon-to-be daughter-in-law, she had no dowry when they were married. Being a down-to-earth woman, she is planning for her second son Patrick to become a priest after Michael has wedded. She is also shown to be warm and courteous, as she is the one who talks her avaricious husband into offering the old woman some money.
Peter is a farmer in County Mayo and the father of Michael and Patrick. He is very excited about Delia Cahel's dowry, as it will enable him to purchase much livestock for their land. Money is his main concern, which is further shown when he reluctantly offers the old woman a shilling and is taken aback by her refusal.
Patrick is the twelve-year-old son of Peter and Bridget. Even though he only appears briefly towards the end, he serves a vital role in the narrative. He is the character that informs the audience about the context of the world outside the cottage, thus revealing the arrival of the French to their shores and the fact that their neighbors are joining the French army to combat the British, and most importantly, he is the one who reveals the transformation of the old woman into a young girl with the regal presence at the very end.
Delia Cahel is a wealthy girl in the village, who is about to marry Michael Gillane. She too has very few lines, and she appears only at the end of the play. She tries to stop her future husband from a sure death, but fails. She is Michael’s last connection to his stable materialistic future, and by rejecting her, he is officially giving all of himself to Ireland.
Cathleen ni Houlihan Questions and Answers
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Delia’s dowry is a symbol of the importance of material wealth. The characters' lives revolve around a bag of coins. The bag of coins, however, is eventually replaced by Cathleen ni Houlihan, who symbolizes the preeminence of nationalistic ideals...
Bridget Gillane is Michael and Patrick's mother. She is described as a hard-working, opinionated woman, who is angered when her husband mentions that, unlike their soon to be daughter-in-law, she had no dowry when they were married. Being a...