Cathleen ni Houlihan

Cathleen ni Houlihan Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is the play political?

    The play itself is an allegory for the rise of Irish nationalism in the late 18th century in Ireland. Cathleen ni Houlihan is a supernatural old woman who calls on different young men and enchants them into joining the army to fight on behalf of his country. Cathleen represents Ireland itself, a woman whose "house" has filled up with "strangers," i.e. British colonists. In the course of this play, she convinces the impressionable Michael to join the army and leave his dreams of a bright and stable future behind in order to lay it all on the line for his country.

  2. 2

    What is Peter's main concern at the beginning of the play?

    While everyone is excited about Michael's wedding, Peter is especially excited about the dowry that he has brought in from Michael's new wife. He discusses all of his business plans and the fact that they now have more money than they have ever had. Indeed, he is so excited by the new money that he does not even want to offer it to the Old Woman when she comes into the house, looking destitute. Peter is not necessarily portrayed as an unethical character, but his chief concern has to do with money and financial stability.

  3. 3

    What is the little twist at the very end of the play?

    At the end of the play, Patrick, Michael's younger brother returns, and the family asks him if he saw an old woman walking down the path when he was coming. He tells them, rather unexpectedly, that he only saw a young woman, walking like a queen, which implies that Cathleen ni Houlihan has shape-shifted. This is the most explicitly supernatural moment in the play, a moment when Cathleen ni Houlihan's magical identity is truly revealed.

  4. 4

    What kinds of metaphors does Cathleen ni Houlihan use in talking to the family?

    When asked why she is wandering the countryside, the Old Woman tells the family that there are "too many strangers" in her house, a metaphor for all of the colonial invaders in Ireland. She also talks about her four green fields, which represent the four provinces of Ireland. Additionally, she refers to the fact that many men have loved her, but that she has never gone to bed with them, which is a metaphorical reference to the fact that many young men have fought and died on behalf of Ireland.

  5. 5

    What is Bridget's primary concern in the play?

    While Bridget is excited about the money that is coming in with the marriage, she is also insulted when Peter suggests that their marriage brought him no wealth at all. She suggests that she did not get much materially from their marriage either. Thus, she is more attentive to the emotional needs of her son and his marriage, as well as the future of their other son Patrick. She wants to make sure her sons have good and happy lives, rather than simply worrying about material wealth. Additionally, when the Old Woman arrives, Bridget is eager to be hospitable to her, and does not hesitate to offer her food, warmth, and money.