Cathleen ni Houlihan

Cathleen ni Houlihan Summary and Analysis of Part 3


The Old Woman warms her hands by the fire and tells the family that there is a great wind outside. She then tells them that she has traveled very far, but that not everyone has been welcoming to her. "It's a pity indeed for any person to have no place of their own," Peter says.

The Old Woman tells them, "Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no quiet in my heart." When they ask her why she is wandering, the Old Woman tells him, "Too many strangers in the house." She elaborates, telling them that her land was taken from her, her "four beautiful green fields." Michael asks her if she heard cheering as she came up from the village and she tells him, "I thought I heard the noise I used to hear when my friends came to visit me," and sings a song.

The song is about a man, "yellow-haired Donough, that was hanged in Galway." She then sings the next lines, more loudly. She tells them, "Many a man has died of love for me," which Peter interprets as evidence that she has lost her wits. The Old Woman calls Michael over and tells him about all the people that have died for her.


The arrival of the Old Woman is mysterious, as she tells them that she has traveled very far and is wracked with strange troubles. She speaks cryptically when questioned, suggesting that the reason she is wandering is because there are "too many strangers in the house," but it is difficult to tell exactly what she means by this. She also says, "Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no quiet in my heart," but does not explain what she means in great detail. She is a mysterious figure, like something out of a dream.

The reason that the Old Woman seems mysterious or allegorical is, of course, because she is. She is a representation of Cathleen ni Houlihan, a character from an old Irish fable and a symbol of Irish nationalism. Understanding this puts her position in perspective for the audience. When she says that there are too many strangers in her house, she is not referring to actual people in an actual house, but strangers in the country of Ireland itself. She refers to the British colonial presence in Ireland, and the fact that she is wandering for the cause of Irish nationalism.

Suddenly, a play that has seemed to be simply about one family's experience with an imminent wedding becomes an allegorical meditation on the nature of Irish nationhood. While the audience has been concerned with the fates of Patrick and Michael on a smaller scale, the arrival of Cathleen ni Houlihan turns the two brothers into symbols of the future of Ireland. Her mission and purpose as a figure are to show the family and the audience that Ireland must fight for its identity and independence.

Indeed, she speaks not only of people who believe in Irish nationalism and the cause, but more specifically, young men who are willing to die for the fate of the nation. For Cathleen ni Houlihan, the stakes are as high as they are historical. She tells the family that young men have been dying for the fate of Ireland for decades and that they will continue to do so. This invocation of history only makes her message that much more pointed and profound.

The play dramatizes traditional Irish sentiments in a poetic way. Despite being an Irish-born Englishman, Yeats considered himself to be an Irishman, and his work reflects this patriotism. Likewise, Lady Gregory, Yeats' collaborator, was born into a certain echelon of Irish society that identified strongly with English-ness, yet she shirked this identification in favor of Irish nationalism. Together, they collaborated on this definitive fable of Irish rebellion against English colonial rule.