Cathleen ni Houlihan

Cathleen ni Houlihan Summary and Analysis of Part 4


Bridget and Peter wonder if the woman is crazy, and decide that they ought to look after her either way. "Give her a drink of milk and a bit of the oaten cake," Peter says. Bridget wants to give the woman some of their money, but Peter is worried that they will have to go into the fortune they just received in order to do so.

"Shame on you, Peter. Give her the shilling, and your blessing with it, or our own luck will go from us," Bridget says. Peter offers the Old Woman a shilling as Bridget offers her some milk, but she wants neither. She says, "If anyone would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all." She explains to Michael that she hopes one day to recover her beautiful fields and land.

She tells them that she travels with "the hope of getting my beautiful fields back again; the hope of putting the strangers out of my house." She tells Michael that she has friends that are gathering to help her fulfill her goal. "I must call the neighbours together to welcome them," she says, and Michael agrees to go with her.

Bridget chimes in and tells Michael that he has to welcome Delia to the house, before telling the Old Woman that Michael is getting married. "It is not a man going to his marriage that I look to for help," she replies. She tells them her name is Cathleen ni Houlihan and tells them that they may have heard her name in a song, before singing one.


In this section, the family begins to sympathize with the Old Woman, and wonder if she is a more supernatural character than she appears. Bridget wonders if she is crazy or correct in her assessment of society, and they decide that no matter what, her desperate state requires care and attention. They give her food and try and help her in her moment of need, unsure of her true identity or her reason for being there. In this, we see that the members of the family are good and ethical, people who look out for others in their need.

The family members' relation to good deeds has to do with their perception of luck. When Peter suggests that he does not want to use any of the dowry money they received to give charity to the old woman, Bridget suggests that he must, "or our own luck will go from us." Charity and kindness, according to Bridget, have a kind of karmic effect on one's life, and thus it is wise to be compassionate and generous to those with less than oneself in order to improve one's own luck.

Curiously enough, the Old Woman is looking for neither money nor food, in spite of her desperate situation. What she wants is far more substantial, as she tells Bridget and Peter: "If anyone would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all." Here, she refers to the fact that she needs people to sacrifice themselves to the cause of Irish nationalism, that she requires complete devotion rather than simply crumbs of charity for herself.

Michael is quite taken with the Old Woman's rhetoric. She scarcely has to say that she has gathered people to fight for her cause and he is ready to go with her. It is almost as if she has ensnared him with some kind of magic, so sure and total is his professed devotion to her. She simply tells him that she has friends coming to help her and that they will gain the upper-hand the next day, and Michael forgets all about his wedding to Delia, saying, "I will go with you."

It is in this moment that the Old Woman explicitly reveals her identity to the family as Cathleen ni Houlihan. Peter seems to remember having heard her name in a song once, and she informs him, "There have been many songs made for me. I heard one on the wind this morning." Her songs and her forceful convictions about the future of Ireland entrance Michael, who becomes set on helping Cathleen in whatever way he can, in spite of his parents' insistence that he must focus on his wedding.