Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats' Cathleen ni Houlihan is a classic symbolic play with a strong nationalist sentiment. It takes place against the backdrop of Ireland's 1798 rebellion, a failed attempt by Irish rebels (aided in part by the French) to gain independence from England. The eponymous Cathleen ni Houlihan begins the play as an old woman wandering the countryside, trying to find help in her attempt to regain her four stolen fields. After meeting with the Gillane family, however, she turns into a young woman, and this transformation can be seen as a symbol of Ireland's revitalization after the country wins independence.
Ireland is often personified as a female entity. The fact that the old woman is trying to regain her four fields is a signal that Gregory and Yeats are following in this tradition, as the four fields referenced here can be seen as analogous to Ireland's four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht. Thus, the old woman can be seen as a personification of Ireland itself, as both lost four territories to thieves and invaders. In that case, the old woman's transformation into a young woman is a symbol of a crippled Ireland regaining its health and vitality when faced with the prospect of freedom. All in all, though the 1798 rebellion was a disastrous defeat for the Irish, Gregory and Yeats' symbolic dramatization of the event served as an important propaganda piece in the Irish fight for independence in the 20th century.