What is the summary of the play Cathleen Ni Houlihan?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The summary of this one-act play makes a lot more sense when the reader realizes that Cathleen ni Houlihan is actually the personification of the movement for Irish independence.  She exists to convince the young, Irish men to fight.

They shall be remembered forever, They shall be alive forever, They shall be speaking forever, The people shall hear them forever.

In short, the story is about the Gillane family and their hopes to get out of poverty.  Peter and Bridget Gillane have two sons:  Michael and Patrick.  Michael is engaged to be married to Delia Cahel, and the family couldn't be happier.  Why?  Because Delia brings a dowry that will help the Gillane's work the land. 

Here is where Cathleen ni Houlihan shows up.  Cathleen ni Houlihan first appears as an elderly woman, quite careworn.  She knocks on the Gillane's door hoping to enlist the young men of the household to fight for her four stolen fields.  Cathleen ni Houlihan admits that it will take both sacrifice and blood.

Michael gives up his happy future as a husband to follow Cathleen ni Houlihan and to sacrifice himself for Irish independence. As soon as Michael vows his life, Cathleen ni Houlihan appears now as a strong, young woman and, in fact, a queen.

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jcross373 | Student, Graduate | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Written in the early 1900s, the play Cathleen ni Houlihan focuses on the 1798 Rebellion. The play was written by Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats and is considered a one-act play. Cathleen ni Houlihan represents an independent Irish entity; the play was written in favor of males fighting for this separate state (Cathleen ni Houlihan). The character is introduced in the play as a very old woman who enjoys discussing the beauty of her “fields”. Cathleen ni Houlihan believes four provinces were stolen from her, which are represented by these “fields”. As a result of her feelings toward the “fields”, she persuades young men to go and fight for her, which she refers to as a “blood sacrifice”. Cathleen ni Houlihan is a symbol of Irish Nationalism and an emblem of Ireland trying to break free from colonial rule.

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