Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362
Cathleen ni Houlihan
Cathleen ni Houlihan, “The Poor Old Woman,” who symbolizes impoverished Ireland, seeking independence from British rule. A stranger, she has come to the countryside of Killala to enlist the help of the Irish in retrieving her four stolen fields. She entrances Michael Gillane into leaving his home and joining her cause. His sacrifices and those of others transform her old age into youth. She steps from the Gillanes’ door a young queen.
Michael Gillane, a young man scheduled to be married the day after he meets Cathleen ni Houlihan. His life is full of promise; he is engaged to a pretty girl whose parents have given a dowry of one hundred pounds. He rejects domestic bliss, however, to fight for Ireland. In joining the French forces against the British, he risks his life, knowing that death will bring eternal fame.
Peter Gillane, Michael’s father, a farmer who is much interested in the dowry brought by his future daughter-in-law. The dowry will make it possible to buy livestock for 10 acres of their land. When he begrudgingly offers Cathleen ni Houlihan a shilling, he is amazed by her refusal, for money dominates his life.
Bridget Gillane, Peter’s wife, who is angered by her husband’s remark that she brought no dowry with her. A hardworking, practical woman, she wants the best for her two sons. With Michael about to be married, she begins to plan Patrick’s future as a priest. Full of hospitality, Bridget directs Michael to open their door to Cathleen and bids her husband to offer the old woman money.
Patrick Gillane, the Gillanes’ twelve-year-old son. He announces the events of the outside world: the approach of the old woman to their neighbors’ home, the cheering that greets Cathleen ni Houlihan, the landing of the French at Killala, and their being joined by the Irish. It is Patrick who proclaims the transformation of Cathleen ni Houlihan.
Delia Cahel, the young girl Michael is to marry. She loses the struggle for Michael’s affections and their life together; their love is overshadowed by his devotion to Ireland.