What is the conflict in Cathleen ni Houlihan?

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The main conflict in W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory's Cathleen ni Houlihan is the Irish Rebellion of 1798. This was one of many armed uprisings that made up the prolonged fight for Irish independence. Like many other Irish uprisings, the revolution ended in defeat for the rebels. The play deals with the landing of French soldiers at Killala, a real historical event that resulted in a brief rebel victory at Castlebar before the ultimate defeat of the rebellion. This conflict provides the main backdrop for the play. 

There is, however, a more intimate conflict at work. The old woman, who later reveals herself as Cathleen ni Houlihan, the personification of Ireland, convinces Michael Gillane to abandon his family and his future bride to join the revolution. Thus, another major conflict is the tension between patriotism (love of country) and the love for one's family. This idea complicates the play, as it acknowledges how a war, even one that is justifiable, tears families apart.

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