Share as much as you know

    Cathleen ni Houlihan 

About the playwright

W. B. Yeats is an Irish poet, playwright, and politician. He paved the way for the Irish Literary Revival. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923.

About the play

  • The play ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ is a one-act play that was written in 1902 by W B Yeats.

  • It is an allegorical play in which the central character ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ represents Ireland.

  • The play was first performed in St. Teresa’s Hall, Dublin in 1902.

  • The play depicts the impoverished condition of Ireland under colonial rule during the Irish Rebellion in 1798.

  • The main theme of the play centers on the sacrifice of men for the country, Gaelic myth, money, and patriotism.


Peter Gillane lived in a cottage with his wife and two sons -Michael Gillane and Patrick Gillane. Peter talked to his wife, Bridget Gillane about Michael’s wedding clothes. Michael was going to marry Delia Cahel. So Peter was so curious to get a hundred pounds dowry for Michael’s marriage, and Patrick expected to have the greyhound pup as a gift Delia Cahel promised him to give. In the meantime, an old woman entered their home. She shared how her land was captured by strangers. Listening to her, Peter told Bridget to give her milk and Bridget persuaded Michael to give her a shilling. Then the old woman told many stories of sacrifices the youth had made for her. She promised Michael how all the martyrs would be rewarded for their selfless service to Ireland. Gradually Michael was captivated by her words., and refused to marry Delia Cahel. Suddenly the old woman left their home, and Michael followed her. Peter asked Patrick if he had seen the old woman going down the path. Then Patrick replied to his father that he had seen a young girl walking like a queen.


The play Cathleen ni Houlihan centers on the events of the 1798 Irish rebellion against British rule in Ireland. The main theme of the play is Ireland’s long-lasting struggle for Independence, the blood-sacrifice of the youth in the name of their motherland, and Irish nationalism. In this play, Gregory and W.B. Yeats not only demonstrate the impending and never-ceasing restlessness of Irish people and their desire to rebel against British rule but also regard Ireland as a mother figure, who calls her sons to save her.

The play also explores various themes such as money in the form of dowry, marriage, cultural pride, national identity, poverty, the hard life of Irish peasants in the small cottage, the attachment to the parent’s love of family, mistreated land, and sacrifice of personal desires. The glory of martyrdom is presented when the old woman promises Michael that the young men who pursue Irish Independence against their ambitions “shall be remembered forever”. At the end of the play the theme of metaphysical transformation is depicted when the old woman is turned into a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen. 

Short Answer Type Questions

1. What did Winny talk about?

Ans: Winny talked about the strange woman who goes through the country whatever time war or trouble is coming.

 2. Who is Delia Cahel?

Ans: Delia Cahel is a young lady who is engaged to Michael.

3. In which year and with whom did Yeats collaborate to write the play, Cathleen ni Houlihan?

Ans: Yeats collaborated with Lady Gregory in 1902 to write the play, Cathleen ni Houlihan.

4. Which clothes were referred to as ‘grand clothes’?

Ans: Wedding clothes of Michael were referred to as ‘that grand clothes’.

5. What did Bridget hope her younger son might become in the future? Whose help did she rely on?

Ans: Bridget hoped that her younger son might become a priest in the future.

She relied on the help of Delia Cahel’s uncle who was a priest.

6. What reply did the old woman give to Peter’s question, ‘Have you traveled far today’?

Ans: The old woman replied that She had traveled very far, there were very few who traveled so far as she and there were many a one that had strong sons whom she thought were friends but they were shearing their sheep instead of listening to her.

7. What is the ‘fortune’ that has been brought by Michael?

Ans: Michael has brought 100 pounds as a ‘fortune’.

 8. “He died for the love of me.”- Who

was the speaker? Who died for the speaker?

Ans: The old woman who reveals her identity as ‘Cathleen ni Houlihanwas the speaker. Yellow-haired Donough had died for the speaker.

9. What does the Poor Old Woman represent?

Ans: The Poor Old Woman represents Ireland.

10. Why did Peter put money out of sight?

Ans: Peter did not want strangers to look at his money, so he put the money out of sight.

 11. What gift is Patrick expecting?

Ans: Patrick is expecting the greyhound pup as a gift.

12. How does the old woman first arouse pity and sympathy in the minds of the readers?

Ans: The old woman first arouses pity and sympathy in the minds of the readers by telling about her mistreated lands and her poor condition which make her find out her sons to save her.

13. Who is Bridget Gillane?

Ans: Bridget Gillane is the wife of Peter and the mother of Michael and Patrick.

14. What does Peter ask Bridget to offer the Old Woman as food and drink?

Ans: Peter asks Bridget to offer a bit of the oaten cake and a drink of milk to the Old Woman as food and drink.

15.”Leave me alone now till I ready the house for the woman…”-Who is the speaker? Who is being referred to?

Ans: Bridget is the speaker. Delia Cahel is being referred to.

16. What had Delia promised to gift Patrick?

Ans:  Delia had promised to gift Patrick a greyhound pup.

17. What happened to the four green fields?

Ans:  The four green fields were captured by many strangers. Here the speaker meant to say how England captured Ireland.

18. Why does the old woman keep on wandering?

Ans: The old woman keeps on wandering as she has many strangers in the house. She means to say about the colonial rule of England in Ireland.

19. Who is Patrick Gillane?

Ans: Patrick Gillane is a boy of twelve and Michael’s brother.

20. What does Peter mean by ‘fortune’?

Ans: Peter means dowry by ‘fortune’.

21. What do “four green fields” symbolize?

Ans: The green fields symbolize the four provinces of Ireland.

22. Why did Peter want to go to the fair of Ballina?

Ans: Peter wanted to go to the fair of Ballina to buy the livestock.

23. Who was Widow Casey?

Ans: Widow Casey was a stout fresh woman who was put out of her holding at Kilglass a while ago.

24. How did Donough die?

Ans: Donough was hanged in Galway with a hempen rope for a neckcloth, and a white cloth on his head.

25. Where did Brian lose his life?

Ans: Brian lost his life at Clontarf by the sea.

26. What is meant by ‘gallows’?

Ans: The word ‘gallows’ means a structure used for hanging.

27.”Too many strangers in the house”-Who is the speaker and whom did the speaker call a ‘stranger’?

Ans: The old woman is the speaker and the speaker called the Britishers who captured Ireland ‘strangers’.

28. What hope did the old woman have?

Ans: The old woman had hope that she would get her beautiful fields back again, and put the strangers out of her house.

29. Whom did Patrick see to walk like a queen?

Ans: When Patrick tried to see the old woman, he saw a young girl who walked like a queen.

30. “They shall be remembered forever”-Who shall be remembered forever and how?

Ans: The freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives to save Ireland from the clutch of the Britishers shall be remembered forever.

The freedom fighters will have eternal fame by sacrificing their lives for their motherland, and this way their name will be immortal and remembered by the people.

31. What did Peter want Bridget to give to the old woman?

Ans: Peter wanted Bridget to give a drink of milk and a bit of the oaten cake to the old woman.

32.”He died for the love of me”-Who is the speaker? Who died for the speaker?

Ans: “He died for the love of me”-The old woman is the speaker. Donough died for the speaker.

33. Who was John Cahel?

Ans: John Cahel was Delia Cahel’s father.

34. Where did the action of the play ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan’ take place?

Ans: The action of the play ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan took place inside a cottage that was close to Killala.

Long Answer Type Questions

1. Write a brief character sketch of Bridget Gillane.

Ans: In the play Cathleen in Houlihan Bridget Gillane is Peter’s wife and  Michael and Patrick’s mother. She represents a typical Irish woman who is simple, tolerant, hardworking, polite, humble, and above all expert in analyzing the situation with a plan for the future. As a mother, she is very affectionate to her sons, and she wants the best for her two sons. Being a practical and down-to-earth woman, Bridget is planning for her son Patrick to become a priest after Michael is married.

She is a flat character with common feelings and fears, so she is angered by her husband’s remark that she brought no dowry with her. As a poor lady, She has hardships, but despite such hardships, she has retained virtues like kindness, compassion, and hospitality Bridget directs Michael to open their door to Cathleen, and greets her warmly, and invites her in. She tries to realize the old woman’s pain and suffering so she gives her food and attention and convinces her avaricious husband to offer the old woman some money. At the end of the play, Bridget attempts to distract her son by telling him about his marriage and wedding dress as she feels greedy and tempted to get Delia’s dowry and Michael’s prosperous life. Though she is an empathetic, warm-hearted, and magnanimous lady, she is very concerned about the safety, security, and happiness of the members of her family.

2. Sketch the character of the Old Woman in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan.

Ans: In Cathleen ni Houlihan the Old Woman is the pivotal character who arrives at the Gillane home while they are preparing for the marriage of their son Michael to the wealthy Delia Cahel. She recounts her tale of being evicted from her home, speaks in an elevated and unearthly way, begins singing verses of Gaelic folk songs, and rejects food and money. Her words suggest that she has fallen on hard times after years of abuse and her decrepit state symbolizes years of abuse under colonial oppression. 

The Old Woman is the embodiment of Mother Ireland. She reveals her identity as Cathleen ni Houlihan and hints to her listeners that she can never rest until the English have left her land. She symbolizes impoverished Ireland, seeking independence from British rule. She ultimately lures the young groom away to join in the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798 against the British during the French Revolutionary Wars. After she has convinced the young man to go to war for her, the old woman becomes a beautiful young woman with the walk of a queen. The transformation takes place off-stage and enhances the subtle qualities of the old woman.

3. Justify the appropriateness of the title of the play, ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’.

Ans: The play Cathleen ni Houlihan centers around the titular heroine ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ who appears as an old woman at the cottage of a family celebrating their son’s wedding and encourages the youth of their family to fight against the British on behalf of Irish independence. The title character represents the impoverished condition of Ireland and its needs.

At the end of the play, there is a rebellion in the play when the French are landing at Killala, and Michael rejects Delia Cahel and his stable future to go to war for Ireland. At this moment the transformation of the old woman into the image of the young girl with her queenly takes all the attention of the audience as well as readers on Cathleen who is the central character of the play. As the title significantly indicates the theme and the entire content of the play, it is apt.

4. How does the old woman drive Michael to give up his marriage and become a martyr for the country?

Ans: On the eve of the 1798 Rebellion, and Michael Gillane’s wedding to Delia, the old woman lures Michael away from his parents, fiancé, and comfortable future, to join the cheering boys hurrying to welcome   French troops to fight the British, who are the colonial invaders of Ireland. She frames the glory of battle as more important than individual desires. She manages to persuade Michael that fighting and dying for his country would be even more glorious than a happy and prosperous married life and educates Michael on Irish history by singing Irish folksongs. She explains how sacrifice brings eternal fame to all the freedom fighters, and sings all the songs which are to glorify a young man who sacrificed himself for his motherland through her ambiguous words. As she tells him stories of all the young men who have gone and died in battle for her, Michael is mesmerized.

She lists the Irish heroes who have given their lives for her, and demands blood sacrifice, guaranteeing that young men who pursue Irish independence against their private ambitions “shall be remembered forever”. She gives a hint that she can never rest until the English have left her land and returned to her the four provinces of Ireland and ennobles war as something that is for the greater good. She tells her tale through evocative speech and song, which is increasingly enchanting to Michael, so he is enthralled by her words and eventually rejects his stable future to go to war for Ireland.

**5. What does the transformation of an old woman to a young lady symbolize in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan?

Ans: The old woman in the play is a personification of Ireland itself, struggling and suffering under the domination and unbeatable torture of Britain. At the very end of the play, Peter and Bridget ask their youngest son, Patrick, if he saw an old woman coming down the road when he got back home. He tells them that he only saw a young woman who was walking like a queen.

When the French bring ships to Killala Bay, Michael rejects his stable future to go to war for Ireland. It is in this context and this moment that we find the transformation of the old woman into the image of the young and regal girl, indicating that Cathleen Ni Houlihan takes many forms, and she is now restored to her full power and majesty. The transformation takes place off-stage but enhances the ethereal qualities of the old woman. The change occurs after she has convinced the young man to go to war for her. This transformation is symbolic, representing the fact that Michael’s devotion to the Irish cause has revitalized Cathleen and turned her into a young beautiful girl. This suggests that a regeneration of Ireland is possible if there is a revolution against the  British. This transformation further emphasizes the need for a self-sufficient and independent Ireland.

It is a classic symbolic play with a strong nationalist sentiment. The old woman represents an ancient country and culture subjugated by Britain. Her transformation, shaped within this context of the rebellion, is symbolic of the hope for independence.

6. Cathleen ni Houlihan is a republican cause of Irishmen.-Explain.


Describe Irish nationalism in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan.

Ans: When ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan was written, Ireland had been under colonial power for a long time, so it sought freedom from the colonial power.

In this play, ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ is depicted as the poor old woman who calls her sons to defend her, and allows the men to their masculinity. The old woman’s decrepit state symbolizes impoverished Ireland after years of abuse under colonial oppression, and her speech suggests that she has fallen through hard times after losing her home.

‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ is the historical personification of Ireland that needs the support of young Irishmen willing to fight and sacrifice their lives to free Ireland from colonial rule. So Cathleen ni Houlihan becomes a republican cause that inspires all Irishmen to serve their motherland.

7. Compare and contrast the characters of Peter and his son Michael in Cathleen ni Houlihan.

Ans: In Cathleen ni Houlihan Peter Gillane is Michael Gillane’s father, but both of them are different from each other in their behavior and nature. At the beginning of the play, Peter Gillane is curious to have a dowry from John Cahel, and he is worried about money. On the other hand, Michael has an interest in Delia Cahel whom he will wed Delia the next morning, and does not have any interest in dowry. Michael says, “The fortune only lasts for a while, but the woman will be there always.” When the woman enters their home and asks for help, Peter gives her a shilling reluctantly, but Michael listens to her and gets himself motivated to sacrifice his stable future and fight for his motherland.

Peter is selfish, a narrow-minded man who thinks of buying livestock, getting rich, and making a stable future for his sons, whereas Michael is a dutiful simple young man who has a sense of love for his beloved as well as his motherland. At the end of the play Michael chooses his motherland, and rejects Delia Cahel, and his selflessness makes him a courageous fighter.


A. Answer each of the following questions in a complete sentence:

1. Why did Bridget want to make her younger son a priest?

2.“It is a hard service they take that helps me.”-Who is the speaker? What was the hard service?

B. Answer each of the following questions in about 200-250 words.

1. Write a brief character sketch of Bridget Gillane.

2. What pictures of Irish Society come out through the play Cathleen ni Houlihan?

3. What role does the dowry play in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan?

4. Compare and contrast the character of Peter and his son Michael in Cathleen ni Houlihan.

5. Cathleen ni Houlihan is a play based on Irish Nationalism. Discuss.

6. What does the transformation of an old woman to a young lady symbolize in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan?

7. How does the old woman drive Michael to give up his marriage and become a martyr for the country?

8. Justify the appropriateness of the title of the play, ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’.

9. Sketch the character of the Old Woman in the play Cathleen ni Houlihan.

10. Describe the atmosphere that prevailed in the Gillane household before the entry of the old woman.

Textual Grammar

C. Do as directed:

1. Michael said, “Have you no one to care for you in your age, ma’am?”(Change the narration)

2. I must be going to meet my friends. They are coming to help me, and I must be there to welcome them. (Join into a single sentence)

3. The woman who is coming home is not coming home with empty hands. You would not have an empty house before her. (Join into a complex sentence)

4. We will be well able to give him learning, and not to send him trampling the country like a poor scholar that lives on charity. (Split into simple sentences)

5. Many a man has died for the love of me. (Correct the errors)

6. Peter said, “Did Delia ask for any of the money for her use, Michael?”(Change the Narration)

7. The Boys are all hurrying down the hillsides to be joined by the French. (Correct the errors)


Interior-inside of something, cheering-shouting to encourage, hurling match-a traditional Irish game like hockey, Come over-traveling from one place to another, grand-impressive, shearing-cutting the wool off, bothering-worrying, coming up-arriving, fortune-dowry, bargain-a formal business agreement, chimney-jamb-one of the sides of a fireplace opening, trying-testing, indeed-in truth, vexed-angry, bangs-hits, Ballina- a town in North county Mayo, Ireland, running through-wasting, steady-balanced, comely-pleasant,