Cathleen Ni Houlihan: Irish Nationalism
In the early 1900s Ireland was conflicted with war. During this time period Yeats and Gregory wrote Cathleen Ni Houlihan, to send a message to the Irish people about serving one’s country. In his play Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Michael understands through Cathleen, a symbol of Ireland, the importance of sacrificing worldly needs in order to protect the motherland, and rises to become a hero. Yeats also shows that only devout devotion to one’s country leads to its prosperity. The prosperity that Yeats desires for Ireland is not monetary. Yeats believes true prosperity is attained when the Irish people have a deep devotion to Ireland, and a strong sense of pride in Ireland and its culture. Through its heroes Ireland maintains its pride, and culture. Essentially, the materialistic reasons for living life, such as affluence, are inconsequential in the grand scheme of the country. Family, though important, is not as vital as duty towards the motherland.
Cathleen Ni Houlihan is seen as a symbol of Ireland. This symbolism is first alluded to when Cathleen speaks about her four green fields and how she “hopes of getting my four beautiful fields back again” (Yeats 7). The four fields refer to Ireland’s four provinces. This reference emphasizes that Cathleen is the symbol for Ireland. Yeats’s description of Cathleen as a “poor old woman” symbolizes the magnitude of trouble Ireland is in (Yeats 9). Ireland is depicted as a woman in order to appeal to the chivalry of men, so that they will be willing to rise to protect Ireland with valiance. Yeats also uses Cathleen as a device to show how devout nationalism can bring a country back to prosperity because when Michael resolves to give up his materialistic desires and comforts Cathleen she is transformed into “a young girl with the walk of a queen” as observed by Michael’s younger brother Patrick (Yeats 11) .Yeats uses the transformation of Cathleen from an old woman to...
Cited: Yeats, W.B. Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama. Ed. John P. Harrington. New York: Norton, 2009. 3-11. Print.
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