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Cathleen ni Houlihan


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AT: Kathleen ni Houlihan A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1902, Dublin Pb: 1902 G: Drama in 1 act; prose and songs S: Cottage near Killala, Ireland, 1798 C: 3m, 3f, extrasMichael Gillane is preparing for his wedding the following day, when a strange old woman appears, mourning the loss of her four fields (the four provinces of Ireland). Inspiring Michael with her tales of those who have given their lives for her, she reveals that she is Cathleen ni Houlihan (the personification of Ireland). Cheers come from Killala harbour, signalling that French troops are landing, and Michael, despite the pleas of his bride, leaves to fight for freedom. Cathleen is no longer an old woman but ‘a young girl’ with ‘the walk of a queen’.

AT: Kathleen ni Houlihan A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1902, Dublin Pb: 1902 G: Drama in 1 act; prose and songs S: Cottage near Killala, Ireland, 1798 C: 3m, 3f, extras

By 1798 many of the uprisings by the United Irishmen against their British overlords had been brutally crushed. French Revolutionary troops tried to intervene, but after initial success, were heavily defeated. In this nationalist piece, which was on the opening bill of the Abbey Theatre, Yeats combines history with the mythical figure of Cathleen (played at its premiere by Maud Gonne), a figure he had already portrayed in The Countess Cathleen (1892). Later he was concerned about the effect his play had had on young Irishmen: ‘Did that play of mine send out | Certain men the English shot?’

Subjects: literary studies (20th century onwards) — literary studies (plays and playwrights).


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W. B. Yeats (1865—1939) poet