Cathleen ni Houlihan (Moore, 1925)

1.279, 397-407. George Moore, Hail and Farewell!, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1925), vol. I, pp.250, 251-52, 253. BL 010856.dd.38

A series of extracts from George Moore, Hail and Farewell! (1925), on Cathleen ni Houlihan.

In these extracts, Moore imagines himself visited by the figure of Cathleen ni Houlihan as a personification of Ireland. They make an interesting comparison with Joyce’s treatment, in ‘Telemachus’, not only of the milkwoman but, in the minatory aspect discernible here, elements of Stephen’s response to his mother also. The first passage follows on from Moore’s astonishment at the immediate willingness of Edward Martyn to house W.B. Yeats for a time purely on account of the latter being “Ireland’s poet”:

¶¶Extraordinary! I said to myself, and as in a vision I saw Ireland as a god demanding human sacrifices, and everybody, or nearly everybody, crying: Take me, Ireland, take me; I am unworthy, but accept me as a burnt offering. Ever since I have been in the country I have heard people speaking of working for Ireland. But how can one work for Ireland without working for oneself? What do they mean? They do not know themselves, but go on vainly sacrificing all personal achievement, humiliating themselves before Ireland as if the country were a god. A race inveterately religious I suppose it must be! And these sacrifices continue generation after generation. Something in the land itself inspires them. And I began to tremble lest the terrible Cathleen ni Houlihan might overtake me. She had come out of that arid plain, out of the mist, to tempt me, to soothe me into forgetfulness that it is the plain duty of every Irishman to disassociate himself from all memories of Ireland — Ireland being a fatal disease, fatal to Englishmen and doubly fatal to Irishmen.

I, too, am sacrificing to Cathleen ni Houlihan; one sacrifice brings many. And to escape from the hag, whom I could see wrapped in a faded shawl, her legs in grey worsted stockings, her feet in brogues, I packed my trunk and went away by the mail-boat laughing at myself, and at the same time not quite sure that she was not still at my heels. Cathleen follows her sons across the seas . . . After writing some lines of vituperation quite in the Irish style, I would lay down the pen and cry: Cathleen, art thou satisfied with me?

I remembered the autumn evening in Edward’s park, when Cathleen ni Houlihan rose out of the plain that lies at the foot of the Burran Mountains, and came, foot-sore and weary, up through the beech-grove to me. I had not the heart to repulse her, so hapless did she seem; nor did I remember the danger of listening to her till I had stood before Edward telling him the story of the meeting in the park.
¶¶It is dangerous, I had said to him, to listen to Cathleen even for a moment; she has brought no good luck or good health to any one.