Week 11: The Wind That Shakes The Barley


“‘Twas hard the mournful words to frame to break the ties that bound us Ah, but harder still to bear the shame of foreign chains around us And so I said, “The mountain glen I’ll seek at morning early And join the brave united men” while soft wind shook the barley.” Are the lyrics of the Irish song “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830-1883). These are the lyrics sung at the funeral of Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, the 17 years old boy who was ruthlessly murdered by the British “black and tans” army simply because he wouldn’t say his name in English, this all within the first 8 minutes of the film.

The film starts out in innocence and laughter as a group of boys play Hurling. The village appears peaceful at first glance, people talking and joking with each other with familiarity. A peace that is broken when the British army comes in running with their guns ready to forcefully remind the men of the Defense of The Realm Act which apparently banned all public meetings, with the inclusion of their game of Hurling.

(Hurling is a Gaelic and Irish game that is known to have prehistoric origins).

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the gripping story that depicts the tale of civil war, death, and the fight for justice. This film follows Damien O’Donovan and Teddy O’Donovan in the 1920’s. Two brothers who after witnessing the injustices and troubles their fellow Irish people suffer decide to join and fight with the Irish republican army against both the British army and the Irish unionist army.


“[loading revolver] I studied anatomy for five years, Dan. And now i’m going to shoot this man in the head. I’ve known Chris Reilly since he was a child. I hope this Ireland we’re fighting for is worth it.” says Damien after he is forced to execute a young farm boy that betrays them to the British. A boy Damien has known since the boy was a baby. This was a conflicting act for Damien, it went against his creed as a doctor to save lives rather than take them. Unfortunately for Damien, the story takes an unexpected turn when the civil war doesn’t stop with the republicans and the unionists, but also when Damien, forced by the injustices he witnesses as a result of the Free States’ actions, is forced to join and fight against those he considered his comrades; “The Treaty does not express the will of the people, but the fear of the people” exclaims Damien.

“Mercenaries! That were paid to come over here to make us crawl, and to wipe us out. We’ve just sent a message to the British cabinet that will echo and reverberate around the world ! If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own!” What I enjoyed about this film was the defensive actions by the Irish. I wasn’t, aren’t, to keen on the savagery part, but I do understand its necessity. This story is a powerful one, simply because it speaks of the effects of the rule and oppression of a whole people, and consequently the aftermath when the oppressed become the oppressor. On that note, what I also found interesting was the fact that the very Irish sided with those that sought to control their people.

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I conducted a bit of research on the director of the film. I was curious as to what drove and inspired him, and I came across this quote;

“A story of the fight for independence, it’s a story that recurs and recurs and recurs, so it is always a good time to tell that story … There are always armies of occupation somewhere in the world being resisted by the people they’re occupying … They [British government] screwed it up 80-odd years ago. If they hadn’t divided the country, the problems, certainly you would imagine, would have been resolved by now … But with the partition, that embodies the conflict. So therefore it continues, because there it is physically in front of you. It was all short-term interest of the British government. How can we get what we want and screw them up … People confuse the government with the people, and it’s obvious you could not but be critical of the actions of the British government, … Tom Paine said, `My country is the world,’ so that’s why it’s not anti-British. It’s anti the actions of that British government.”

….let me repeat “`My country is the world,’ so that’s why it’s not anti-British. It’s anti the actions of that British government.’” now this, this, is a powerful statement that I believe encompasses all that I’ve learned and taken away from this course.



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