The Wind That Shakes the Barley — British barbarism & Irish resistance
Thanks to Irishviews.com for the barley image.
Is there any end to the toxic effects of British imperialism and capitalist exploitation? One look at the Gulf of Mexico disaster provides the answer. Britain’s cruelty and barbarism toward its “subjects” is horrifying. The Irish have suffered from British oppression for centuries. The Irish have resisted with incredible courage and persistence — and with beautiful lyrics and songs about their struggle for dignity and freedom.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is one such ballad, by poet Robert Dwyer Joyce.. It’s a traditional Irish ballad in format but is based on true events that transpired during the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British rule. I won’t go into the entire narrative of the uprising but one event stands out: The 29th of May massacre by Britain — which should never be forgotten — or forgiven.The British Army captured, shot and killed 300-5oo Irish prisoners of war at Gibbet Rath, in the Curragh grasslands of County Kildare. Executed. Assassinated. So much for British “nobility” This massacre exemplifies the vicious savagery that’s characterized British imperialism for centuries. By the way, these were rebels about to surrender…. — from Wikipedia
According to YouTube commenter anthonyjanetireph: “The references to barley in the song derive from the fact that the rebels often carried barley oats in their pockets as provisions for when on the march. This gave rise to the post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and marking the “croppy-holes,” mass unmarked graves which slain rebels were thrown into, symbolising the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule.” Three comments.
1) Irish rebels lived on subsistence farming and were near starvation. Imagine trying to survive as by chewing raw barley grains or functioning as a soldier with such meager nourishment. The British used starvation to control the Irish population.
2) The death of each Irish patriot ensured a continuance of the barley harvest (their agrarian way of life) and ensured future generation of Irish resistance.
3) The shaking of the barley is a visual reminder of the desire to “live free or die” — free from the ongoing British occupation of Ireland.
I am reminded of the resolution of Seven Samurais. The peasants of the town go back to work in the rice fields, singing. For now, the strife has ended. But at some point, invaders may return to terrorize, kill and steal. It may once more be necessary to summon the help of itinerant samurais to defend the town….
With those concepts in mind, here is a beautiful version of the ballad by Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard:
- I sat within a valley green
- I sat me with my true love
- My sad heart strove to choose between
- The old love and the new love
- The old for her, the new that made
- Me think on Ireland dearly
- While soft the wind blew down the glade
- And shook the golden barley
- Twas hard the woeful words to frame
- To break the ties that bound us
- 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 bold United Men
- While soft winds shake the barley”
- While sad I kissed away her tears
- My fond arms ’round her flinging
- The foeman’s shot burst on our ears
- From out the wildwood ringing
- A bullet pierced my true love’s side
- In life’s young spring so early
- And on my breast in blood she died
- While soft winds shook the barley
- I bore her to some mountain stream
- And many’s the summer blossom
- I placed with branches soft and green
- About her gore-stained bosom
- I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse
- Then rushed o’er vale and valley
- My vengeance on the foe to wreak
- While soft winds shook the barley
- But blood for blood without remorse
- I’ve taken at Oulart Hollow
- And laid my true love’s clay-cold corpse
- Where I full soon may follow
- As ’round her grave I wander drear
- Noon, night and morning early
- With breaking heart when e’er I hear
- The wind that shakes the barley
Fast forward to 1921 and the continuing struggle for Irish Independence… Nothing has changed. Still horrific poverty, oppression and hunger in Ireland. But the Irish are ready fight to the death for their freedom. Ken Loach created an exceptional film on the subject. It won the Cannes 2006 Palm D’Or.
Lastly, here is an early esponse from a proud British subject on the issue of Irish poverty, hunger and overpopulation. If only the Irish had listened and the liberals hadn’t objected to his plan. All he sought to do was to limit the suffering of the broods of children produced by Irish welfare mommas who seek to embarrass Her Majesty the Queen. Here’s how to solve “The Irish Queston”:
“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, 1729
For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to their Parents
or Country and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public