The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a very moving ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce, an Irish poet and professor of English literature. It is about an Irish revolutionary saying his final farewell to his beloved, as he was joining the resistance movement against British colonization. Caught between his love for the woman and his love for the Motherland, he chose the latter. After all, as the Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio said, what love could be greater than love for one's Motherland? This young man must have been all too aware that by choosing to join a revolution, he was also choosing to die. And he had to say goodbye to his sweetheart for the last time. Now I am being too sentimental here. The song is both distressing and rousing. Read the lyrics while you listen.
The ballad was inspired by the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which was the climax, at that time, of the Irish struggle for independence from British rule. Many patriots joined the resistance movement. The revolutionaries would carry barley oats in their pockets for sustenance while engaged in the battlefields. According to Wikipedia, "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, symbolizing the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule."
The rebellion was quashed. Many revolutionaries were massacred, civilians were slaughtered, women were raped, villages were burned. The failure of the rebellion was one thing, but the heroism of the men who gave up their lives for freedom from "foreign chains" was another. It continues to inspire all freedom-loving peoples everywhere and the Irish in their unwavering quest for independence.
My friend Butch Espere (aka Alex Munoz, the poet) called my attention to the ballad saying that it could be an inspiration for a poem. I played it over and over again. I was not kindled to write a poem (Butch caught me at a very "un-artistic" time), but I was impelled to surf the net for more information about the Irish struggle for independence of which I knew little. I came out of the experience richer in knowledge and more driven to advocate freedom.
Says Butch: "The wind that shakes the barley is an idiomatic phrase that has become part of the Irish language as early as right after the failed Sein Finn rebellion, the one led by Guy Fawkes...before the Irish rose against the British in the Gunpowder Plot. The phrase was more about the barley that grows almost anywhere in Ireland...but after the failed Gunpowder Plot, it was more about the wind that kept shaking the barley, symbolizing ...the regenerative element of Irish rebellion. It is more about the wind that kept fanning the flames of the Irish revolutionary spirit...as to nurse a rebellion that might have been quelled many times over but, nonetheless, refuses to die."
A 2006 film by Ken Loach borrowed the title. The film is set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) and explores the story of two brothers who joined the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom.
I did not watch the film but I promised myself I would. Maybe I can do it this Christmas break in between work and work. The film, said to be Loach's most successful, is internationally acclaimed having bagged the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
Listening to the ballad, I reflected on the life of Bonifacio, the renowned Filipino revolutionary who consecrated his life for the liberation of his people from foreign bondage. We celebrated his birth anniversary last November 30. His was a spirit no different than that of the Irish who was ready to give up the love of a woman, however painful it was, to embrace the cause of freedom.