The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Image: The site of the Battle of Oulart Hill, as mentioned in the poem.

Listen to the Poem in English

The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Read by Karen Corrigan

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Original Lyrics from the 1861 publication by Robert Dwyer Joyce

I sat within a valley green,

I sat there with my true love,

My sad heart strove the two between,

The old love and the new love, –

The old for her, the new that made

Me think of 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

‘Twas harder still to bear the shame

Of foreign chains around us

And so I said, “The mountain glen

I’ll seek next morning early

And join the brave United Men!”

And join the brave United Men!”

The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.

While soft winds shook 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 the wildwood screen,

And many a summer blossom

I placed with branches thick and green

Above her gore-stain’d bosom:-

I wept and kissed her pale, pale cheek,

Then rushed o’er vale and far lea,

My vengeance on the foe to wreak,

While soft winds shook the barley!

But blood for blood without remorse,

I’ve ta’en at Oulart Hollow

Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)

And placed my true love’s clay-cold corpse

Where I full soon will follow;

And ’round her grave I wander drear,

Noon, night, and morning early,

With breaking heart whene’er I hear

The wind that shakes the barley

Musical versions

The poem has inspired numerous musical versions by dozens of artists and groups since at least the 1960’s.  Most of the musical versions have some slight variations on the lyrics and leave out the fourth stanza of the poem, shown in the section below.

I bore her to the wildwood screen,

And many a summer blossom

I placed with branches thick and green

Above her gore-stain’d bosom:-

I wept and kissed her pale, pale cheek,

Then rushed o’er vale and far lea,

My vengeance on the foe to wreak,

While soft winds shook the barley

We provide a few examples of musical versions of the song, as follows:

A spirited performance of this song was recorded in 2014 by the University of Southern Mississippi Concert Choir. 
 A good example of a more traditional rendition of the song is the version recorded by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in 1956.
A more modern version was recorded recently by the Irish singer, Sibéal in 2018.

Ken Loach directed a 2006 film of the same name in which the song also features in George Fenton’s score. Instead of being set during the 1798 rebellion, the film depicted the period between the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), leading to the partition of Ireland into the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to this day.

The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.

Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)
Portrait of Dr. Robert Dwyer Joyce

Author Notes

Robert Dwyer Joyce was born in County Limerick, Ireland.  He initially became a civil servant and served as a school principal.  In addition, he was a collector of Irish traditional music. (1) 

 In 1857, he enrolled in Queen’s College, Cork.  After graduating with Science Honors, he continued his studies to earn an M.D. degree in 1865.  While in college, to finance his studies, he contributed poems, stories, and articles to several periodicals.  In 1861 published his first book, entitled Ballads, Romances, and Songs, which included his poem, The Wind that Shakes the Barley.  

In 1866, the year after completing his M.D. degree, he emigrated to Boston, where he practiced medicine and continued writing.  He published several more books of poetry and prose, mostly based on legends preserved by the peasantry of northern counties of Ireland. (2)

He returned to Dublin in 1883 and died the same year.  (3)

Historical Notes

The Wind that Shakes the Barley was written by the Irish poet Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830-1883) and published in 1861 in a collection of his poetry, entitled Ballads, Romances, and Songs. It was inspired by the Irish Rebellion of 1798, known as Éirí Amach 1798 in the Irish language and The Hurries in Ulster Scots. The uprising was launched by an underground, secular Republican movement called the Society of United Irishmen, referred to in the poem as simply “United men”. The group was exceptional because both Protestant and Roman Catholics were affiliated. Although their insurrection was short-lived, it proved to be one of the most significant uprisings against British rule in Ireland, hastening the abolition of the Irish Parliament and instigation of the Act of Union in 1800. This legislation resulted in direct rule from London which was still in place when the poem was penned in 1861.
 
The poem is written in the voice of a young man who is preparing to sacrifice his relationship with the young woman he loves, to volunteer for the Irish forces. The grievances of the Irish rebels included issues of political, economic, and religious discrimination. The rebellion was influenced to some extent by the ideals and recent successes of the American and French revolutions. (4)

The references to barley in the poem are related to the common practice by the rebels of carrying barley or oats in their pockets to serve as food on the march. Following the rebellion, fields of barley grew over the sites of mass unmarked graves of slain rebels. For this reason, the new growth of barley every spring came to symbolize the regenerative and unyielding nature of Irish resistance to British rule over Ireland. (5)

Sources

1. Boylan, Henry. A Dictionary of Irish Biography. 3rd ed., Gill and MacMillan, 1998.

2. Robert Dwyer Joyce. https://www.libraryireland.com/CIL/RDJoyce.php. Accessed 29 October 2021.  Taken from the Cabinet of Irish Literature, Vol. 4., edited by T.P. O’Connor, published in 1884. 

3. Boylan, op. cit. 

4. “Irish Rebellion of 1798.” Wikipedia, 31 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Irish_Rebellion_of_1798&oldid=1059611314.  

5. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” Wikipedia, 17 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Wind_That_Shakes_the_Barley&oldid=1050379310.

Original source noted as:  Damrosch, David (1999). David Damrosch (ed.). The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth Century. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Longman. p. 2854

Photograph of the Oulart Hill battlefield (at the top of the page), site of the most influential battle in the rebellion of 1798, courtesy of Wexford Walking Trails, which supports a network of walking trails in County Wexford, Ireland. For more information, please see https://wexfordwalkingtrail.ie/oulart/

Fanni is Radnóti's wife
Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today.  The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”.  Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.  
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.

Ghetto


An Italian word meaning “foundry.” It originally referred to a part of the city of Venice where the Jews of that city were forced to live; the area was called “the ghetto” because there was a foundry nearby. The term eventually came to refer to any part of a city in which a minority group is forced to live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. Because of the restrictions placed upon them, ghetto residents are often impoverished.

"You’re five nine, I am do-uble two"


A reference to the year 1959 and the year 2020.

"The Currency"


Meaning US dollars - this is drawing attention to the fact that Cuba is effectively dollarized.

"Sixty years with the dom-ino stuck"


This sentence is a reference to the Cold War notion that countries would turn Communist one after the other - like dominos. Cuba was the first domino, but it got stuck - no one else followed through into communism.

رحلنا


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."

Habibi


Habibi means "my love."

Ra7eel


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."

3awda


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."

أهلاً


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba


a5 ya baba, pronounced "akh ya baba," means "Oh my father."

golpe


Treece translates "golpe" as "beating", which is correct, however misses the secondary meaning of the word: "coup".

Carlos


The “Carlos” referred to in the poem is most likely Carlos Bolsonaro, a politician from Rio de Janeiro and the second son of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president. His and his father’s involvement in Marielle’s murder has been questioned and investigated.