Hanging Gale (1995)




Director:     Diarmuid Lawrence.

Starring:     Joe McGann (Sean Phelan), Mark McGann ( Conor Phelan),Paul McGann (Liam Phelan), Stephen McGann (Daniel Phelan), Michael Kitchen (Captain William Townsend), Fiona Victory (Maeve Phelan), Tina Kellegher (Mary Dolan), Sean McGinley (Ferry), Gerard McSorley (Coulter), Joe Pilkington (James Phelan), Ciarán Fitzgerald (Joseph Phelan), Ciara Marley (Molly Phelan), Dylan O'Connell (Baby Hannah), Birdy Sweeney (Patrick Dolan), Maire Ni Ghrainne (Sarah Dolan), Mal Whyte (McBride), Dave Duffy (McCafferty), Peter Caffrey (Dr. Davis), Joe Savino (Meagher), B.J. Hogg (Harkin), Gerry Walsh (Brady), Barry Barnes (Michael Dolan), Oliver Maguire (Mr. Denny), Maureen McBride (Mrs. Brogan), Albie Woodington (Sergeant Major), George Shane (Brewster), Frank O'Sullivan (Kerryman), Alan Stanford (Henry Jenkins).

Made for TV movie.

four brothers fight for survival during the Potato Famine, 1846


Spoiler Warning:


Episode 1.

Four Irish men (Liam Phelan, Michael Dolan, Ferry and Shanahan) stop a carriage of the land agent Henry Jenkins.  The men force the man out of the carriage and tell him:  "Henry Jenkins, land agent of the estate of Galready, you have been tried and found guilty of crimes against the people of Ireland." He has turned out Irish people from their houses and onto the road.  A white haired man known as Ferry fires a bullet into the head of the driver.  He then tries to shoot the land agent, but the pistol doesn't go off.  So Ferry pistol whips Henry Jenkins into unconsciousness.  They then drown the man in a pool of water. 

Another Irish man, Conor Phelan, picks up a bird's eggs off a cliff.

Donegal, May 1846.  Three of the four Phelan sons and their father are gathering peat sod to be used for burning.  The names of the Phelan boys are Sean, Conor, Liam and Daniel.  Sean is married to Maeve Phelan and they have a little baby girl.  For lunch Maeve brings out milk and potatoes for the men.  Conor gives his two eggs to Maeve who thanks him nicely. 

Liam Phelan likes Mary Dolan, the sister of Michael Dolan.  Michael asks Liam if he has told his sister that he's a murderer?  Of course, not.  Michael says they shouldn't have killed the driver.  Mary sees a signal fire on one of the ridges and tells Liam and Michael to come with her to see what's it about.  The signal fire announces that the new land agent, Captain William Townsend, is being escorted by the police to his lodgings.  Townsend is taken to a mansion, but he doesn't want to stay in such a lavish place.  He asks to be taken to the agent's house.  The police captain says the house has not been made ready for him.  Townsend doesn't care, so off they go. 

The agent's house is much smaller, but still big.  And the furniture is all covered in sheets.

Liam kisses Mary on the ridge by the beacon fire.  Townsend falls asleep in a chair. 

Early the next morning, Townsend and the police ride off for the land agent's morning duties. They go into town to the land agent's office.  There's a lot of poverty in the town.  Townsend enters the office and Mr. McBride introduces himself as his chief clerk.  Then Townsend meets his two bailiffs. 

A big crowd waits outside the land agency office.  McBride tells his boss that some of the tenants would like to have a word with him.  Townsend tells McBride to tell the people that he is busy.  McBride tells them and Townsend gets a brick thrown through his glass window shattering it.  An angry Townsend now demands to know what is the meaning of throwing this brick through his window?  Well, it's one way to get the agent's attention.  Michael Dolan speaks ups and says that the people are pressed and ground down and we must have a removal of our grievances.  Townsend says he has just started on the job and knows nothing of the plight of the people.  They have to give him some time to study the situation before he can address their grievances.  Dolan says when will Townsend talk to them?  Townsend says on Monday, but he warns Dolan not to bring any more than three men to the meeting because he will not speak to a mob. 

When Townsend finishes work for the day he tells his police escort that he will ride alone without the escort.  So, off he goes.  On his way he sees a farmer.  He stops to tell the man that he is squatting on Lord Hawksborough's land.  The man says nothing to Townsend, who now goes over to a primitive dwelling and asks if he can look inside.  The four people don't say anything.  Townsend takes a look inside.  It's just as primitive inside as outside. 

At home, Townsend puts a photo of himself and a photo of his wife on the mantle.  He puts a black shroud around the photo of his deceased wife.

In church the reverend condemns whoever killed land agent Henry Jenkins.  He says they will be hunted down and hanged. 

At a dinner with the reverend, Townsend says that they did some studies in Devonshire and they found that a family of five would need 10 and  a half acres of land to survive.  The families in their area here aren't even big enough to feed a goat.  The reverend says it's the potato that makes it possible to survive on such little land.  He says the Irish people are heathens and must be ruled.  Townsend is a bit shocked by the reverend's opinions of the people. 

Michael comes with Conor and Sean to speak with Townsend.  He tells him just how poor the people are in the area.  Many of them can't afford to pay their rents.  Five families have recently been turned out onto the road and Michael says he's asking that Townsend revoke all eviction orders and reduce the rents.  Townsend sf frank with them.  Lord Hawksborough is of the opinion that the fault for the situation is due to poor management and husbandry, and not by high rents.  

There is so much noise from the crowd outside that Townsend goes outside to tell them that he cannot go on talking with their representatives and he wants the crowd to disperse.  The crowd doesn't like that.  A man asks for a reduction in rent.  Townsend turns to go back into his office, but the man asking for a reduction hits him hard in the back with his walking stick and then the crowd grabs Townsend.  The crowd intends to hang Townsend.  Michael, Sean and Conor try to stop the crowd but the crowd is too much for them.  The police finally arrive and scare the crowd off.  The soldiers arrest the wrong men.  They arrest Michael, Sean and Conor.  Townsend tells the police captain to release those three men for he will not bring charges against them. 

The Irish doctor wraps gauze around Townsend's mid-section and tells him that he's going to be pretty sore and will have to rest.

Townsend issues an order:  "The tenantry under Lord Hawksborough's estate, residing in the manor of Galready, are requested to pay into my office, the first of June, all rent and arrears of rent."

The Phelan family sits down to figure out how they can pay the rent.  Father says they will have to sell the butter and the cheese, a dozen chickens and all the eggs, and the calf as well.  Many of the neighbors are not going to pay the rent on June 1.  Dad doesn't like that idea and doesn't want to go along with it.  He says:  "I will not be turned off this land!" 

On June 1 father gets dressed up to go pay his rent.  The sons beg him not to go for he'll be the only one paying.  Dad gets on his horse.  The neighbors throw a dirt clod at father Phelan's back.  Dad is very stubborn and Sean finally has to use force to take his dad down and grab his money. 

Nobody goes into pay their rent, but they do gather outside the land agency, play fiddle music and dance around.  Townsend says to close the office now, two hours early.  When Townsend comes out, they jeer at him.

Townsend is now going to round up the cattle of the tenants in arrears with the help of eight men.  Along with them go a lot of policemen.  The word goes out to people that Townsend and his men are coming.  The tenants strike back with rocks and physical force.  Sean pulls a policeman down from his horse and other tenants do too.  The captain gets his men in line ready to fire on the tenants.  Townsend shouts not to shoot at the men, but the captain has his men fire.  Michael Dolan is hit in the back of the head and goes down.  Townsend now orders the captain to withdraw his men. 

In a wheel barrow the men roll Michael toward his house and his sister Mary.  On the way, Michael dies.  Maeve sees Michael, her darling brother, and cries over his body.  Sean carries Michael's body over to the Dolan house.  His body is put in a wooden casket. 

Townsend comes with the police to say he's sorry for what happened to Michael.  He says he has called for a priest for Galready.  As a sign of respect, he will defer the rent payment until the autumn after the harvest has been gathered.  He then offers his condolences.  They have a wake for Michael with music and dancing. 

It is raining hard when Liam Phelan, the priest, comes over to the house to tell his brothers that the potato blight is here and they have to harvest what they can right now.  A lot of the potatoes are small or not there at all.  Other potatoes just fall apart when touched.  The harvest is not big.  Maeve falls in the mud and rain.  She says:  "God help us all, father.  God help us all."


Episode 2.

Maeve tells the men to come in out of the rain for they can do no more tonight.  With everyone inside, Maeve thanks God that they saved some potatoes at least. 

Liam holds mass for the neighbors. He says he's very pleased to be back where he was born and raised. 

Townsend has McBride write down a letter to Lord Hawksborough.  He says that the potato fields of Ireland are utterly destroyed, and the potato is a staple part of the diet of the tenants.  Overnight, the tenants have lost six months of food. Many of the tenants will find it is impossible to pay their rent.  Lord Hawksborough may want to reduce the rent or cancel it during these hard times.  

Priest Phelan goes out riding.  He sees the terrible conditions afflicting families.  The squatter on Lord Hawksborough lands has lost two members of his family to starvation.  The priest digs the grave and buries the little girl of the family. 

Liam buys some goods from the grocer at high prices.  He tells the man that he is shamed to do business with such a man. 

Women and children scour the sea shore for sardines and seaweed.  The priest hands out some of the food he recently purchased to some women. 

In a public meeting Townsend says they must have a public work's program big enough to supply some money to the village.  Townsend says, unless they hear of a better program, they will be considering the work on a new road through the area, including the quarry area. 

The priest talks with Townsend saying that if people have to pay their rents, they will surely starve.  He wants Townsend to tell Lord Hawksborough, who hasn't been to the area in 20 years, of the depth of the crisis that has hit Ireland.  Townsend says he has written to Lord Hawksborough to remit the rents, and he is awaiting the man's instructions. 

In the London Times, there is a merciless article criticizing Ireland.  "There exists not a country on the face of this earth which complains so much and does so little that it's possible to tell a tale of sorrow too often."

Liam searches out Daniel for his project of keeping a diary on what terrible things are happening in Galready.  Daniel is too filled with bitterness.  He says:  " . . .  I still won't waste my time appealing to people who behave more and more as if they would like to see us dead."

Townsend comes to talk with Sean.  He tells him that now the rents must be paid in full.  He says he is visiting those who have the means to pay their rent in full, and is asking them to set an example for those who can't pay in full.  Sean asks what will happen to the others who can't pay in full.  Townsend says they will pay what they can.  Later, Maeve tells Sean that if they have to pay in full, she'll be unable to buy seed for her new garden with no potatoes.  Sean thinks about joining the British army, but Maeve rejects that idea from the start.  

The family goes into town to sell their goods.  The problem is that everyone has come to sell their goods.  The grocer can buy lots of goods for a very low price.  The Dolan family head tells Maeve that he's not selling a thing here in town.  Sean tries to sell his cow for a good price,  but the grocer won't pay Sean's price of 6 pounds.  He will buy lower at 4.  Sean says he will sell the cow to someone else.  In the end, Sean can't sell the cow, so he tells the grocer he will take 4 pounfd instead of 6.  The grocer says Sean will now take 3 pounfd for his cow.  Sean has to take the 3 pounds. 

The grocer makes a pass at Maeve.  Conor hears it and slaps the grocer around.  Maeve then scolds Conor for ruining any chance of the selling the rest of their goods.  So Conor asks the grocer not to punish his family for what he did.  Punish him instead.  The grocer gives what he's got left in his small purse to the family for what's left of their goods and tells Conor to come see him later. 

Sean has bought a present for Maeve.  She opens the present and finds it to be pretty blue buttons.  This makes Maeve very angry at her husband for he bought the buttons when they don't even have enough money for food.  She throws the buttons on the ground. 

Conor comes to see the grocer.  The grocer says he will pay Conor if he fights Ferry with sticks.  Conor accepts the offer and the men in the tavern lay their bets down.  Conor wins the fight. 

Maeve is still angry at Sean.  Her father, Patrick Dolan, comes over for a visit.  He says he sold nothing at the market.  Sean says how much does Patrick need?  Patrick needs 10 pounds.  Sean says the most he can give him is 3 pounds and Maeve says they can't afford that.  Sean sticks to his offer and Maeve asks why must her father shame her in her own home? 

Later Maeve apologizes to her husband.  The couple start to make love, but Conor comes home and crashes into something in the dark.  Maeve is worried that someone has hurt themselves.  She goes to check.  She finds it's Conor.  She sees that his face has been cut and washes the blood away.  Conor gives her the onion seeds that the grocer gave him (along with some coins) for the fight.   She also sees that one of his hands is bloody.  Now Conor tells Maeve that he loves her.   She says:  "I know."  Maeve is happy now and asks Sean for her blue buttons.  She apologizes for having thrown the buttons away. 

Sean and Conor pay their taxes in full to Townsend. 

At home Townsend reads from Lord Hawksborough's letter to his old woman servant that says apparently poverty is the natural condition of the Irish and no extraordinary measures for relief are necessary.  With better management and husbandry, the tenants will be able to pay their rents without hardship.  Townsend is disturbed by this attitude of his boss. 

With a little army behind him, Townsend descends on the Dolan place.  They are taking Dolan's farm from him.  Townsend says if they do not go into the poor house, they must quit this estate and no person shall give them shelter.  Men start removing the furniture from the house.  They then light the roof on fire. 

Liam goes to see Townsend, angry over what happened to the Dolan family.  Townsend shows Liam the letter from Hawksborough.  The priest says that Townsend must not do this, and Townsend says it is done. 

Sean and the family talk to the Dolan family.  Maeve says at least they can go into the poor house.  Patrick says they can't because in the poor house they would separate the family and family must stay together.  He adds:  "We're better on the road."  Daniel comes over to his beloved Mary and says she can stay here if she will agree to get a job working as a maid in the Townsend home.  Mary doesn't want to work for Townsend after what he's done to her family.  Daniel says Mary can serve as a spy for Daniel and the neighbors.  She can read his letters and listen to his conversations and feed the information to Daniel.  And, if Mary takes the job, she will be near to Daniel. 

The parents now say goodbye to their relatives and friends.  Maeve and Mary walk part of the way with them, but have to let the parents go on their way up the road. 

Mary Dolan gets the job as a maid for Townsend. 

Daniel reads from a paper:  "Captain William Townsend land agent for the manor of Galready, you have been tried and found guilty of crimes against the people of Ireland and duly sentenced to death."  Signed the United Sons of Freedom, November 10, 1846.  



Episode 3. 

Now Mary learns how to be a maid at Townsend's place.  Daniel slips the death sentence letter under the front door of Townsend.  Mary sees it, picks it up and gives it to Townsend.  He reads it and then let's Mary read it.  He says that letter puts Mary's life at risk.  If Mary chooses to stay, she must know about the threat to her life too. 

Liam gets the letter and he denounces it.  He says such an act against Townsend would turn the wrath of the British government against Ireland, the very same government that they must turn to for help with the famine.  Daniel doesn't like this sermon, and he and his followers start to walk out.  Liam shouts at Daniel to stay where he is.  Mary shows up at the service, but nobody will talk to her.  She is shunned even by her sister Maeve.  As she walks away, the men start throwing stones at her.  The first stone knocks her down.  Only the police save her from a stoning death.  Townsend says that from now on Mary will only leave this house with an armed guard. 

Liam visits Daniel and they have a loud shouting match.

Townsend goes down to see how the road project is going.  Coming over the ridge are lots of people ready to start their relief work.  Everyone is barefooted. 

The priest sends out letters to important British men and women to ask for some help for the terrible situation of the Irish. 

If a person from the poor house takes the relief work, then they must give up living in the poor house.  Sean tries to sign up for relief work, but since he owns land, he is refused work because he has work: working his own land. 

Conor takes a fight with a very large British soldier.  Conor gets knocked down several times and his hearing is muffled.  The big guy finds this fight so easy that he turns to his men who are jubilant for their champion.  Conor gets up and, with the end of his stick, hits the man right in the nose, splitting the nose and knocking the giant out of fighting any further.  And, boy, are those British soldiers mad at Conor and the grocer, who have to make a quick retreat away from the soldiers.  Later, the grocer gives Conor very little money.  Conor protests but the grocer tells him to take it or leave it. 

Conor starts walking home, but he is hurt and falls and hits his head on a rock.  The right side of his face and neck is bloodied.  Townsend comes across Conor.  Townsend and another man put Conor up on Townsend's horse and bring him back to Sean's house.  The family puts Conor to bed and take care of him.  Conor gives Sean the money from the fight. 

Daniel goes to the grocer with a pistol in his hand.  He tells the grocer to never go near his brother Conor again.  To get Daniel out of his store, the grocer gives Daniel some more money for Conor.  He gives Daniel 20 pounds, but that's really meant for the killing of Townsend. 

Now the Phelan family can have a virtual feast with the money from Conor. 

Daniel hires two men to kill Townsend.  Daniel will go with them.  They will set up an ambush for Townsend. 

The assassins set up the ambush on the road.  The first shot hits the horse, the second shot misses and the third shot hits Townsend.  Townsend is not dead and he chases down one of the would-be assassins, Brian Sweeny, and kills him.  The police catch the other would-be assassin.  Townsend has the assassin beaten in order to get him to talk.  The man still won't talk, so they take him to the gallows.  The guys freaks out and says it was the national school master, in other words, Daniel Phelan.

Daniel Phelan is on the lamb.  The police start searching all the houses in the area. 

Townsend goes to speak to Mary to see if she was in on the plot to assassinate him.  Mary didn't know about the plot, but Townsend asks her what was her role in the plot.  He asks where's Daniel Phelan?  She says she doesn't know.  She cries and then runs out of the room. 

Townsend now wants to hurt Daniel's family.  He also apologizes to Mary for now he knows she had no part in the attack. 

A man takes a pint of blood from a cow to give to Sean.  The family is now to lose it's home.  The father and sons decide to barricade the family within their home.  Maeve says they will get into their home anyway.  Liam tries to talk Sean out of his scheme. 

For supper, Maeve mixes the blood from the cow with milk. 

Townsend and his little army arrive at the Phelan farmhouse.  Liam and the neighbors rush over to the house.  They pray for the family and the house.  Townsend says if they do not disperse within an hour, the police will fire into the crowd.  After an hour, the police are ordered to take their firing positions.  One of the police shouts that he will not fire on his own countrymen.  He quits the force and is placed under arrest.  Liam rushes over to Townsend, who will only promise that no blood will be shed, as long as the people inside give up the house.  So Liam pleads with Sean to come out.  Sean will not. 

Townsend gives the order to push the neighbors out of the way and get into the house.  It's a struggle to get in.  A guy on the thatch roof gets stuck with a pitchfork.  Another invader gets hot boiling water thrown in his face.  The police finally get in and overwhelm the Phelans.  They have to drag the men out.  Sean asks:  "Where's daddy?"  Liam goes to find daddy.  The man has hung himself in the house.  The thatch roof is lit and up in flames it goes.   


Episode 4. 

The Phelans bury the father.  Mary Dolan runs to the Phelan home, but no one's at home.  Ferry sees her and scoops her up.  He takes her to Daniel and drops her off at Lord Hawksborough's mansion, where Daniel is staying.  Daniel and Mary kiss each other.  Mary says she can't stay here.

Townsend is worried about where Mary is.  Daniel goes to bed with Mary.  After that, he accuses Townsend of having had his way with Mary.  Some nudity as Daniel pulls the sheets of Mary's body.  She protests that she loved Daniel, but all he did was use her for his own purposes.  Daniel tells Mary to unlock the Townsend door tonight and he will kill her lover as he sleeps.   Mary runs out of the house.  Ferry tells Daniel that he's a fool. 

Mary returns to the Townsend house. 

The priest gives his silver pieces to the grocer, in exchange for food.  Many of the supplies needed, the grocer doesn't even have himself. 

Conor and Sean are sentenced to six months in jail.  And Maeve is to be put on the road.  Mary rushes out of Townsend's house to say goodbye to Maeve and her children.  She then goes back into the house to ask if Townsend could let Maeve and her children into his house.  Townsend says he can't very well turn a person out of their home, and then take that same person into his house.  "I cannot take her in."

Townsend hands Mary a notice:  "I hereby give notice to the tenantry of Lord Hawksborough's estate that his lordship instructed me to offer free passage to America." 

Mary tells her sister Maeve about going to America.  Maeve says she will go to work on to the roads instead.  Maeve and her boy carry loads of rocks on the road. 

Conor and Sean are being transported when the big giant with the split nose stops the escort.  He wants to duel with swords with Conor to pay him back for his split nose.  Conor starts to run.  He slides down the side of a cliff and hides behind the great rocks below.  The escort proceeds again.  Conor climbs back up the cliff. 

Liam learns of what happened to Conor and says he can no longer give the people mass.  He says he no longer believes.  He adds that his heart is filled with the desire for vengeance.

Maeve is going to live in one of the caves along the coast.  It's in this cave that Conor also seeks a home.  Maeve and Conor unite. 

Liam helps tend to the sick in the poor house under a poverty level of care.  Liam sees Maeve's boy at the doorway.  He talks to the boy and learn that Conor is alive.  Liam says he personally will go to the prison to tell the boy's father that Conor is alive and free. 

Mary eats some poison berries, probably in the hopes of aborting the child she may have with Daniel.  Townsend calls the doctor and the doctor says that Mary has deliberately eaten something to harm herself or the baby.  Townsend says to Mary that she can stay here and no harm will come to her or her baby. 

Maeve's boy Joseph is deathly sick.  Conor tells Maeve not to touch the boy. 

Liam talks with Sean in the Lifford Gaol.  Sean is very sick too.  Liam tells Sean that Conor is alive.  Sean asks Liam to hold him.  Sean dies. 

Joseph dies too. 

There are lots of bodies being buried in a mass grave by the shore.  Liam comes down with bodies in a wagon.  He tells Maeve that her husband has died. 

Maeve goes to speak with Townsend about going to America.  She says there will be one more person going with them, but she can't tell Townsend who it is.  Townsend looks in his logs and finds the name of a dead man:  Patrick McGinley.  He has the tickets made out to the Patrick McGinley family.

Maeve cries in sorrow when telling her news to Mary. 

Maeve tells Conor about their going to America together.  Conor wants some assurance that he will be somebody important to Maeve when they get to America. Maeve tells him:  "I'll need you, Conor."  Conor says:  "I'll go anywhere with you."

In the morning the new family gets in line to get on board the ship going to America. 

Townsend asks Mary to sit at the table and keep him company. Mary has very little appetite for now her relatives are gone.  Townsend gives Mary enough money to take care of her and her baby. 

Daniel and two men have come to kill Townsend.  They drop a bag of gun powder down into the chimney and it goes off.  Townsend has enough time to throw himself behind the sofa.  He then gets his pistol.  When Ferry comes for Townsend, the land agent shoots him twice with a pepper gun.  Ferry goes down.  Mary comes to and begs Daniel not to kill Townsend. Daniel shoots Townsend and then Townsend shoots Daniel in the right forearm.   Daniel is about to fire again when Townsend dies.  The police arrive and grab Daniel. 

Liam comes to see Daniel in prison.  Daniel says he doesn't want to see Liam, but right behind Liam comes Mary.  Liam sits outside while Mary talks to Daniel.  Daniel asks Mary how does he know it's his child?  Mary says because it couldn't be anyone else's child.  Mary tells Daniel that he is loved.  Loved by his brothers and Mary herself.  She asks Daniel to let Liam give him absolution, and then open up his heart again.  Daniel is taken out of the cell and to the gallows.  As the hood is placed over his head, Daniel shouts:  "God save Ireland!"  Daniel drops down and is no more of this world. 



The best historical drama to show the watchers just how bad the situation was in Ireland at the time of the potato blight.   One million Irish people died of starvation during the Great Hunger.  The Irish people in Galready were near starvation even before the potato blight wiped out most of their food supplies, because of the terrible oppression they suffered under the British colonialist system.  It then didn't take long before the Irish starved or died of disease.  Many went elsewhere to other countries.  Highly recommended. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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