The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)



Director:  Ken Loach.

Starring:  Cillian Murphy (Damien), Padraic Delaney (Teddy), Liam Cunningham (Dan), Gerard Kearney (Donnacha), William Ruane (Gogan).

Awards:  2006 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.


criticism of the actions of the British leading to the Irish fight for independence


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Ireland 1920.  Following a soccer game, Damien O'Donovan will be heading out to a new job as a doctor.  He wants to say good-bye to Sinead and her family.  Suddenly, the Black and Tans come up to them with their rifles pointed at them.  They announce that according to the Defense of the Realm Act, all public meetings are banned and a soccer game is considered a public meeting.  They line the Irish up against the house and harass them both verbally and physically.  Sinead's 17 year old brother Micheail is defiant to the out-of-control Black and Tans.  For this they grab him, tie him to a post in the chicken coop and beat him to death.  The soldiers then leave.  The men get together and talk to Damien about staying to fight the British and their mercenaries the Black and Tans.  There are some 10,000 Brits in Ireland.  Damien is determined to leave, so Sinead says to him:  "So we should all buy a one-way ticket to London?" 

Damien waits for the train to begin his get-away.  The trainman and then the engineer tell some Black and Tans that their union told them not to allow any soldiers to ride the trains.  One of the mercenaries hits the conductor and then the engineer is knocked down and hit with the butt of a rifle.  Even though they beat up the train men, the soldiers get off the train.  This bloody incident makes Damien so angry that he decides to stay.  He takes the oath and joins in the armed struggle against British imperialism. 

Damien and others receive some elementary military training.  They are taught, among other things, how not to expose themselves while moving and fighting.  Damien goes on his first mission to take the rifles and ammunition from the army barracks.  They get the drop on the men in the barracks.  They don't kill anyone and get what they came for. 

Some Black and Tans come into the local pool hall.  They push their way through to a back room.  Sinead arrives with revolvers and gives them to the Irish in the pool hall.  The Irish enter the back room and gun down all four of the enemy.  The Black and Tans respond by randomly shooting at the houses of the Irish.  They also  round up some men in the area. 

Sir John is a landlord with no respect for the Irish or their causes.  He sends for Chris Reilly.  The lord of the manor wants to know where Reilly was on the day of the ambush.  He also wants to know where is Damien's brother, Teddy O'Donovan, one of the Irish leaders.  Soon after this, a group of Black and Tans descend on a camp of the Irish rebels.  Calling the rebels Irish scum, they take the Irish to jail.  One of those caught is Teddy O'Donovan.  The Black and Tans torture Teddy by tearing out his finger nails.  They want to know where are the safe houses and the weapons' stashes.  Teddy does not talk and is returned to his cell. 

The rebels are to be executed for possession of firearms.   In the cell with Damien is the train engineer who was beaten by the Black and Tans.  He said he was sent to Frongoch Camp.  He got deported to Wales.  He tells Damien that he was in the Citizen Army with Connolly. 

A Black and Tan named Johnny Gogan who is half-Irish lets many of the guys out of their cells.  The guys don't have time enough to free the last three prisoners (Kevin, Johnny and Colum).  Gogan goes with the rebels.  They walk to Sinead's house.  Damien and the others learn who ratted on them.  It was Chris Reilly. The rebs capture both Sir Johan and Chris.  Chris and Sir John will be executed if the Black and Tans execute Kevin, Johnny and Colum. 

At Danny and Peg's house, a young girl rides up on horseback to give Damien a message.  The three Irish rebels were tortured and then executed.  In retaliation, Damien executes Sir John and Chris Reilly.  Damien is very upset about having to kill his friend Chris. 

Some of rebs attend an Irish court.  Rich man Sweeney is accused of overcharging Mrs. Raferty to the tune of 500% percent.  Sweeney is ordered to repay Mrs. Rafferty.  But this decision upsets some of the Irish soldiers.  They need the rich man's money to pay for weapons.  Others argue that everyone must support the Irish court's decisions. 

Damien tells Sinead about how bad he feels having to do some of the tasks required of a soldier.  He tells her that it took Mrs. Reilly six hours to walk to her son's grave.  Damien also says:  "I've cross the line now, Sinead. . . . I can't feel anything."

An Irish priest gives the rebs the blessing.  The men then set up an ambush.  Two open truck loads of "Auxies" come along the road.  The Irish open up on them with rifles, pistols and one machine gun.  All the Auxies are killed.  The Irish lose only one man:  Gogan.  On their way back from the ambush, the lads see the Black and Tans harassing Sinead's family again.  The soldiers cut her hair, leaving a bloody mess.  The Irish have no bullets left with which to respond.  All they can do is hide and watch.  After the Black and Tans leave, the fellows go down to see the women.  Sinead is so upset that she asks Damien to take her away from all these troubles. 

A truce is declared.  At an Irish dance, Sinead and Damien kiss in the barn.  Some of the fellows and Sinead go the the local movies.  There the newsreel talks about the Irish Peace Congress with Sinn Fein and Government delegates.  Everybody hopes for a happy settlement it is said.  Then the newsreel announces "Success".  The British and Irish leaders sign a peace treaty.  They establish an Irish free state, but it will remain in the British empire as a dominion.  The Irish will have to take an oath of allegiance.  Damien and his group are very upset about the news.  One man declares it a betrayal of 1916.  A big problem is that the British promise "immediate and terrible war" if the Irish do not ratify the agreement. 

Damien and his side want Ireland to have complete and total independence from the British.  They vow never to take an oath of allegiance to their enemy of some 800 years.  They regard Michael Collins as a traitor.  Damien's brother Teddy, however, supports those who want to ratify the agreement.  They fear that if the Irish do not take the settlement, Ireland will never have even partial independence from Britain. 

The Black and Tans start leaving Ireland.  Damien and his fellows see the unpleasant sight of Teddy in the Free State uniform.  Back to basic training for those who want complete Irish freedom.  This time, however, Damien is a drill instructor rather than a recruit.  Sinead reads the men a telegram from Dublin.  Their leader Finbar was in the Four Courts will all the Republican leaders.  A bunch of Free-Staters smashed up the place with 18-pounders borrowed from the British.  Finbar instructs his men to hit back immediately.  But some of the men won't fight against their fellow Irishmen.  A fellow named Rory, however, does not share this opinion.  He wants to strike back as soon as possible.  And strike back he does.  He grabs a truck load of Free-State soldiers and takes their weapons from them.  They then kill two Free-State guards who try to stop them.  When Teddy learns of this, he order reprisals.  He is afraid that if they don't control those who want full independence for Ireland the Brits will be back.

The local priest wants to know what the heck is going on in his community.  He tells his parishioners that  those for complete independence have called for the land of the aristocracy to be seized and divided up among the poor and unemployed. The priest then speaks in support for the treaty with Britain.  Furthermore, the bishops have condemned those for complete independence and declared that such will be ex-communicated from the Catholic church. 

Damien stands up to speak against the priest.  He declares that once again the church sides with the rich.  Damien, Sinead and their compatriots walk out of the church.  Teddy tries to talk with Damien to make him switch sides.  It is of no use.  Damien tells Teddy that he is a servant of the British Empire. 

Sinead's house is raided in a weapons search.  The rebs fight back.  One of the Free-State soldiers lets the Republicans in to grab rifles and ammunition from the Free-Staters.  But as the Republicans leave, Dan and Damien are involved in a fire fight with some Free-Staters.  Dan is shot and goes down.  Damien throws down his pistol and tells the enemy not to kill Dan.  But one of them shoots Dan on the ground killing him.  Damien is captured. 

In jail Teddy visits his brother.  He tells him that he is sorry that Dan was killed.  And Terence too, says Damien.  They are both dead.  Teddy asks Damien to get out of the Republican army.  He urges him to go with Sinead and be a doctor.  Teddy says he is begging him to do this.  Then he asks Damien where are the Republican arms.  Damien answers his brother by asking:  "I shot Chris Rielly in the heart.  You know why?  . . . I'm not going to sell out."  Teddy says to Damien that he must tell or be shot.  Just before leaving the cell, Teddy tells his brother that he better write his letters (death letters). 

The next morning Teddy gives the order for the firing squad to execute Damien.  The order is carried out.  Teddy goes to tell Sinead that Damien has been executed.  He gives her the letter from Damien.  Sinead starts hitting Teddy with her fists.  She then tells him:  "Get off my land.  I don't ever want to see you again."  Teddy leaves.


Good movie telling about the Irish rebellion and fight for Irish independence.  The movie deals with the events that sparked the Irish fight for independence from Britain. Some of the excesses dealt with are the cruelties of the Black and Tans military force.  Cillian Murphy as Damien O'Donovan was very good.  Damien and his brother Teddy fought together for Irish independence.  Then they fought for different sides in the Irish civil war between the Free-Staters and the Republicans.  Lots of action in the movie. 

The British don't like this movie much and call it anti-British.  But don't let that discourage you.  People who approve of what the British did to Ireland will certainly think any criticism of Britain is anti-British.  It's so similar in America to labeling any criticism of excesses the USA commits as being labeled anti-American. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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