"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is an Irish ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836–1883), a Limerick-born poet and professor of English literature. The song is written from the perspective of a doomed young Wexford rebel who is about to sacrifice his relationship with his loved one and plunge into the cauldron of violence associated with the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. The references to barley in the song derive from the fact that the rebels often carried barley or 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 into which slain rebels were thrown, symbolizing the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule. As the barley will grow every year in the spring this is said to symbolize Irish resistance to British oppression and that Ireland will never yield and will always oppose British rule on the island.
The song is no. 2994 in the Roud Folk Song Index, having existed in different forms in the oral tradition since its composition. Traditional Irish singers including Sarah Makem have performed the song. There are numerous small variations in different traditional versions, and many performers leave out the fourth stanza of Dwyer Joyce's original version.
The song's title was borrowed for Ken Loach's 2006 film of the same name, which features the song in one scene.
The song should not be confused with the reel of the same name.
The lyrics below are as those printed in the original 1861 version.
The song has been covered by many artists, including Finvarra, Loreena McKennitt, The Dubliners, Dolores Keane, Dead Can Dance (sung by Lisa Gerrard), Altan, Solas, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Dick Gaughan, Orthodox Celts, Amanda Palmer, Fire + Ice, The Irish Rovers (as "The Wind That Shakes the Corn"), Sarah Jezebel Deva, Martin Carthy, Declan de Barra, Belfast Food, Poets of the Fall, Glow, Yanisovsky, and Lumiere.
A short section of the song is heard being sung by Micheál Ó Súilleabháin's grandmother Peggy at his wake in the 2006 film of the same name.