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The Wind That Shakes the Barley

[ Roud 2994 ; Ballad Index PGa098 ; DT WINDBARL ; Mudcat 19881 ; Robert Dwyer Joyce]

Martin Carthy sang The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 1965 on his first album Martin Carthy. A live recording with Dave Swarbrick at the Folkus Folk Club in 1966 is available on Both Ears and the Tail. Carthy noted on the first album:

Perhaps a classic, of songs of revolution, The Wind That Shakes the Barley was written by Robert Dwyer Joyce.

Steeleye Span – then with Martin Carthy – performed a set of the three tunes The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Pigeon on the Gate, and Jenny’s Chickens for the BBC radio programme “Peel’s Sunday Concert” on 15 September 1971. This programme was released as bonus CD of the 2006 reissue of Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again.

Sarah Makem sang The Wind That Shakes the Barley at her home in Keady, Co. Armagh, 1967 in a recording made by Bill Leader. This was published in 1968 on her Topic album Ulster Ballad Singer. The sleeve notes commented:

Politically-inspired songs may often be loudly called for in singing-pubs but at the fireside they are very seldom heard. Consequently very few patriotic songs have found their way into the repertoires of Irish folksingers. In Gaelic-speaking Ireland they are particularly rare. Only a strong love story associated with the patriotic or “rebellious” sentiment will ensure for a song a permanent place in folk memory. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is just such a song. The words were written by Robert Dwyer Joyce, historian and poet, brother of P. W. Joyce the famous Irish folksong collector. They have been published to another air in The Irish National Songbook by Alfred Perceval Graves. In metre and tune the present version is founded on The Maid that Sold Her Barley, a long-lived song already in print in 1700, in Vol. II of Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy.


Martin Carthy sings The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I sat within the valley green sat there with my true love
And my fond heart strove to choose between the old love and the new love

The old for her the new that made me think on Ireland dearly
While soft the wind blew down the glade and shook the golden barley

Twas hard for mournful words to frame to break the ties that bound us
Ah but harder still to bear the shame of foreign chains around us

And so I said the mountain glen I’ll seek at morning early
And join the brave united men while soft winds shook the barley

Twas sad I kissed away her tears her arms around me clinging
When to my ears that fateful shot came out the wild wood ringing

The bullet pierced my true love’s breast in life’s young spring so early
And there upon my breast she died while soft winds shook the barley

I bore her to some mountain stream and many’s the summer blossom
I placed with branches soft and green about her gore-stained bosom

I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse then rushed o’er vale and valley
My vengeance on the foe to wreak while soft winds shook the barley

And it’s blood for blood without remorse I’ve took in Oulart Hollow
While to her grave my love’s cold corpse where I full soon may follow

Around her grave I wander drear noon night and morning early
With breaking heart whene’er I hear the wind that shakes the barley


Oulart is a place name in County Wexford and appears in this spelling in at least four songs about the 1798 rising, three of which are in the Digital Tradition at the Mudcat Café.

A couple of notes from a no longer existing webpage on the ’98 rising in Wexford (from IT Carlow, so probably a former student’s page):

On the 26th of May the rebellion in Wexford burst into flame. Thousands of peasants had taken to the fields, and became peasant armies. The largest force, led by Father John Murphy of Boulavogue, assembled on a hill at Oulart, ten miles south of Gorey and eight miles from Wexford town. Another rebel group assembled on Kilthomas Hill, nine miles west of Gorey, and was put to flight by three hundred yeomen from the garrison at Carnew, who in pursuit burned about a hundred cabins and farmhouses and two Roman Catholic churches, one of them Father Murphy’s at Boulavogue. An attempt to dislodge the rebels on Oulart Hill was a disaster for a detachment of 109 men of the North Cork Militia from the garrison at Wexford. Only Colonel Foote, commanding, a sergeant, and three privates returned to Wexford.

… Messages were quickly dispatched from the Harrow to the other United Irish groups that the long-anticipated rising had actually begun. Groups moved to the pre-arranged meeting point of Oulart Hill, a centrally placed strategic point in the east of the county. Here Murphy was joined by other leaders and about 500 committed United men. On Whit Sunday, 27th May, the hated North Cork Militia were sent out from Wexford town to disperse them: it was believed that the rebels would flee on sight of their red coats. But the rebel nerve held as the North Corks clattered up the narrow lane to Oulart Hill (which still bears their name): arrogant and over confident, they advanced too rapidly and were caught in a well-conceived rebel ambush. Gunfire raked them and the horses were thrown into confusion. Before they could regroup, a torrent of pikemen poured out of ditches and the cavalry were no match for them.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell for corrections and notes.