Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Screenplay by: Paul Laverty
Music by: George Fenton
Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd
Editor: Jonathan Morris
Production Design: Fergus Clegg
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Screenplay by: Paul Laverty
Music by: George Fenton
Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd
Editor: Jonathan Morris
Production Design: Fergus Clegg
Damien: Cillian Murphy
Teddy: Padraic Delaney
Dan: Liam Cunningham
Sinead: Orla Fitzgerald
"'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 shake the barley."
Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830 - 1883) "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"
"To break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects."
Wolfe Tone c.1790
"The entire ownership of Ireland, moral and material, up to the sun and down to the centre, is vested of right in the people of Ireland; that they and none but they are the landowners and law-makers of this island."
James Fintan Lalor, 1848
"We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies...
...In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms."
Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 1916.
The English ruling class first invaded Ireland in the twelfth century, when feudal barons staked out their territory. Over the centuries English landlords grew rich at the expense of the Irish people.
A settler population to rule on behalf of the English was established and penal laws kept the Irish in subservience. As well as taxes and rents, Ireland supplied England with farm produce and cheap labour. Famine, evictions and poverty were the lot of Ireland's rural population.
The United Irishmen fought for their country's independence in the wake of the French Revolution. In the nineteenth century the Fenian Brotherhood took up the struggle. Then in the early years of the twentieth century the movement would no longer be denied, though it was fought at every turn by the British establishment.
At the height of the First World War, in which thousands of Irishmen were fighting with the encouragement of moderate nationalist leaders, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army staged a militarily doomed but symbolically powerful armed uprising in Dublin during Easter 1916. The execution of its leaders, including the socialist James Connolly, and the military repression that followed, helped to sway public support in Ireland away from moderate nationalism towards the separatist movement, embodied in the resurgent Sinn Féin ('We Ourselves') political party and the Irish Volunteers.
In the general election of December 1918, Sinn Féin won a huge majority across the country, with the exception of the northeast, where Unionists, opposed to any diminution of the Union with Britain, held sway. Sinn Féin established an Irish parliament, Dáil Eireann, based in Dublin and declared Irish independence to the world. However, attempts to secure international recognition for the Irish Republic fell on deaf ears, and the British government refused to accept it. The Dáil was outlawed, the Republic went underground, and the Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
IRA volunteers were mainly young men from 18 to 30 years old. They were apprentices, shop assistants, farmers' sons, rural labourers, factory and transport workers. Some were veterans of the First World War, whose military training was vital. Most became involved through family, neighbourhood or peer connections.
A counter-state structure, including courts, was developed; the labour movement threw its weight behind the Republican struggle (which included the refusal of rail workers to transport British military personnel or equipment, a crucial part of the Republican campaign); and the IRA took the offensive against the armed police force - the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) - which was also a vital source of arms and ammunition. The British sent RIC reinforcements in the form of the notorious 'Black and Tans' (mainly demobilised First World War soldiers) and the Auxiliaries, a corps of former officers. The Tans and the Auxies wreaked havoc, terrorising the communities that were seen to be sustaining the IRA. An onslaught of arrests and raids led to the IRA organising 'flying columns' - mobile active service units that fought the British mainly through countryside ambushes. The British countered by raiding, burning and looting houses, villages and towns. A cycle of tit-for-tat violence developed, and the war became increasingly dirty.
Women, organised in Cumann na mBan, played a crucial role in the highly effective IRA intelligence network and in the running of the Dail courts.
The guerrilla war began in earnest in the late summer of 1920 and was most intense in the South, particularly Cork. A stalemate was reached by the summer of 1921, and in July a Truce was declared. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed in December 1921, soon dashed the hopes of many. This created an Irish Free State with dominion status within the British Commonwealth. The Free State consisted of 26 counties, the other six having already been established as the Unionist-dominated statelet of Northern Ireland in June 1921, which remained within the UK. Britain retained control of key Irish ports and members of the Irish Free State parliament would have to swear an oath of fidelity to the British Crown, which would continue to be represented in Ireland by a Governor-General.
This Treaty violently split the revolutionary movement. The pro-Treatyites, who argued that the settlement was the best achievable at that stage and that the alternative offered by the British was 'immediate and terrible war', took state power with the support of the British state and the Irish establishment. Anti-Treaty Republicans resisted and a bitter civil war ensued, pitching former comrades against each other. While the anti-Treatyites enjoyed initial numerical advantage, the Free State army militarily defeated them within a year.
British Major (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery, who served in Cork during the war of independence, wrote in 1923 about the necessity of giving the Irish 'some form of self-government' so that they could 'squash the rebellion themselves; they are the only people who could really stamp it out.' This they did.
by Donal Ó Drisceoil
Ireland 1920: workers from field and country unite to form volunteer guerrilla armies to face the ruthless "Black and Tan" squads that are being shipped from Britain to block Ireland's bid for independence.
Driven by a deep sense of duty and a love for his country, Damien abandons his burgeoning career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy, in a dangerous and violent fight for freedom. As the freedom fighters' bold tactics bring the British to breaking point, both sides finally agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But, despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and families, who fought side by side, find themselves pitted against one another as sworn enemies, putting their loyalties to the ultimate test.
Ireland 1920. A group of young men are playing hurling. Damien, a young doctor, is leaving to work at a London Hospital. After the game he goes with some of the men to Peggy's farm to make his farewells. As he says goodbye to the family a group of Black and Tans storms into the farmyard and accuses them of playing "paddy" games which have been outlawed by the British authorities.
Peggy's grandson, Micheail, responds to questioning in Irish which infuriates the Sergeant. When he doesn't back down he receives a swipe from the soldier. He hits back, is captured and is forced into the barn while the other men are told to strip. The capturing soldiers emerge from the barn with blood on their hands. As the Tans leave the family and young men discover Micheail has been beaten to death.
After Micheail's funeral where a local woman sings "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", Damien's friends tell him he should stay to join their fight against the British. Damien can't see how they can win a war with just hurley sticks and leaves to take his train. Sinead (Peggy's grand-daughter) and Teddy (one of the group leaders) are visibly upset.
At the station a platoon of British soldiers are prevented from boarding the train by the guard. The Irish unions have agreed not to provide transport for the British military. Enraged, the Sergeant calls for the driver, who refuses to drive the train. A scuffle ensues but the soldiers back off. Damien tends to the bloodied guard and remains on the platform as the train departs.
Damien takes the oath of the Irish Republican Army. His comrades are delighted he has stayed to join the fight. We see the volunteers training, and then, operating as a Flying Column, ambushing a police barracks to steal weapons.
A few days later some of the volunteers are in a bar playing pool. Four British officers, "Auxiliaries", come in and after giving the men the standard humiliating search they adjourn to the backroom bar. Moments later the men receive some stolen guns, burst into the backroom and shoot the Auxies dead.
The British respond by making brutal house to house searches through the town. Two officers arrive at the grand house of landowner Sir John Hamilton. They summon Chris (one of the Flying Column lads) from the milking parlour and he is interviewed about his involvement in the column. Does he know Teddy O'Donovan? Early the next morning the soldiers ambush and arrest the column at their hideout in the woods.
The volunteers are put in the holding cell at the army barracks. Damien finds that Dan, the train driver from earlier, is already in the cell. Teddy is hauled out despite a valiant attempt from Damien to pretend that he is Teddy. Teddy is tortured and dumped in agony back in the cell. Damien reveals to Dan that he is Teddy's brother. Damien is taken out and interrogated. He demands to be treated as a political prisoner. He points out that the Irish people had just voted overwhelmingly for independence from Britain. The torturing officer takes over and forces the private soldier standing guard to shoot him. But there's no bullet. Damien is told he will face execution at dawn.
Through the night Damien and Dan talk. Dan is a veteran of the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and is greatly influenced by the socilaist James Connolly, one of the workers' leaders in 1913 who was later executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Damien shares his politics but until now has been 'all talk'. Suddenly Gogan, the private who shot Damien, comes in - he can't stand seeing them tortured and he has the keys. Most of the volunteers escape, but three are left behind, trapped without a key to their cells.
The volunteers take refuge at Peggy's farm; Dan and Gogan are there with them. Sinead takes Damien aside and tells him they know who betrayed their hiding place.
The volunteers led by Teddy and Damien return to the big house and confront Sir John Hamilton accusing him of giving them up to the British. Teddy makes him write a letter asking for the release of the three remaining prisoners otherwise he will "get a bullet too". Damien leads Hamilton and young farmhand Chris, who had betrayed them, on a long walk into the mountains. They rest at an old cottage where a girl arrives with a message for Damien. Both Hamilton and Chris are to be shot. Damien, who had known Chris all his life, takes it hard and carries out the duties with a heavy heart.
The volunteers return to the town where they meet their comrades. Teddy is on the mend and several Flying Column successes are discussed at the town hall where the new Republican Court is in session. The men, including Teddy and Damien go in to watch Lily, the magistrate, rule against Sweeney, a local business man, for charging extortionate interest on a loan to a local housewife, Mrs Rafferty. An incensed Sweeney is taken off to the court cells protesting, but Teddy intervenes outside and takes Sweeney away to sort things out in a pub. Lily is furious and calls Teddy back to the court. Teddy argues that without money from the likes of Sweeney the volunteers would be unable to purchase arms to defend the town they have recently won. Dan and Damien counter by saying unless the court upholds proper justice from the beginning the situation will be just the same as under the British - "all you'll change is the colour of the flag".
Damien and Sinead walk through the woods. He tells her how he took Chris's mother in silence to where they had buried the boy and how the experience has left him drained of all feelings. Sinead Holds him close.
The volunteers march through the mist, singing. In an old barn they gather at night for confession from the priest in preparation for the next day's ambush.
Finbar sets the men in their hidden positions on the hillside. Teddy waits on the road wearing a stolen British uniform and with a broken motorcycle at his side. Two trucks full of Auxiliaries head towards him. As they get close he hurls a mills bomb into the front truck and then shoots the driver with his pistol. The ambush begins in earnest - rifles fired on both sides, mills bombs are thrown and the machine gun is operated. The volunteers wipe out the soldiers. In the aftermath Gogan is found dead and several volunteers are horrified by the blood bath they have caused. Finbar regroups them and tells them that they have sent a clear message to the British government: their terror will be met with terror.
Returning home, the volunteers near Peggy's farm where they hear the sounds of soldiers rampaging. They hide in the bushes from where they helplessly watch as Sinead, Peggy and Bernadette are dragged out of their cottage. Sinead has her hair forcibly cut off and the cottage is set on fire. Damien and the others have no bullets and are impotent against this attack - they remain hidden.
Later the volunteers help clear up the farm and Damien tries to console Sinead. Peggy announces she will clear out the chicken coop and live there as nothing will drive her from the farm. Sinead collapses to the ground: the older woman's strength is unmatchable.
A young lad arrives with a message - a truce has been declared. Hostilities will cease from midnight. The festivities begin. There's a grand ceilidh in the local hall and later Damien and Sinead sneak off into the attic and embrace.
In the local cinema a newsreel is being shown. Michael Collins and other members of Sinn Fein have signed a Treaty with the British government. But the Treaty only gives the Irish partial economic independence: they must remain loyal to the British crown and the north of Ireland is to remain part of the UK. Damien asks whether this is what they fought for. Many in the audience feel betrayed.
A debate to discuss the Treaty is convened by the volunteers. Teddy says that if they don't abide by it there will be "immediate and terrible war". He and the other pro-treatyites feel that they have to accept it and then work within its structures to achieve genuine independence. Congo argues that they've got so close - they shouldn't give up yet. Finbar invokes the memories of those who had died for the cause and resolves to continue the fight. Rory argues that a republican Ireland should be an unequivocal demand. Dan talks of the programme of the 1st Dail - the common ownership of the land by the people: only then could they start to eradicate poverty. This is what drew him to the fight. The splits in the group become clearer.
Damien, Dan, Sinead and Congo are having a drink outside a bar as the British army march out of town. In the distance they spot Teddy wearing his new Irish Army uniform. "Send out the Black and Tans; bring in the Green and Tans." Finbar arrives and tells Damien and Dan to keep the training going - he's going to a meeting of the Army leaders who oppose the Treaty in Dublin.
Rory, Damien and others train more anti-Treaty volunteers. Damien is called to a sick child. The child is severely malnourished.
Damien, Steady Boy and others are preparing leaflets at the printers. Sinead comes in to announce that the anti-treatyite leaders gathered in Dublin's Four Courts have come under heavy fire from pro-Treaty forces. Rory storms out in a fury planning revenge. They decide they must hit back. Steady Boy can't take any more and leaves.
Rory and his men ambush a group of Irish soldiers, killing two young recruits. The officers recognise Rory of course, as only recently they were on the same side. Teddy is enraged - he demands that they fight back. Denis and Leo are forced to agree.
In church, the priest preaches against lawlessness and the anti-Treatyites. Damien stands up and argues that the only reason the people aren't fighting back is because they are frightened of the British threat of war. The priest tells him to get out, which he does, with many others of the congregation. Teddy confronts Damien on the church steps - he begs Damien to see that the treaty is the only way forward. Damien is disgusted - Teddy will be a servant of the Union Jack, "the butcher's apron".
Leo, with his Free State squad, search Peggy's farm looking for weapons. Bernadette is horrified - she used to feed these boys.
Damien, Dan and the other volunteers raid the army barracks for guns but are suddenly caught and fired on. Dan is wounded and Damien, pleading for Dan's life, can't prevent them killing Dan as he lies on the ground. Damien is captured and that night Teddy goes to talk to him in his cell. Teddy begs him to give him information about Rory and the weapons so that his own life can be spared. It's too late though; Damien will not sell out and will be executed. Damien writes his final letter to Sinead.
Damien faces the firing squad at dawn. Distraught, Teddy gives the order to shoot.
Teddy takes Damien's letter to Sinead and hands her the St Christopher's medal she had given Damien after Micheail's death. In her grief, Sinead lashes out at Teddy. Then she collapses to the ground.
For UK screening/press enquiries: Pathe UK
For International screening/press/sales enquiries: Pathe International
For clip licensing: Sixteen Films