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Series / The Hanging Gale

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The Clan McGann

A 1995 mini-series coproduced by the BBC and RTÉ based on an idea the McGann Brothers had, while they were researching their Irish heritage. The title comes from an old Irish phrase "hanging gale" — a landlord would allow his tenants a six month grace period to pay rent, after the crops were sold.

Paul McGann and his brothers Stephen, Mark, and Joe star as the Phelan Brothers - Connor (Mark) and Sean (Joe), two tenant farmers, Danny (Stephen) a schoolmaster, and Liam (Paul) a Catholic priest who live on the estate of an English nobleman in County Donegal, Ireland during the Potato Famine of 1846 - a time when no family on the estate can grow enough food to pay rent and feed themselves. The land agent Captain Towsend (Michael Kitchen) is somewhat sympathetic to the farmers plight, but he resolves to follow his employer's harsh instructions regardless. Faced with starvation and eviction one brother decides to take matters into his own hands with disastrous consequences.


The mini-series is notable for being one of the few major pieces of film or TV that center around the Irish Potato Famine.

Tropes associated with this series include:

  • Anti-Villain: While Captain Townsend is sympathetic to the tennants' plight he still carries out his orders to evict tenants who can't pay regardless (which is basically the whole darn estate with a handful of exceptions), but it isn't until someone tries to assassinate him that he turns nasty.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The unseen Lord Hawksborough, who ignores the pleas of his starving tenants to lower the rents (which are higher than what he charges their English counterparts). He hasn't even been to personally visit his estate in twenty years. He later decides to offer his tenants free passage to America, though not out of charity: it's simply cheaper than sending them all to the local workhouse.
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  • Badass Preacher: Liam fights injustice through peace and prayer.
  • Category Traitor: Danny's girlfriend Mary is seen as one when she becomes Captain Townsend's servant, instead of leaving with her evicted family.
  • Corrupt Cop: The policemen of the estate are their to protect the land agent, follow his orders, and evict tenants. They are not concerned with the well-being of the tenants in the least.
  • Create Your Own Villain: The hostility of the tenants brings out the nasty side in Townsend.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The Phelan Family puts up a hell a fight when their evicted; Sean and Connor later get jail time for it though.
  • Downer Ending: The Phelans lose their farm and Sean and James to disease, so Meav, Connor and the surviving children go to America. Danny successfully kills Townsend in the end but he hangs for it and he can't live to see the child he had with Mary grow up. Liam is the only one left in Ireland and he's all alone.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Phelan Patriarch hangs himself when the family is unjustly evicted from the family farm.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight: After his assassination attempt on Townsend backfires, Danny ends up hiding in Lord Hawksborough manor house the one place nobody would think to look.
  • Humiliation Conga: Being evicted is really humiliating. Not only all your belongings tossed out of the cottage by a bunch of thugs, but the house is burned down to drive the point across. Oh, and nobody else of the estate is allowed to give you shelter either.
  • Inherent in the System: The Irish landholding system is really unjust, especially since the English landlord makes the Irish farmers pay double what their English counterparts pay. The land agent knows things are unfair but if he shows them sympathy by waiving the rents he'll just be replaced by someone who follows the rules: Townsend eventually acclimates over time due to the latter reasoning.
  • It's Personal: After Danny's failed assassination attempt, Townsend, proceeds to make life hell for all of the Phelan family even though they had nothing to do with it.
  • Kangaroo Court: Captain Townend decides to evict the Phelans from their farm, even though they paid their rent, simply because he dislikes them (and wrongly believes they were party to Daniel's plot to kill him), and even bullies the magistrate to go along with it. Connor and Sean get six months in jail for resisting eviction.
  • Kill the Poor: Well, move the poor. Lord Hawksborough eventually decides to offer his tenants free passage to America, just because it's a cheap way to get them off his land.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Townsend is sympathetic to the tenants' plight and even tries to convince Lord Hawksborough to waive the rents until the famine has passed. But when Lord Hawksborough tells him to collect the rents regardless, Townsend does his duty and goes around evicting tenants who can't pay and collecting rent from those who would starve if they did pay.
  • Just Following Orders: Townsend's justification for his really harsh evictions of tenants who can't pay rent; he can do his job or resign, and he chooses not to resign.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Danny's attempt to assassinate Townsend leads to the eviction of his entire family.
  • No Sympathy: The British Government really doesn't care that the Irish are starving to death - a lot of it has to with racist attitudes on their part. The London Times even goes so far as to say that the Irish have cried wolf one time too many.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: How the group of nationalist who killed Townsend' predecessor in the beginning feel about British rule over Ireland.
  • Only Sane Man: Liam points out that any violence on the part of his fellow Irishmen will not get them any sympathy or help from the British Government.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Danny kills Townsend in the end. But it doesn't do the tenants any good. Half his family is dead and the surviving tenants have all agreed to move to America, and he's promptly hanged for the murder.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Townsend tries to be this - but having to follow the orders of Lord Hawksborough and put up with the hostility of the tenants makes him very a vindictive man after Danny tries to assassinate him.
    • Averted with the local magistrate, who is mainly a pawn of the landlord and his land agent. When Townsend wants to evict the Phelan family, after Danny's failed assassination attempt, the magistrate points out not only have the Phelans paid their rent in full, but there's also no evidence that they were in involved with Danny's plot in any way. Townsend bullies him to take his side or else he'll have him replaced.
  • Sadistic Choice: The Irish farmers have to chopse between feeding themselves and paying their rents.
  • The Scapegoat: Since Daniel can't be found after he tries to assassinate Townsend, the good captain decides to make an example out of his innocent brothers instead.
  • Scenery Porn: The series was filmed on location in County Donegal, and it's gorgeous.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Captain Townsend effectively rules the estate with an iron fist to the point where he can order the local police to hang a man without trial if he wants. He later evicts the Phelan family from their farm even though they paid rent in full because Daniel tried to kill him. When the local magistrate points out there's no evidence that the rest of the family where involved in the attempt, Townesnd bullies him to take his side.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Many tenants allow others to (illegally) stay on their land since the alternative for them is either the local workhouse or the road.
    • One local officer refuses to shoot his gun at his fellow unarmed Irishmen who are doing nothing more than peacefully protesting the unjust eviction of the Phelan family.
  • Truth in Television: This drama does not sugarcoat the plight of the Irish farmers nor the brutality or indifference of their British rulers.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: As Danny points out, Ireland is responsible for growing food that feeds the British Empire, and yet this same Empire refuses to help the Irish when they're starving to death.