The Sniper (story)

The Sniper (story)

"The Sniper" is a short story by Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty, set during the early weeks of the Irish Civil War.

It was O'Flaherty's first published work of fiction, running in a small journal in London in 1923, while the war it depicted was still going on. The favorable notice it generated helped get other works by O'Flaherty published and started his career. It is widely read today in secondary schools in all English-speaking countries, since it is short, easy to read, takes place in real time, and has a surprise ending.


The story is told from a third person limited point of view about a Republican sniper near the Four Courts in Dublin during the first weeks of the civil war. His name is never given and he speaks only once during the course of the story. It is dusk on a June night after a busy day of combat. He cautiously lights a cigarette knowing the consequences of such action. Due to the flash his match makes, he has to duck as a sniper from the opposing Free State forces fires at him. The Republican Sniper looks up as a bullet comes whizzing by. As he looks without success for the other shooter, he sees an armored car pull up. An elderly woman points in his direction, and he responds quickly, killing her and the machine gunner in the turret. The car retreats toward the Liffey and O'Connell Street, and afterwards he shoots the old woman to prevent her from giving away his position to others. Since darkness is falling and it will soon be impossible to hit more targets, he begins to contemplate returning to his unit. However, the enemy sniper across the street forces a change in plans as he hits the Republican sniper in the right forearm, making it impossible for him to use his rifle. He treats the wound and comes up with a new plan. He puts his cap on the muzzle of his weapon and sticks it up where the opposing sniper can see it. Immediately, a shot hits it dead-on. He dangles his good arm over the edge of the wall and drops his rifle to the street below. The other sniper falls for the deception and begins to leave. At this point the Republican sniper gets out his revolver and, despite great pain and considerable distance, hits his opposite number in the head and watches his body fall to the street. This makes it possible for him to return and report to his commander. He finally allows himself to feel some remorse, and decides to risk exposing himself to enemy machine gun fire on the street to see who his enemy was, wondering if it might be someone he served alongside before the war, only to find out it was his brother.

Themes and literary technique

This story has the theme of the tragedy of war, particularly civil war. The conflict was between supporters and opponents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Liam O'Flaherty fought in the war as a member of the Anti-Treaty IRA against the new Irish Free State. He had also fought in the First World War as an officer in the Irish Guards. As a result of his experienes, O'Flaherty provides a very realistic portrait of military combat.

O'Flaherty later grew deeply disillusioned with the beliefs of the Anti-Treaty Republicans and Irish Nationalism in general, "The Sniper" reflects this feeling of the futility and waste of the Irish Civil War. Such themes can also be seen in O'Flaherty's short novel, "The Informer". Arguably, "The Sniper" also condemns the glorification of violence which O'Flaherty himself had participated in his youth.

External links

* [ Read the story on-line.]

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