Literature & Life

The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty

A story based on the battle of Dublin

The Sniper is a short story, written by Liam O’Flaherty. Liam O’Flaherty, was born in 1896 in Inishmore, Ireland. He was a novelist, and short-story writer. His well-known books are, the Neighbour’s Wife (1923), The Black Soul (1924), Skerrett (1932), Famine (1937), Shame the Devil- (1934).

The short story The Sniper, was first published in 1923. It is based on the battle of Dublin, between 28th June 1922, and 5th July 1922. This war was between the Republicans, and the Irish Free Staters. Republican Sniper, is the protagonist of the story. His job is to kill the Free stater Sniper. In the same way, the Free Stater Sniper’s job, is to kill the Republican Sniper. All the characters in the short story, are nameless. The two snipers in the story, do not know the identity of each other. This story focuses, on the dehumanising effects of the war.

The story begins with, the description of a long night in June. The whole city of Dublin has been enveloped, in darkness, however, there is the dim light of the moon. The machine guns, and rifles, are breaking the silence of the night. The protagonist- a republican Sniper, is on the roof of a tall building, and he is having a sandwich hurriedly, as he hasn’t eaten anything, since morning. He takes a short draught of whisky, from his flask and then, he has the urge to smoke, but it is too dangerous for him, to smoke on the roof. The enemy Sniper, could see the flash of the match, and fire his rifle in his direction. Yet, he lights his cigarette, and suddenly a bullet comes, and hits the parapet of the roof. Somehow, he saves himself, and tries to peer over the parapet, and again a bullet comes, and runs over his head. He hides himself, but he couldn’t see the enemy Sniper from there.

Just then, arrives, an armoured car on the street. It was an enemy car, and an old lady, who seems to be an informer, approaches the car. The turret of the car is opened, and now the sniper, could see the man inside the car. The Sniper raises his rifle, and fires bullets…. and within no time, he kills both the man inside the enemy car, and the old informer lady. Suddenly, the enemy sniper, on the roof of the opposite building, also fires his rifle, and his bullet directly hits the Republican sniper’s right forearm. He gets injured, and blood starts to ooze, through the sleeve of his coat. He finds out that the bullet, has been lodged in his bone. Therefore, he takes out his field dressing, with his left arm, and pours iodine on his wound, puts cotton wedding over it, and wraps dressing around it. He tries to make the effort, to overcome the pain.

Later on, he finds out that the armoured car, has escaped from that place, and the old lady’s corpse, was lying still in the gutter. The Sniper had to kill his enemy Sniper, before morning, but unfortunately, he was injured, and he couldn’t use his rifle. Therefore, he decides to use his revolver, to kill his enemy. At the same moment, an idea hits his mind, and so he starts to work on it. At the first, he takes off his cap, and then he puts it on the muzzle of his rifle, and slowly lifts the rifle over the parapet, so that it would look like his head, from the opposite side. When the enemy Sniper sees the cap, he falls prey to the Republican sniper’s trick, and he hurriedly fires his rifle. The bullet hits the cap, and pierces its centre. Then the Republican sniper slants his rifle forward, to drop the cap. The cap drops down into the street. Then the Sniper drops his left hand over the roof, and lets it hang for a while and then, drops the rifle down. When the enemy watches this scene, he thinks that the Republican Sniper, is shot dead by him, and he carelessly stands on the roof with the joy of victory.

The Republican Sniper can now clearly see his enemy… so he smiles, and pulls out his revolver, and fires a bullet in the direction of his enemy. The enemy gets hit by the bullet, and he falls from the roof on the pavement. The enemy was dead… the lust of battle died in him…yet he was bitten by the remorse. He empties his flask of whiskey, and he leaves the roof. While walking on the street; he suddenly, gets curious to find out the identity of the enemy sniper, as he was hard to defeat. He decides to risk his life, to have a look at the dead body, of his enemy… The enemies were firing their machine guns… he escapes from the bullets of the machine gun, and throws himself down, beside the corpse of his enemy. The machine gun stops… and then he turns over the dead body, and finds that it was his own brother!

This way, the victory of the Republican Sniper, turns into tragedy, and this is how, the story explains, how war leads to destruction…!

Jogan More

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