Why did Liam O'Flaherty write "The Sniper?" When did he join the army and was he a sniper in the war?  

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Liam O'Flaherty was not a sniper but he did have a lot of military experience. He fought in the Irish Guards, for instance, during World War One, having enlisted in 1915 and serving until May 1918 when he received a medical discharge. (He did not serve as a sniper but did fight in the trenches). After spending some time in North America, he returned to Ireland in 1920 and became active in the Socialist movement. In one incident, in January 1922, O'Flaherty and a group of unemployed men occupied the Rotunda Concert Hall in Dublin for four days. This siege was brought to an end by Free State soldiers who forced the men to surrender. (See the first reference link provided).

Instead of being an autobiographical account, then, "The Sniper" has a more general purpose. According to Florida State University, for example, O'Flaherty's wrote the story to demonstrate the "horrors of civil war" and how they can tear "nations, neighborhoods and families apart to an irreparable extent." (See the second reference link provided). This is shown most clearly at the end of the story when it is revealed that the sniper's enemy was, in fact, his own brother.

pmiranda2857's profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“The Sniper,” a story about the Irish civil war, was Liam O’Flaherty’s first published piece of fiction."  

Liam O'Flaherty was 19 years old when he joined the Irish Guards of the British army.  The author fought in World War I, receiving a medical discharge in 1917, after experiencing shellshock.

In the 1920s, the author became very involved with Irish politics.   He became a soldier once again, this time,  for the Irish Republican Army.  He took part in The Four Courts Incident. 

"In April 1922, Republican forces occupied Dublin’s justice buildings, the Four Courts. They came under siege from the Free State forces. For several days in June, the Free Staters bombarded the Four Courts. They retook the buildings and captured the enemy leader. Before their capture, however, the Republicans blew up the Four Courts."

He wrote  “The Sniper” during the Irish civil war.  He had first hand experience, as a soldier, although there is no mention that he was a sniper.   

The story is a sad commentary about the senselessness of war.  As the sniper shoots an enemy soldier,he discovers that he has killed his brother.  This story is an expression of how Irish society was fractured by the civil war.


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