“The Sniper” relates an encounter in downtown Dublin, near the O’Connell Bridge, between a sniper for the Republicans and a sniper for the Free Staters. Guns roar in the distance as the Republican sniper lies on a rooftop. He is a young boy. “His face was that of a student—thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of a fanatic . . . the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.”
It is a June evening, and the sniper, who has had nothing to eat since morning, hungrily wolfs down a sandwich and takes a short drink from the flask of whiskey he carries in his pocket. He desperately wants a cigarette and finally risks showing his position by igniting a match and lighting one. Instantly, a bullet hits the wall near him. He takes two puffs of the cigarette and snuffs it. He raises himself to look over the parapet, but another bullet whizzes by his head, and he flattens himself against the roof.
An armored car crosses O’Connell Bridge and stops just below the sniper’s position. An old woman with a tattered shawl around her head comes out of a side street to talk with a man in the turret of the armored car. The sniper wants to shoot at the armored car, but he knows that his bullets will not penetrate its fortified exterior. The old woman points in the direction of the sniper, who now realizes that she is an informer. When the man inside opens the turret to talk with her, the sniper shoots, and the man slumps over lifeless. The woman hurries toward the side street, but the sniper shoots again. The old woman shrieks and falls into the gutter. The car speeds away, the man in the turret still slumped there. More shooting is heard, and the sniper knows that it is coming from the roof across the way. He has been hit in his right arm, in which he has lost all feeling.
The sniper takes out his knife and uses it to rip open his shirt. He sees that a bullet has gone into his arm but has not emerged from the other side. He takes out his field-dressing kit, breaks off the top of the iodine bottle that he pulls from it, and pours the dark liquid into his wound. Then he applies the bandages from his kit, using his teeth to tie the knot.
The sniper knows that he must get off the roof by morning or else the enemy sniper will kill him. He realizes that the sniper on the roof across the way is watching him every minute and will not let him get away. Taking his rifle, which is useless to him because his wounded arm makes it impossible for him to fire it, he puts his army cap on the muzzle and raises it slightly above the parapet. A shot rings out and the cap falls to the earth far below. The sniper lets his left arm hang lifelessly over the parapet, holding his rifle in it. Then he lets the rifle fall and rolls over.
The opposing sniper, assuming that his enemy is dead, relaxes his vigilance and stands up on the roof. The Republican sniper aims his revolver at his opponent and fires. The enemy sniper reels over the parapet in his death agony, then falls to the earth. The Republican sniper is suddenly revolted by what he sees and by what he has done. “His teeth chattered. He began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.” He drains his whiskey flask in one draft.
The sniper leaves the roof. When he gets to the street, his curiosity overcomes him and forces him to steal over to see whom he has shot. He attracts machine-gun fire as he goes toward the dead sniper, but he is not hit. He flings himself down beside the body of the man he has killed, then turns it over. He finds himself staring into his own brother’s face.