The Irish Civil War and Society
In crafting his first published short story “The Sniper” O’Flaherty took as his setting and dramatic impetus an issue that he knew well: the Irish civil war of the early 1920s. In this story, two snipers on opposing sides of the conflict face off in a duel. The hero of the story prevails. He kills his enemy, thus assuring his survival, at least for the moment. Only after his enemy is dead, however, does the sniper make a startling revelation: the enemy sniper is his own brother.
The story does not address the problems of the civil war from any historical perspective; notably, O’Flaherty makes no mention of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that sparked the civil war or the ongoing problems the native Irish had with the British rulers. O’Flaherty need not do so, for the Irish and British reading audience in the 1920s was well versed in the ongoing troubles that surrounded Ireland and its relationship to the United Kingdom. Modern readers, as well as non-Irish readers, however, likely may need to be reminded that in the spring of 1922, fighting broke out in Ireland over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This agreement would make southern Ireland an independent state within the British Commonwealth and leave the six counties in northern Ireland part of Great Britain. Free Staters, who supported the treaty, and Republicans, who opposed it, took up arms and fought for control of Ireland’s government and national spirit.
O’Flaherty—who fought for the...
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The Position of Liam O’Flaherty
Liam O’Flaherty, at the age of thirty-two, has written five novels, four volumes of short stories, a biography and a large number of sketches and short stories soon to be gathered together in another collection. His reputation, however, is commensurate neither with this record of sustained creative energy nor with the easily recognizable distinction of his work. Literary popularity is never a matter of significance in speaking about a serious artist; but the reasons behind the critical apathy in the present instance are more interesting than usual. To consider them is to discover something about the mechanism of literary popularity at any time. It is also one excellent means of approaching certain of the essential features of this writer’s contribution to the literature of our age. For the two things which are responsible for the neglect of O’Flaherty are at the same time inseparable from the deepest meaning and value of his work: his nationality and his fondness for melodrama.
The disadvantages of being an Irish writer today would be numerous even were it possible for the English reviews to be less loyal to their country and their class. Liam O’Flaherty has had at least as much to overcome in detaching himself from the settled mist of the “Celtic renaissance” as the writers of that movement had in detaching themselves from the earlier schools of Lever and Boucicault. The unfortunate result is that O’Flaherty has perhaps suffered more than...
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