The Sniper Summary

The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty is about two snipers on opposing sides of the Irish Civil War.

  • Two snipers are stationed on opposite sides of a street. The main character is shot in the arm.
  • Aware that he’ll be killed if he doesn’t find a way off the roof, he lifts his hat just enough to trick the other sniper into thinking it’s his head. 
  • Believing his enemy dead, the other sniper stands, giving the injured sniper a clean shot. Upon examining the body, the injured sniper realizes it’s his brother, who was fighting on the opposite side of the war.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 635

One night in late June, gunfire rings out on the streets of Dublin. The violence of the Irish Civil War permeates the dark city near the River Liffey and the Four Courts government buildings. Perched on the roof of a building near O'Connell Bridge sits an Irish Republican Army (IRA) sniper in wait.

Young but experienced, thoughtful but cold, the sniper watches over the area with a rifle and binoculars. Having not eaten since that morning, he wolfs down a sandwich and drinks whiskey from a flask. After debating whether or not to risk being exposed to a match, he decides to light up and smoke a cigarette.

Right away, a bullet hits the roof's low wall. The sniper takes another drag on the cigarette, puts it out, curses, and crawls away. He then carefully peeks over the wall and spies a flash across the street; he quickly ducks down as a bullet flies over his head.

Staying low, the sniper moves across the roof to hide beside a chimney and peeks over the wall again. He sees nothing on the rooftop of the building across the street. The enemy—an opposing Irish Free State militia member—is hiding.

An enemy armored car crosses the bridge and drives up the street, stopping near the shipper's building. Hearing the car's motor, the sniper feels his heart beat quickly. He wants to shoot at the armored car but knows his bullets will be ineffective against it.

The sniper then sees an old woman walk up to the car, speak to someone in its turret, and point in the sniper's direction. A man peeks out of the turret, and the sniper immediately shoots the man and then the old woman.

Suddenly, the enemy on top of the other building shoots the sniper in the right arm. The sniper drops his rifle, quickly ducks, crawls to the wall, and examines his wound.

Initially feeling no pain or sensation in his injured arm, the sniper pulls out a knife and cuts open his right sleeve. The bullet is lodged into his bone, possibly fracturing the bone. When the sniper tries to bend his arm, he feels pain. Despite the pain, he cleans and dresses the wound before lying still.

The street is still as the sniper nurses his wound and plots how to escape and kill the unseen enemy shooter. He pretends to stand up by placing his cap on his rifle and raising it, causing the unseen enemy to shoot. The sniper tips the rifle forward to drop the cap into the street. He flings a seemingly lifeless left hand over the wall, then drops the rifle over it and sinks behind it, dragging his hand behind it.

Finally, the sniper peeks and sees that he fooled his enemy into thinking he died. Standing still in silhouette, the enemy becomes an easy target. Despite the darkness and his arm's pain, the sniper shoots the enemy dead with a revolver.

The sniper watches the enemy crumble and fall off the rooftop in graphic detail. The sniper feels remorse after the dead man's body hits the ground with a thud. He no longer feels the rush of victory but disgust for himself. Tossing the revolver aside, he is startled when it goes off but feels calm again. He laughs and finishes the whiskey in his flask.

No longer sensing danger, the sniper picks up his revolver, leaves the rooftop, and descends to the street. Curious about whom he shot and complimenting himself on making a successful kill, the sniper carefully crosses the now quiet street to view the corpse.

Suddenly, machine gun fire breaks out. The sniper ducks beside the dead body, and the firing ceases. Turning over the corpse, the sniper discovers that the person he killed was his brother.

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