Guests of the Nation

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"Guests of the Nation" is a short story written by Frank O'Connor, first published in 1931, portraying the execution of two Englishmen held captive by the Irish Republican Army during the War for Independence. The story is split into four sections, each section taking a different tone. The first reveals a real sense of camaraderie between the English prisoners, with the two Englishmen being killed, and the final lines of the story describe the nauseating effect this betrayal has on the Irishmen. The very last sentence, often praised by critics, is reminiscent of Gogol's "and from that day forward, everything appeared to me as if in a different light."


  • Bonaparte
  • Noble
  • Jeremiah Donovan
  • Hawkins
  • Belcher
  • The Old Woman

• Guests Of The Nation is an ironic/sarcastic description of British Army hostages seized in the Irish war of Independence by Irish freedom fighters

• A hostage is victim of aggression in a brutal dispute between warring factions

Belcher: A large Englishman who is one of the hostages, he was the quieter of the two who ingratiated himself with the old woman of the house by helping her with her daily chores. Belcher had made her his friend for life. Belcher on realising his fate seemed to accept it as “whatever unforeseen thing he’d always been waiting for had come at last”. His sense of organisation sees him preparing his own blindfold for his execution. His courage and generosity sees him request of his executioners that they finish off Hawkins first before he meets his own fate. This is further demonstrated in Belchers acknowledging to his executioners that they are only doing their duty. Belchers whole character and personality is found in his last statement. His lover “went away with another fellow and took the kid with her. I like the feeling of a home, as you may have noticed, but I couldn't start another again after that”.

Hawkins: The second hostage made his capturers look like fools when he showed that he knew the country better than they did. Hawkins knew Mary Brigid O’Connell and had learned to dance traditional dances such as the walls of limerick. Hawkins had too much old talk and as a result lost at cards. He always argued with Noble into the early hours. He worried Noble about Religion with a string of questions that would puzzle a cardinal. He had a deplorable tone and he could throw bad language into any conversation. A communist and agnostic, Hawkins always argued with Noble about capitalism and Religion. When it came to his execution Hawkins could not believe his fate and thought his friends were joking. Hawkins terror at the prospect of death highlights the futility of the conflict in terms of humanity and the friendships that developed between the capturers and hostages. The actual execution of Hawkins provides a chilling climax to this episode.

Jeremiah Donovan: He is not the narrator. Irish soldier who does not like the prisoners

Noble: A young volunteer who along with Bonaparte guarded the hostages. Noble’s character and personality is expressed in the story in his exchanges with Hawkins. Noble is a devout Catholic who had a brother (a priest) and worries greatly about the force and vigor of Hawkins' terrible arguments. Noble shows his humanity in not wanting to be part of a deception, telling the hostages that they were being shifted again. Yet he understood his duty, and undertook the order of preparing the graves at the far end of the bog.

Bonaparte: The narrator of this story. It’s not clear from the story the relationship between Bonaparte and the author, but given O’Connor’s role in the I.R.A some comparisons may well be drawn. Bonaparte has the responsibility of telling a terrible and chilling story about a war of independence. These stories are a testament to the butchery and futility of war. The last paragraph of the story best describes the effect this episode had on both Bonaparte and Noble. Communicating on what happened in the bog to the old lady without saying what they did, the description by Noble by the little patch of bog stiffening into it, and Bonaparte “very lost and lonely like a child, a stray in the snow. And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again."

"Guests of the Nation" is the title story of the 1931 Frank O'Connor short story collection of the same name.[1] This collection includes:

  • "Guests of the Nation"
  • "Attack"
  • "Jumbo's Wife"
  • "Nightpiece with Figures"
  • "September Dawn"
  • "Machinegun Corps in Action"
  • "Laughter"
  • "Jo"
  • "Alec"
  • "Soiree Chez une Belle Jeune Fille"
  • "The Patriarch"
  • "After Fourteen Years"
  • "The Late Henry Conran"
  • "The Sisters"
  • "The Procession of Life"


  1. ^ Frank O’Connor. Guests of the Nation. London/New York: Macmillan, 1931.

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