The Sniper (story)

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"The Sniper" is a short story by Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty, set during the early weeks of the Irish Civil War.

It was O'Flaherty's first published work of fiction, running in a small London-based Socialist weekly The New Leader (12 January 1923)[1] while the war it depicted was still ongoing. The favorable notice it generated helped get other works by O'Flaherty published and started his career. It is widely read today in secondary schools of many English-speaking countries, due to its short length, easiness to read, and its notable surprise ending.


In the story, Free Staters and Republicans wage a civil war in Ireland. The Free Staters fight to accept the partial independence negotiated between the British and Michael Collins, and the Republicans demand an all-island independent Ireland. The essence of this great war is portrayed through the perspective of a young Republican IRA sniper, who is scarred for life after witnessing an overwhelming number of deaths. Laying on a roof, the sniper scans the vicinity for any sign of Free Staters. The dark aura of the night veils his position. After a long and anxious fast, the sniper hastily devours a sandwich, and takes the risk of smoking a cigarette. When the cigarette light flickers, a bullet suddenly hits the parapet that he was hiding behind.

Fortifying himself, the sniper then carefully gazes around the parapet, and another bullet fires. However this time he sees the flash, and comes to realize that his assailant is under cover. Suddenly, an informant discloses the sniper’s position to men in an armed vehicle. The sniper however is able to swiftly end the lives of the man in the turret and the informant. In just moments, a shot is fired from the other side. The bullet penetrates into his right arm, causing a numbness that precludes the use of his rifle. After tending to his wound, the Sniper then devises a ruse in which he merely exposes his hat on top of his rifle; allows his hat to fall once it has been shot; and drags his rifle over the edge of the parapet, simulating the collapse of his deceased body.

The ruse is indeed a success, as his assailant, thinking he has killed his target, leaves his fortification, thus giving the sniper a clear shot. Taking out his revolver, the sniper then aims and fires at the enemy. A feeling of remorse overcomes him when he sees the body crumple into lifelessness. Dazed, the sniper then throws his revolver against the ground and when the bullet from the gun discharges past his head, he is immediately frightened back to reality. Led by a fusillade of bullets from a nearby machine gun as he goes down to street level, he comes close to his assailant. The sniper rolls the body over to see who he shot, and he looks into his brother's eye.