The Sniper (story)

The Sniper is a short story written by Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty, set during the early weeks of the Irish Civil War, during the Battle of Dublin. It is O'Flaherty's first published work of fiction, published 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, owing to its being easy to read, its short length, and its having a notable surprise ending.


There is heavy fighting taking place in Dublin, Ireland. A Republican sniper is sitting on a rooftop, eating a sandwich and drinking a bottle of whiskey. Despite knowing it is dangerous, he decides to smoke a cigarette and instantly a bullet hits the roof. An armored car of the Irish Free State forces arrives, and an old woman steps out of the darkness and points out the sniper's position to the soldier in the car. The sniper shoots both the woman and the man in the car. Immediately he is hit by the enemy sniper in the right arm.

The sniper applies a dressing, though in great pain, and prone in position for some time. He decides he has to escape from the roof before morning. He is no longer able to hold his rifle; hence, he tricks the enemy sniper into shooting his cap, which he places over the rifle. He lets the cap fall into the street, drops his rifle and lets his left hand hang over the edge of the roof, giving the impression that he has been shot dead.

The enemy sniper then stands up clearly, only to be shot instantly by the Republican sniper with a revolver. The dying man falls over the roof and hits the ground. Weakened and disgusted, the protagonist moves down to the street, curious to find out whom he had killed. The sniper darts across the street. A machine gun tears up the ground around him with hail of bullets, but he escapes. He throws himself face downward besides the corpse. The machine gun stops. The sniper turns over the dead body only to realize that the dead man is his brother.


  1. "Liam O'Flaherty (1896-1984)". Ricorso database A Knowledge of Irish Literature.

Further reading

  • A Study Guide for Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper". Gale (Cengage Learning), ISBN 9781410358325 (online at
  • Elsa Baíz de Gelpí: meet the short story. La editorial (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1973, ISBN 9780847727599, pp. 53-64
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