Wild Irish Lads Day
Liam O'Flaherty (1896 to 1984) was born in Inishmore on one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. His cousin was the famous Hollywood movie director John Ford. Like Frank O'Conner and Sean O'Faolain he was involved in the Irish War for independence against the British (largely a guerrilla war)1919 to 1921. It was a bloody war of brother against brother in many cases. It ended in Southern Ireland becoming an independent country with largely Protestant Northern Ireland staying under British rule.
O'Flaherty worked for a time as a teacher until he became successful with novels like The Informer (which his cousin made into a movie) . O'Flaherty moved the USA around 1923 to live in Hollywood so he could work with his cousin, among other reasons. He was for a time a communist but returned to his Roman Catholic roots in latter years. He had an affair with Elizabeth Bowen. He was deeply into the reading life with a passion for French and Russian literature. Even though much of his adult life was lived in the USA, his writings nearly all deal with Ireland.
My prior posts for Irish Short Story Week have been a bit long, I know. So I will keep this one short.
"The Sniper" is by far his most famous short story. It is included in lots of anthologies and is taught in classes all over the world. As the story opens (it is told in the 3rd person in a very cinematic style) a sniper is on the roof. He has been able to kill several of his enemies. We never learn what war it is but I assume it is the Irish War for Independence. An armored vehicle passes below the sniper. He knows it is futile to shoot at the truck because his bullets will bounce off it. Then he sees an old woman pointing him out to troops on the ground. He shoots and kills her. At first I was horrified by this but given the nature of the war I guess it was the thing to do. The narration is in a very flat style that makes no value judgments. The ending is a brutal shock and I will not spoil it. "The Sniper" is a very good story. It would make a very good class room story for 12 and up, I. It was his first story and began a long and successful writing career for him. “The Sniper” is a story for the ages. Achilles could read it.
"The Sniper" can be read online here
“The Old Hunter” is a much lighter, more of a “fun” story than “The Sniper”. The Old Hunter is an old horse the central character in the story buys from a friend of his. The scene where they bargain over the prize of the horse was just flat out hilarious. You can see in this scene how highly a skill with words is prized. We also see that nearly every transaction in life is an occasion for a drink. In good times you drink to celebrate, in bad to cope. Social drinking is very much part of the glue of the society depicted in “The Old Hunter”. There are several great parts of “The Old Hunter”. I just was so much in amazement when the horse swam out nearly a mile to sea and then made it back to shore. You can bet that was an occasion for lots of drinks as the story is told over and over in the pub. There is a great and a happy ending to the story which I will leave for you to discover.
I do not think “The Old Hunter” can be found online. (I read it in an anthology of short stories I own.) I have found links to two more of his short stories and a longer satirical look at Ireland in the guise of a travel book. I will post on them in a few week