Irish conflicts and divisions - how are they dealt with in O'Connor's "Guests of the Nation", Trevor's "The Distant Past" and Redmond's "Our Fenian Dead"?

Term Paper, 2005

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Analysis of the short stories
2.1 Frank O’Connor “Guests of the Nation”
2.2 William Trevor “The Distant Past”
2.3 Lucille Redmond “Our Fenian Dead”

3. Comparison of the short stories

4. Conclusion

5. List of works cited

1. Introduction

Although being a rather small country, Ireland has a long and rich history, which includes many conflicts. One is the conflict with Ireland’s neighbour England and another, related one concerns the relationship between Protestants and Catholics, a relationship which is still tense nowadays.

These conflicts are subject of many short stories by Irish writers, and in this essay I am going to try to find out how these conflicts are dealt with in some of those stories. I have chosen three short stories by different Irish writers, namely “Guests of the Nation” by Frank O’Connor, “The Distant Past” by William Trevor and “Our Fenian Dead” by Lucille Redmond.

I will start by analysing these stories by themselves under the aspect of what the main conflict of the story is and how it is presented. Afterwards, I will compare these results in order to find out if any similarities in dealing with these conflicts exist and whether there are some main aspects or messages, which occur in all of them.

2. Analysis of the short stories

2.1. Frank O’Connor “Guests of the Nation”

The story is set during the Civil War between Ireland and England and the action takes place somewhere in Ireland. The story is told from the point of view of a first-person narrator named Bonaparte, a young Irish soldier.

Bonaparte and his fellow soldier Noble are to guard two English soldiers, Hawkins and Belcher, who have been taken by the Irish army. Although they are enemies, Bonaparte and Noble become friends with the two English soldiers. The four of them spend their days playing cards together or chatting. Noble and Hawkins in particular have great pleasure in discussing subjects such as politics, religion or even the “love for your own country” (O’Connor 421), a subject which will ironically play an important role later in the story.

It becomes apparent that Bonaparte and Noble do not see the two English soldiers as enemies or prisoners anymore, but as friends. For instance, Bonaparte and Noble pick up some of the English expressions Hawkins and Belcher use, such as “chum” (419). In addition, it seems as if there is no visible difference between the Irish soldiers and their two prisoners, as Bonaparte says that he has never seen anyone before who “[…] took to the country as [Hawkins and Belcher] did” (419). Furthermore, Bonaparte mentions that Hawkins and Belcher have learned some of the Irish dances and know the countryside better than Bonaparte and Noble (420). Hawkins and Belcher have adapted perfectly to the unfamiliar country, so that they almost are no strangers any longer.

Consequently, Bonaparte and Noble do not treat them as prisoners, but with courtesy. It seems as if they have forgotten that Hawkins and Belcher are their prisoners and enemies, which is certainly the reason why Bonaparte and Noble are so shocked when they learn that Hawkins and Belcher are to be executed as they are kept not only as prisoners, but also as hostages.

Bonaparte and Noble are now in a situation where they have to take a decision: they can either remain faithful to their country and army and carry out the execution, or they can make a stand against this order and stay loyal to their new friends. This is the point when a “great sadness” (426) overtakes Bonaparte’s mind as he starts to notice that he is too dutiful and obeying to his superiors to refuse the order. He feels unable to stand up to his superiors and hopes that Hawkins and Belcher will try to run away as he “[…] would not fire on them” (425) if they tried to escape. However, Bonaparte’s feelings of duty and allegiance to his country are stronger than his loyalty towards Hawkins and Belcher.

Significantly, Donovan is the one to carry out the execution. He has remained indifferent and reserved towards the two English soldiers, which might be the reason why he can follow the order to shoot them more easily than Bonaparte and Noble can.

As the moment of the shooting draws nearer, Hawkins repeats that he would never be able to shoot his friends and that he would not stick to the order (426). For him, friendship is more important than obeying his superiors, he would even risk being shot for disobedience to take these orders (426) and additionally offers Donovan to betray his country and desert (427).

Even though these words intensify the feelings of failure that Bonaparte and the others have, Donovan shoots him, though hesitatingly. It now becomes apparent that even Donovan feels guilty to some extent, as he asks Belcher if he can understand that it is not “their doing but their duty” (426) to execute them. Belcher replies that he thinks that they are “all good lads” (429) and also understands that they just do their duty, although he himself “[…] never could make out was duty was […]” (428). With these words, one could say that clears Donovan, Bonaparte and Noble of their responsibility for their own actions. But they do not feel relieved by Belcher’s words; instead, Bonaparte realizes after the shooting that he will never be the same again. Whereas before “[…] disunion between brothers seemed to [him] an awful crime” (423), he now thinks differently.

He realizes that human values do not count during wartime, as soldiers are degraded to mere objects by the government and military leaders. Soldiers are not regarded as human beings anymore; instead, they are to take orders, even if they do not agree with them. But in Bonaparte’s opinion, he has killed his friends, and not his enemies or mere objects, as his superiors might try to make him believe.

Therefore, O’Connor clearly criticises war and politics, which can make people enemies who were friends before. But political differences, which often lead to military conflicts, should not be important when it comes to a decision about life or death, which is underlined by the fact that even though Hawkins and Belcher quarrel about some subjects, they still see each other as friends. This demonstrates that political differences and different political points of view do not necessarily make people enemies and lead to a military conflict.

2.2 William Trevor “The Distant Past”

In “The Distant Past” William Trevor recounts the life of the Middletons, a brother and sister, who come from an “anachronistic Protestant Anglo-Irish family” (MacKenna 108), but who live in the Catholic part of Ireland. The story covers a period of about fifty years and starts about the time when Northern Ireland, where mostly Protestants live, splits from the rest of Ireland, which has a vast Catholic majority.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Irish conflicts and divisions - how are they dealt with in O'Connor's "Guests of the Nation", Trevor's "The Distant Past" and Redmond's "Our Fenian Dead"?
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
Irish Short Stories from Joyce to the Present
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ISBN (eBook)
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Irish, Connor, Guests, Nation, Trevor, Distant, Past, Redmond, Fenian, Dead, Irish, Short, Stories, Joyce, Present
Quote paper
Andreas Kirchmann (Author), 2005, Irish conflicts and divisions - how are they dealt with in O'Connor's "Guests of the Nation", Trevor's "The Distant Past" and Redmond's "Our Fenian Dead"?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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