‘Guests of the Nation’ by Frank O’Connor

The setting is Ireland, during the War of Independence. A small flying column has become too friendly with their English prisoners; the narrator (Bonaparte) notes that like weeds they take root wherever they are put. The flying column justify the impending execution to their prisoners, Belcher and Hawkins. Hawkins pleads, offers to join the Irish cause, defiantly claims that he won’t be killed because his Irish “chums” are not “tools of any capitalist.” But neither pleas nor denial work. Hawkins is shot, and then the other guest of the euphemistic title, Belcher, notes that he isn’t properly dead yet, so requests that Hawkins is shot again. Then Belcher is “plugged.” However fatigued I might be with the idea of an epiphany™ or the equally glib mirror-image, the negative-epiphany™, something of that affect overcomes me on reading this story and its brief sketch of violence in an anti-colonial struggle.

First published in 1931. Collected in Classic Irish Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 1985

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