The Soldiers Song: A Short Story

09 November 2012

By Pan Macmillan

Alan Monaghan is the critically acclaimed author of the Soldier’s Song trilogy, which tells the story of an Irish soldier who fought for the British Army in the First World War – and then returned to an Ireland in turmoil.

Alan talks here about how this complex period of history inspired him to write first a short story, ‘The Soldier’s Song’ – which won the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Prize for Emerging Fiction in 2002 – and then three novels.

The Great War has always been a sensitive subject in Ireland. Over 300,000 Irish men fought in the war and more than 50,000 died. These men came from both the Unionist and Nationalist traditions. The Unionists have always steadfastly commemorated their sacrifice, but it is only in the last few years that the Irish Nationalist tradition – to which the vast majority of people in the Irish Republic belong – has been able to do so.

History was not kind to the young men who joined the Southern Irish regiments such as the Dublin Fusiliers, the Munster Fusiliers and the Connaught Rangers. Many were cheered off to war and many did not come back, but perished at Suvla Bay, at Ypres and on the Somme. For those who did return, however, Ireland had changed utterly. The Easter Rising of 1916 had transformed the quest for Irish independence from a political game into a bloody war, and these men suddenly found that British uniforms were no longer welcome in Ireland.

Often shunned and sometimes beaten up, they found themselves victims of history yet again as the Great War was followed in short order by the vicious Irish War of Independence and then the ferocious Irish Civil War. Under these circumstances many chose to simply forget and never spoke about their past. For many it is only now, nearly a century later, when the violence and bitterness of sectarian strife has finally subsided, that their sacrifice can be remembered.

Read The Soldier's Song.