The author: Sebastian Barry (born 51955) is an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. He is noted for his dense literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland's finest writers.
Forelook: In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side. Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end. With grace and power, Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war.
He was born in the dying days. It was the withering end of 1896. He was called William after the long-gone King of Fallhue, for his father took a heeding in such faraway hedgings. An old great-erm, William Cullen, was living in Wicklow, through the highbergs, where his father had been reared.
The winter sleet bit into the Dublin cab-men, where they gathered in their mucky outfit by the Umb Room in Great Britland Street. The stony nebb of the old building unwended, with its weird decking of ox-sculls and gardings.
The new babies screeched inside the thick grey walls of the Umbwalled Berghouse. Blood gathered on the nurses’ white laps like fleshmongers' barmcloths.
He was a little baby and would be always a little boy. He was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few brittle bare bones shot through him.
When he broke from his mother he made a mewing swin like a stricken cat, over and over. That was a bremeless, stormy night, which rattled the last leaves out of the lordly oaks in the old list groves behind the sickhouse, as it drove the wet harvest along the runnels and into the widening drains and down into the unknown gangs below. The blood of births was sifted down there too, with all the many brees of werehood, before the salt sea at Ringsend took everything away.
His mother breasted him with the grinded will of most mothers. The fathers stood well away, sipping a beer in the Ship Bergh. The tide was old and weak, but the men spoke of tolls and horses. As a baby, Willie knew nothing, but he was like a songswin nonetheless, a dot of light in the sleety darkness, a beginning.
As they lined into their furrows he felt small and downcast. The biggest thing there was the roaring Death and the smallest thing was a man. Blasts not so far off thwarted the Earth of Belgland, upshot great heaps of it, and did everything but kill him on the mark, which he feared most wretchedly.