top of page

A Long Long Way

Barry, Sebastian

New York: Penguin Books


A Long Long Way

Plot Summary

The novel begins in the trenches of Flanders at the beginning of World War One. There, Willie Dunne witnesses the gruesome horrors of trench warfare and the death of his Captain by mustard gas poisoning. But it is on furlough back home in Dublin that Willie experiences the episode that will catalyze the most emotional events in the novel; firing on his own people in an attempt to quell the Easter Rising of 1916, he sees an Irish teenager, the same age as him, killed in a doorway while trying to fight for Ireland’s freedom. Seeing himself in the eyes of the boy, Willie feels pity for him, which leads him to wish that the violence of the Rising did not have to result in the violent execution of its leaders. But when Willie expresses these sentiments in a letter back home, his father immediately perceives them as disloyal. Willie, in turn, begins to feel as if he can neither identify with Britain nor Ireland; according to his father, his words indicate a betrayal of his loyalties to the British, but because he has joined the British Army, he is also considered a traitor to the Irish cause.

Feeling estranged from his father and wracked by sorrow at the deaths of most of his comrades, Willie’s devastation is exacerbated when he returns to Dublin on another leave of absence to find that his lover, Gretta, has married another man. But unfortunately, there is no happy ending for Willie. Heartbroken, he heads back to the front, where he is killed by a single shot from an enemy gun, his position given away because he has chosen to join in the German version of “Silent Night.”

Main Characters

  • Willie Dunne

Significant Minor Characters

  • Gretta Lawlor

  • Father Buckley

  • Christy Moran

  • Joe Kielty

  • Papa

  • Annie Dunne, Maud Dunne, Dolly Dunne

  • Captain Pasley

  • Jesse Kirwan

  • Pete O’Hara

Publication History

The novel was first published in February 2005 by Viking Penguin (New York). In May of that same year, it was reprinted in large-print by the Thorndike Press (Waterville, Maine). It was also reprinted in paperback by Faber and Faber (UK) in April and October 2005; the same press also reprinted it in hardback in October 2005. Another paperback edition was reprinted in October 2005 by Penguin Books (UK). Subsequent paperback editions were reprinted by Faber and Faber (UK) in April 2006 and March 2007 and by Penguin Books in 2006. Subsequent hardback editions were reprinted by Faber and Faber (UK) in January 2008 and by ISIS Large Print Books (UK) in December 2009.

bottom of page