A Long Long Way
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4.15 / 5

"A Long Long Way" Summary

By Sebastian Barry

fiction | 292 pages | Published in NaN

Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.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.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young Irish soldier navigates the horrors of World War I while grappling with his national identity.


In this book summary, we will delve into the powerful and poignant novel "A Long Long Way" written by Sebastian Barry. Set during World War I, the story follows the journey of Willie Dunne, a young Irish soldier who finds himself torn between his loyalty to his country and his own personal beliefs. Through Barry's lyrical prose and vivid storytelling, readers are transported into a world of war, love, sacrifice, and the complexities of identity.

Brief Synopsis

"A Long Long Way" takes place in Ireland and the trenches of Belgium during the First World War. The story begins in 1914, when Willie Dunne, a seventeen-year-old boy, eagerly enlists in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to fight for the British Empire. As the son of a Dublin policeman, Willie is caught between his duty to his country and his Irish heritage, as tensions between Ireland and England continue to simmer.

As Willie embarks on his journey to war, he experiences the horrors and brutality of the battlefield, witnessing the senseless loss of life and the futility of war. Amidst the chaos and despair, he finds solace in his friendships with fellow soldiers, particularly his comrade in arms, Christy Moran.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Willie DunneA young Irish soldier who joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and struggles with his loyalty to his country and his own identity.
Christy MoranWillie's comrade in arms and a father figure to him throughout the war.
Gretta DunneWillie's sister, who becomes involved in the Irish nationalist movement.
Major StovallA British officer who shows prejudice towards the Irish soldiers.
Julia LawlorA nurse who Willie falls in love with during his time in a military hospital.

Summary of Story Points

Chapter 1-3: Enlistment and Training

Willie Dunne eagerly enlists in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and undergoes training where he forms friendships with other young soldiers. He worries about his father's disapproval of his decision to join the British army.

Chapter 4-6: Life on the Frontlines

Willie is sent to the frontlines in Belgium, where he witnesses the horrors of war. He forms a close bond with Christy Moran, who becomes a father figure to him. They endure the harsh conditions and constant fear of death.

Chapter 7-9: Love and Loss

Willie falls in love with Julia Lawlor, a nurse at a military hospital, while recovering from an injury. Their relationship provides him with hope and solace amidst the chaos of war. However, tragedy strikes when Willie's best friend and fellow soldier, Pete, is killed in action.

Chapter 10-12: The Easter Rising

News of the Easter Rising in Ireland reaches the soldiers at the frontlines. Willie's sister, Gretta, becomes involved in the nationalist movement, causing Willie to question his own allegiances.

Chapter 13-15: Battle of Messines Ridge

Willie and his comrades participate in the Battle of Messines Ridge, a significant turning point in the war. The intense fighting and devastating losses further test Willie's resolve.

Chapter 16-18: Return to Ireland

Following the end of the war, Willie returns to Ireland to face the aftermath of the conflict. He grapples with the disillusionment and trauma he experienced during the war, as well as the changing political landscape in his homeland.

Main Events

  1. Willie Dunne enlists in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to fight in World War I.
  2. Willie experiences the horrors of war and forms a deep bond with Christy Moran.
  3. Willie falls in love with Julia Lawlor, a nurse, while recovering from an injury.
  4. The Easter Rising in Ireland causes Willie to question his allegiances.
  5. Willie and his comrades participate in the Battle of Messines Ridge.
  6. Willie returns to Ireland and confronts the aftermath of the war and the changing political landscape.

Themes and Insights

The Complexities of Identity

The novel explores the complexities of identity, particularly for Willie Dunne as an Irishman fighting for the British Empire. He grapples with his loyalty to his country and his own Irish heritage, highlighting the internal conflicts faced by many Irish soldiers during the war.

Sacrifice and Loss

Barry vividly portrays the sacrifices made by soldiers during war, as well as the devastating losses experienced by both individuals and communities. The story delves into the physical and emotional toll war takes on individuals and the profound impact it has on their lives.

Nationalism and Patriotism

The book delves into the themes of nationalism and patriotism, examining the tensions between Ireland and England during the war. It explores the motivations and actions of those involved in the Irish nationalist movement and the impact it has on individuals like Willie and his family.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Long Long Way" is a powerful and moving novel that offers a profound exploration of war, identity, sacrifice, and the complexities of human emotion. Sebastian Barry's evocative prose and compelling characters bring to life the horrors of World War I and the struggles faced by soldiers caught in the midst of political turmoil. This book serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of war and the resilience of the human spirit.


Sebastian Barry's "A Long Long Way" is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that transports readers to the trenches of World War I and the complexities of Irish identity. Through the eyes of Willie Dunne, readers witness the horrors of war, the bonds of friendship, and the inner turmoil faced by individuals torn between loyalty and personal beliefs. Barry's masterful storytelling and rich characterization make this novel an unforgettable read that resonates long after the final page.

A Long Long Way FAQ

  1. What is 'A Long Long Way' about?

    'A Long Long Way' is a historical fiction novel set during World War I. It follows the story of Willie Dunne, a young Irish soldier who enlists in the British army to fight in the war.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Long Long Way'?

    The author of 'A Long Long Way' is Sebastian Barry.

  3. Is 'A Long Long Way' based on a true story?

    While 'A Long Long Way' is a work of fiction, it is inspired by true events and the experiences of soldiers during World War I.

  4. What is the setting of 'A Long Long Way'?

    'A Long Long Way' is primarily set in Dublin, Ireland, and the trenches of the Western Front during World War I.

  5. What themes does 'A Long Long Way' explore?

    'A Long Long Way' explores themes of war, patriotism, identity, loyalty, and the impact of war on individuals and society.

  6. Is 'A Long Long Way' suitable for young readers?

    'A Long Long Way' contains mature themes and graphic depictions of war, so it may not be suitable for young readers.

  7. Are there any other books by Sebastian Barry?

    Yes, Sebastian Barry has written several other acclaimed books, including 'The Secret Scripture,' 'Days Without End,' and 'On Canaan's Side,' among others.

  8. Has 'A Long Long Way' won any awards?

    Yes, 'A Long Long Way' was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and won the 2005 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award.

  9. What is the writing style of 'A Long Long Way'?

    Sebastian Barry's writing style in 'A Long Long Way' is lyrical and evocative, often incorporating rich descriptions and introspective reflections.

  10. Is 'A Long Long Way' part of a series?

    No, 'A Long Long Way' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.