Cover Image: A Soldier's Song

A Soldier's Song

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Donall Mac Amhlaigh (1926-1989) was one of the most important Irish writers of the 20th century. He is perhaps best known for his novel The Exiles about a working man who emigrates to England for work, but here he turns his attention to the military life. The book tells of the adventures and misadventures of an ordinary working class young man who enlists in the Irish language regiment, An Cead Cath, of the Irish Army in peacetime, and depicts the day-to-day life of a rookie soldier in training. The author himself served in the Irish army from age 21 in 1947 to 1951, so the account is authentic and convincing. We learn about life not just in the barracks but also in the wider community in Galway – the people, the pubs, the dances, the girls. I found the book interesting overall but sometimes just too detailed, and the pace dragged and felt repetitive on occasion. But as a portrait of a young Irish soldier and his daily round I don’t think it could be bettered.
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A Soldier’s Song - Dónall Mac Amhlaigh (translated from Irish by Mícheál Ó hAodha)

My thanks to @netgalley and @parthianbooks for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, this book is available now, or at least in the UK!


Reading like a piece of autobiographical fiction, A Soldier’s Song is an ode to life in post-war Galway, of the life of the young men looking for work and purpose. To that end, the author joins the Irish Army, much to the chagrin of some:

‘The army? There’s never any of God’s luck where there’s soldiers,’ says Daideo, gobbing into the fire. The ‘Tans’ came within a whisker of shooting him dead during the Troubles, the same man he’s had it in for soldiers since then – not that I can blame him in fairness.’

For “Danny”, however, the chance to join the army opens up his independence, the chance for him to break out on his own, with a new green uniform and a sense of pride. The book then follows him through his training and the small victories and clashing personalities of Galway and Irish society at the time.


I’m torn on this book, because I think quite a few of my problems with it stem from my own ignorance – I know little about Ireland at this time, its exact relationship with both English as people and language, especially the latter, which comes up frequently in the book. It’s a beautiful translation of the Irish, but the point of the book seems to be to time capsule a way of life, the army style of the 1940s, the nipping out of the barracks for “ a drop of the black” in one of the local pubs, the different characters and interactions of those in the community. Ultimately, this just…. bored me. Not much happens, and any intrigue I had in the concept faltered when there was very little action until the last 30 or so pages. 

It’s hard for me to recommend this book, but if you want a portrait of Irish life in an age now past, this will definitely give you that. Don’t expect a page-turner, however.
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Wonderful writing with a classical style. Once you get used to the Irish names and spellings the story flows smoothly. In itself the book reads like a college book assignment with a paper to be done later. The story is intriguing but a little dry. A fine piece of literature that will please many fans of the genre.
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