Brian Friel

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Volunteers takes place on an archaeological site in a contemporary Irish city centre. The ‘volunteers’ are political prisoners. For five months they have been excavating ‘from early Viking down to late Georgian in other words over a period of approximately a thousand years’.

So that what they have around them is ‘encapsulated history, a tangible precis of the story of Irish man’. And on the last day of their ‘dig’, before the builders move in, they learn that they have been sentenced to death by their fellow internees for treason, their defection in volunteering.

In Volunteers he has found a form that allows his gifts a freer expression. Behind the writing there is an unrelenting despair at what man has made of man, but its expression . . . is by turns ironic, vicious, farcical, pathetic.

— Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations.

Year Published: 1989
Details: 96pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 038 3