A training school for rebels: Fenians in the French Foreign Legion

James McConnel, Máirtín Ó Catháin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1920, six years before Hollywood made the film Beau Geste, Bray and Arklow doubled for North Africa in another, less famous silent film about the French Foreign Legion made by the Celtic Cinema Company, entitled Rosaleen Dhu. Based on a story by John Denvir, the film tells the romantic tale of an exiled Fenian who joins the Legion and later marries an Algerian woman, only to discover that she is the heiress to a large Irish estate. Such escapism was probably welcome in 1920 as the War of Independence entered its bloodiest phase, but, in the best tradition of film-making, the tale was, in fact, ‘based on a true story’. During the nineteenth century a considerable number of Irishmen served in the Légion Etrangère, and a number of them were indeed members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1851, seven years before the IRB was established, one of its founders, Thomas Clarke Luby, set out for France, intent on joining the Foreign Legion in order to learn infantry tactics. The Legion had temporarily suspended recruitment at the time, however, and so his ambition was frustrated. This is the first known instance of Irish separatists identifying the Legion as a training school for rebels, though the idea of going abroad to acquire military experience was then current. The Cork Fenian J. F. X. O’Brien took part in William Walker’s 1855 filibuster in Nicaragua for much the same purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-49
JournalHistory Ireland
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


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