The Irish in the Foreign Legion


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! 

On the History Ireland website there is an interesting article entitled Fenians in the French Foreign Legion which explores the Irish contribution to the French military and to the French Foreign Legion in particular.  Highlighted are several notable Irish nationalists and their adventures abroad, fighting for France and as the premise of the article notes, taking copious notes on weapons and tactics for later use.  John Devoy, James J. O’Kelly, Thomas Clarke Luby, Captain Martin Waters Kirwan and several other notable Irishmen were present for service with the French during the early part of the Franco-Prussian War.  It also talks about the Irish “ambulance” service which was raised to support the French at the same time with many of the men serving in a medical aid capacity slipping across the “non-combatant” line to serve with the Foreign Legion’s 2nd Regiment.  (a .pdf version of this is below)

Finieans in the FFL

This article is also a launching point for further research.  It references a 1920 movie about the Foreign Legion that I never heard of called Rosaleen Dhu.  Some of the Irishmen mentioned have written of their experiences fighting in the Foreign Legion and I hope to read these accounts in the future.  Of particular note is The Life Story of an Old Rebel, by John Denvir which is available on Project Gutenberg.  Chapter XII covers the Irish ambulance detachment and service with the Foreign Legion.  Two other works on this subject include Reminiscences of the Franco-Irish Ambulance by Michael A. Leeson and With an Ambulance During the Franco-German War by Charles Edward Ryan although I do not think they dwell much on the Foreign Legion.

There is obviously a long tradition of Irishmen serving in the Legion and I presume not all of them were Fenians.  There is John Patrick Le Peour who served in the 1880’s and wrote an extremely odd account, with considerably more blarney than fact, of his Legion service called A Modern Legionary, published in 1904.  More recently there is Hidden Soldier: An Irish Legionnaire’s Wars from Bosnia to Iraq and an online blog called Banks to Battlefields written by the pseudonymous “Legion-eire”  Indeed, there have been enough recent Irishmen who served in the Foreign Legion to start up an Irish veteran’s association called the French Foreign Legion Association of Ireland (or the AALEI).  …and lastly some references were made on the internet about this Crock cartoon strip being indicative of the way the Irish are treated in the Foreign Legion.  Perhaps in 1870.



About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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