An Irish view of jihad in 1800s Sudan

A painting by the Dublin artist Aloysius O’Kelly, who travelled to Sudan to work as an illustrator in 1883, is to be auctioned

In 1883, the Dublin artist Aloysius O'Kelly – a staunch Fenian – travelled to Sudan to work as an illustrator for the Pictorial World, a British weekly illustrated newspaper.

It was a strange career move for an ardent Irish nationalist. Sudan was occupied by the British, and a "jihad" rebellion by the Mahdist Islamic forces, which culminated in the infamous siege of Khartoum, was under way.

According to Prof Niamh O'Sullivan, an expert on the paintings of Aloysius O'Kelly, "the jihad had strong resonance for Fenian opponents of the British regime in Ireland". While "most war artists acted, in effect, as public relations personnel for Britain's colonial projects overseas", she said, "O'Kelly's decision to cover the colonial war from behind the battle lines of Britain's enemy was thus an act of remarkable audacity".

The Desert Charge, one of a series of paintings and illustrations of these events made by O'Kelly, is a rare view of battle from the perspective of the jihadists by a European observer. It has an estimate of €6,000-€8,000 and is on view this weekend in Whyte's Important Irish Art sale at the RDS in Dublin ahead of the auction on Monday evening (November 24th).