On 16 January 2014 the Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny, T.D., launched the first release on line of material from the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection (MSPC) at the G.P.O., O’Connell Street, Dublin. This event was part of the National Commemorative Programme, co-ordinated by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, T.D. The Minister for Defence, Mr Alan Shatter T.D. and Minister Deenihan were in attendance at the launch.
The Military Service Pensions Archive project is a cornerstone project of the government’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’ commemorative programme. The collection numbers almost 300,000 applications files for pensions, allowances and medals as well as supporting documentation. This first online release of material from the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection is primarily focused on the participants of the 1916 Rising. Future releases of material from the Military Service Pensions Collection will take place over the coming years.
The pension files were created following a decision of the Oireachtas in June 1923 to compensate wounded members of the IRA, National Army, Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, and other organisations, along with the dependents of deceased members of these organisations. Over time, this original remit was expanded by legislation to facilitate the granting of pensions to formerly active members of virtually all groups involved in the struggle for independence.
The legislation under which the pensions were granted consisted of the Army Pensions Acts (1923-1980), which related to the wounded, and to dependent family members of those killed on active service between 1 April 1916 and 30 September 1924. Applications for pensions under these acts were subject to investigation. Alongside this legislation were the Military Service Acts (1924-1964), which explicitly dealt with ‘active service’. Applications for a pension under these acts required that the name of the relevant commanding officer be submitted as part of the application, along with the details of three officers who could verify the claim. The original deadline for applications was 1 March 1925, though this was extended, and the period for active service was 23 April 1916 to 11 July 1922; service in the National Army saw this timeframe extended from 1 July 1922 to 1 October 1923. Applicants were examined under oath by a Board of Assessors, who would adjudicate on the veracity of the claim and the status and rank of the applicant (many of those involved in the assessment process were veterans themselves). The original 1924 act was augmented by its successor in 1934, which expanded the definition of active service to include Cumann na mBan, and members of the anti-Treaty IRA in the Civil War. There were 82,000 applications under the 1924 and 1934 acts, only 15,700 of which were successful. Due to the necessity for verification, applications were often accompanied by copious testimony and documentation (the 1934 act alone generated 126,000 files relating to applications). To assist in the process of verification, in the 1930s detailed membership lists of the relevant organisations were compiled, along with ‘Brigade Activity Reports’ relating to IRA brigades, amounting to 25,000 pages in total. The 1949 Military Service Act produced another 9,500 files, as it facilitated appeals against previous decisions as well as new applications. There are also files relating to many of the 68,896 service medals issued to veterans up to 31 January 1988.
The first launch of the Military Service Pensions Collection (MSPC) comprises approximately 452,000 images relating to over 3,000 individuals. The MSPC is the Military Archives’ latest online collection, and will be available online from 16 January 2014. The first phase of the launch contains files from the period 1916 to 1923, consisting of individual applications for the award of pension and gratuities for veterans who served as members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Army, Cumann na mBan, the National Army/Defence Forces on active service, along with applications from those who were casualties or wounded while on duty during the period from April and May 1916 through to 30September 1923. The entire collection comprises some 300,000 individual files, which will be released on a phased basis. The records immediately available online at this juncture relate to the Easter Rising of 1916. This includes the pension application files from individual veterans, along with various supporting records. These include the membership rolls of the 16 Divisions of the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Éireann, as of 11 July 1921 and 1 July 1922, and the Brigade Activities files relating to 1916 events in counties Wexford, Louth and Galway. A range of other administration and Departmental files are also released to give context to the collection.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Shatter said that ‘the Collection records the personal commitment and sacrifice by those men and women who shouldered the task of gaining independence for this country. The release of these records to researchers will transform the scholarship of the period, and provide Irish people at home and abroad with fascinating and copious information about their ancestors who played a part in the establishment of independent Ireland’.
Minister Shatter also announced that funding has been made available over the period 2014 to 2016 for the provision of a Military Archive facility at Cathal Brugha Barracks, as part of the Government’s Decade of Commemorations programme.
Minister Deenihan, welcoming the launching of this project, remarked that ‘I would emphasise the opportunity this resource presents for members of the public to access the records of their families, community and districts to enhance their understanding of the historic times and achievements of a remarkable generation. I have had an opportunity to explore the wealth and depth of information, which is today being made available for all at the push of a button. It will greatly empower research of this period of history, bringing it within the reach of all. Although invaluable for research and contributing to the academic assessment of our history, these records are a direct communication across the gap of a century to this generation’.
To search the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection, click here.
To download the published guide to the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection, click here.
To read the full text of Minister Deenihan’s speech, click here.