Getting information about soldiers who served in the Irish army can be a bit like trying to get directions from a Kerryman: “Why would you want to know that, now?” The glorious exception is the Military Archives in Cathal Brugha barracks in Dublin. At least for material up to the mid-1920s, it is a treasure trove, and its growing commitment to online access (militaryarchives.ie) provides detailed information without a hint of a Kerryman’s qualm.
The most recent addition is the Military census taken on November 12th 1922. Such a census was needed for a very simple reason. By Autumn 1922, the civil war was at its peak, but the Free State Army had only a rudimentary idea of how many troops it had and where they were, the most basic information needed for any military action. So it was decided to send detailed census forms to each General Officer Commanding, which he would in turn send on to every post or outpost under his command. There, a compiling officer would use the forms to list comprehensive information on every individual present, covering all ranks and including home address, next of kin and next of kin’s address.
It is important to keep in mind those two words “post” and “outpost”. Free State soldiers were then stationed in all sorts of places – Foxford, Toomevara, Killybegs – where no military barracks had ever existed. And when the returns came in, they were assembled as they had been collected, place by place, and then bound into ten large volumes. These are the volumes now available on militaryarchives.ie.
The project is not yet complete. It is possible (with a broadband connection) to view and download the returns for any post, but there is no facility as yet to search by name. The site promises these transcriptions will be complete “in the coming months”. Roll on the new year.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]