New archive tells stories of ordinary volunteers in Easter Rising
Military Service Pensions Collection published online
Inside the GPO, Easter Week 1916. Photograph: Defence Forces Military Archives.
A v iew of Sackville Street (O’Connell St) and the River Liffey at Eden Quay in Dublin, on May 11th, 1916 showing the devastation wrought during the Easter Rising
The myriad of personal stories contained in the Military Service Pensions Collection will open a new window on the 1916 to 1923 period in Irish history.
The collection has been published this evening on militaryarchives.ie Many of the prominent leaders of the independence movement describe their activities in great detail in their pension applications but the real treasures in the collection are the stories of ordinary volunteers and civilians caught up in the tide of history.
It will take years for historians and researchers to mine the 300,000 files contained in the archive. They include all of the 82,000 pension applications even though only 15,700 of them were successful.
The first launch comprises approximately 452,000 images relating to almost 3,000 individuals.
As well as providing information about themselves, the applicants also give fascinating details about the events in which they participated and the role played by others be them fellow volunteers, civilians, policemen or soldiers.
The first batch of files released today covers those who were involved in the 1916 Rising. Most of them continued their involvement in the national movement until 1923, so their account of what happened during the whole period is also included.
The often overlooked activity in north Dublin, Wexford and Galway is also outlined in the first batch of files. Richard Mulcahy, later chief-of-staff of the IRA and a prominent political figure for decades, detailed his service beginning with the attack on the RIC in Ashbourne, Co Meath, in 1916.
Another volunteer who qualified for the maximum pension was Peter Paul Galligan from Enniscorthy who was on the staff of Thomas MacDonagh and was sent to his home town to promote the Rising there.
Leading figures involved in the IRA campaign in the War of Independence, such as Tom Barry and Dan Breen, qualified for full pensions. Barry engaged in a furious correspondence with the Department of Defence when he was not given the maximum pension as the rules specified that 1916 service was required.
Barry was in the British Army in 1916 and so did not qualify for the full pension but the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera intervened to ensure that he got it.
Many of claims outline the difficult personal and financial straits to which people had been reduced by the 1920s or 1930s. A good number of those who took part in the campaign were forced to emigrate. Claims came in from all over the world but ironically most of those who left went to live in England whose forces they had fought against at home.
A letter from one 1916 veteran, Thomas Lynch, who was living in Birmingham in 1936, stated: “I am sorry the years are not dealing kindly with me. I have done no work for 5 years.” He had run out of all benefits had a wife and four children. The eldest had just started work at 14.