History lessons must not become a thing of the past
Material from military archives shows the importance of understanding our past
Cmmt Padraic Kennedy studies files in the reading room at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. The first launch of the Military Service Pensions Collection comprised 452,000 images relating to almost 3,000 individuals.
It is truly ironic that the Government that funded the development of a wonderful archive of the 1916 to 1923 period should also be the one to remove history as a core subject for study in our schools.
In the GPO on Thursday night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and some of his leading Ministers praised the magnificent work that went into creation of the Military Service Pension collection and justifiably took some of the credit for supporting
Kenny called the collection “a glorious bequest”, adding that it was vital that the collective memory of the revolutionary generation be preserved and cherished by all. “With these papers it is. They are our nation’s memory and our children’s inheritance,” he said.
In fairness to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he deserves credit for the initiative that led to the opening up of the Military Service Pension Collection and the creation of a proper archive available to the widest possible number of people.
Historians are drooling over the scale of the collection, which has the capacity to fundamentally influence our perception of the events that led to the creation of an independent Irish state.
Apart from the military activities described in minute detail in the pension applications, the collection will shine a light into the social and economic conditions of the time, as well as containing a myriad of personal stories.
An important feature of the collection is that access will not be limited to professional historians and researchers. Not only people living in Ireland but also people of Irish descent around the world will be able to trace the activity of their forebears during the revolutionary period.
A week ago, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness launched an easily accessible online archive, a listing of the Irish men and women who died in the first World War.
When taken in tandem with the 1901 and 1911 census material made available by the National Archives, there is now an enormous volume of information online about the lives people led a century ago.
It will enable the current generation to research their family stories and should also encourage a variety of local history projects. At a professional level it will provide historians with the material to paint a much fuller picture of the past.
It is timely that all this material has become available for the centenary decade of commemorations covering 1912 to 1922. The Government is making a big effort
to ensure that the commemorations are as inclusive as possible.
On Thursday night, the Taoiseach spoke of how moved British prime minister David Cameron was when both of them visited the peace tower at Messines and the Menin Gate in Belgium to honour the Irish men who died in the first World War.