A remarkable record of the road to independence
These are first-hand stories of ordinary people driven to do extraordinary things
Paul Kehoe: ‘These pages also provide a glimpse into every county in the country and we get a real sense of what was happening locally during those tumultuous times.’
The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection is widely recognised as a unique record of the individuals and organisations who brought about our Independence and led to the foundation of the State. This includes members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Hibernian Rifles, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Republican Army from the period April 1916 to September 30th, 1923.
The collection is significant in many ways. It is much larger than any other archival collections covering the period from the Rising to the end of the Civil War. The quality of the information that is contained in the files is also remarkable. It is not just about the administration of pension money; topics like military operations, social and family conditions, welfare history and politics are all present throughout the files. These records place a unique spotlight on the activities undertaken by ordinary people pursuing the ambition of nationhood. Through first-hand accounts, we are exposed to the less well-known or celebrated support provided by ordinary volunteers across Ireland.
The project to make this collection available to the public is a joint Department of Defence and Defence Forces contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. As Minister with Responsibility for Defence, I take great pride in the quality of the work that has been done by all those who have worked on the collection, especially the project team.
They have produced an online resource providing insight into the lives of many people who lived through the years of revolution and also of their later lives, sometimes in challenging circumstances. This resource is easily accessible and available to Irish citizens and diaspora, and succeeding generations, to engage with a better understanding of their Irish past.
This Irish Times supplement provides an opportunity to introduce the collection to a wider audience. In particular, I hope that those readers studying history in the junior and senior cycles of our school system will find lots to appreciate in these pages. The collection illustrates the diversity of experience of our past, which has contributed to shaping our lives and values today. We would all do well to read the material with empathy, sensitive to the fact that people on this island at that time made choices they saw as providing a better future for themselves, their families and the community, and sometimes subsequently found themselves and their experience out of synch with the dominant historical narrative.
These pages also provide a glimpse into every county in the country and we get a real sense of what was happening locally during those tumultuous times. Personally, I took great interest in reading about my own locality and discovering more about TD Sinnott, who participated in the 1916 Rising and later became Wexford’s first county manager. It was also fascinating for me to read about how the assassination of RIC district inspector Percival Lea-Wilson led eventually to the indefinite loan of Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Taking of Christ to the National Gallery of Ireland.
As a final point, I want to acknowledge that the collection would not have been possible without the diligence of public officials in the early years of this State who undertook the huge challenge of collating and verifying these records. We are indebted to their foresight in preserving such a collection of detailed information about one of the most important periods in our history. Because of their efforts, this generation and indeed the generations of the future, are afforded an opportunity to explore and appreciate the contribution of our ancestors who fought to gain our independence.
Paul Kehoe is Minister for Defence