Stories of the Revolution: John Higgins had to wait 22 years for pension

President’s father long pursued military pension before receiving one on appeal in 1956

President Michael D Higgins’s father John was involved in multiple acts of arson, raiding and arms smuggling, according to his file just released from the Military Service Pensions Archive. John Higgins gave a long list of his activities during the War of Independence and Civil War, in which he fought on the anti-Treaty side. He pursued a military pension but had to wait 22 years before one was finally granted to him.

Born in 1894, John Higgins joined D Company of the 1st battalion of the East Clare Brigade in September 1918 for training and drill instruction. He joined the Charleville company of the 3rd battalion of Cork No 4 Brigade in 1920 as a first lieutenant. The company had a strength of 87 men. His occupation as a commercial traveller meant he was involved in intelligence gathering.

He was active throughout the War of Independence. He listed attacks on Ballylanders and Kilmallock Barracks and a raid on the Dublin to Cork night mail train at Charleville station as some of the activities he was involved with.

Dog-licence money

He raided the mail from Charleville post office and seized the dog-licence money and took motor batteries from garages in Charleville. He also raided and seized telephones from the post office and business houses in Charleville just before the truce in July 1921.


He was involved in the burning down of Lord Kenmare’s Derreen House in Co Kerry and a British Legion headquarters nearby in 1922.

His testimony was verified by his commanding officer at Charleville, Comdt Michael Geary, who said Higgins was “most active in both periods and was in every activity almost that was carried out in the area”.

He was appointed battalion intelligence officer in September 1921, the battalion then having a strength of 450 men. Nevertheless, the military pension board turned him down judging his activities for the period as being “very poor”.

No specific reason is given for them coming to that conclusion, but there is an X beside John Higgins’s answer when he said he said he was in “no actual fight”. To meet the definition of “active service”, an applicant had to show that he or she had been involved in a gun battle with crown forces, though the criteria was relaxed in later years.

Higgins joined the anti-Treaty side in August 1922 as battalion intelligence officer and was involved in two ambushes with Free State forces. He was arrested in January 1923 and interned in the Curragh for almost a year.

Employment issues

After he was released, Higgins recounted how he lost his employment and had to take a job at substantially less wages, decreasing from £130 a year plus £50 travelling allowances to just £50 a year.”At the time very few people would employ an ex-internee,” he wrote in his pension application.

Higgins corresponded regularly with War of Independence veteran and later Fianna Fáil cabinet minister Seán Moylan about his pension application.

He wrote to Moylan in November 1937 asking what had happened his application. “I heard that all the others that were up with me have their pensions granted for some time. I would like to get it fixed up soon as business is not so good with me and I could do with a little money to keep me going.”

He again wrote to Moylan a year later saying he had heard nothing from the pensions board.

In 1943, Moylan, then minister for lands, wrote to Oscar Traynor, the minister for defence, asking for Higgins’s case to be reopened.

Higgins was finally granted a military pension in December 1956 on appeal. He was granted £32:16:3 a year.