Did your grandad fight beside Collins? Find out at military archives online
WAS YOUR grandfather really in the GPO in 1916? Did your grandmother serve with Cumann na mBan? Did your uncle take part in an ambush of Black and Tan troops during the War of Independence? Did your family “split” during the Civil War?
These traditionally contentious questions in Irish society may finally, and definitively, be answered with the launch of a major new project by the Defence Forces who are putting the country’s Military Archives online.
Lieut Gen Seán McCann, chief of staff of the Defence Forces, has launched a new website – militaryarchives.ie – which is designed to appeal to professional and amateur historians and genealogists as well as members of the public who are simply hoping to fill in gaps in a family tree.
The State’s Military Archives are held in Dublin’s Cathal Brugha Barracks but will now become available online for the first time. Some material inherited from the British forces who departed in 1922 is also included.
By March, it is planned to publish 36,000 pages of witness statements – online, digitised and fully word searchable – relating to the key military events which shaped pre-Independence Ireland from 1913-1921.
The project is being undertaken in conjunction with the National Archives of Ireland, a separate body.
Defence Forces spokesman Capt Stephen MacEoin said it would “provide a major and never before seen insight into the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence”.
The documents include some 1,773 statements by men and women who were “eye-witnesses” to some of the most dramatic events in Irish history.
The website will allow Irish people around the world to search for information not just about a family member but also their own parish or county.
The Military Archives will also release files containing the information supplied by people who claimed to have fought for Irish freedom and believed they were entitled to a pension from the Free State. The release of this information, “privately submitted” to the Army Pensions Board, will be “ground-breaking”.
Architects, town planners, historians and even artists are likely to be interested the first publication of all the original maps, plans and drawings pertaining to the construction and maintenance of military barracks in Ireland from 1830 to 1980.
Already online, the collection contains many previously unseen architectural drawings from the British War Office, the Royal Engineer Corps, the Ordnance Survey and, latterly, the Irish Defence Forces Engineer Corps. The documents also reveal the strength of the British Army in Ireland – 57,116 personnel – before the handover of barracks which occurred following the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. The Irish Army today has 8,500 soldiers.
Some of the archives will be maintained offline – at least for now – including papers relating to Michael Collins, “Crashes and Forced Landings of Belligerent Aircraft” on Irish soil during the second World War and administrative files from the Department of Defence from 1947 to 1961. But these and other such documents can be consulted, in person, by members of the public by appointment (see below for details).
The Defence Forces says it does not have the records of Irish people who served in the British forces during the two World Wars. These are stored at the National Archives in Kew, London, which also provides online search facilities.
The reading room is open from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Thursday.