New Military Archives building opens in Dublin

The €5.4m project was one of the flagship programmes of the 1916 commemorations

President Michael D Higgins at the Military Archives  at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins at the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The €5.4 million Military Archives building, one of the flagship capital programmes of the 1916 centenary commemorations, has been opened.

The archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin will hold the archival records of the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence and the Army Pensions Board.

The opening of the archives coincides with the fourth and largest release of material from the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection.

The release involves the medals database from the collection and its associated files.

The 1916 Medal recognised those who were engaged in active service during the Easter Rising.

Another medal was for those who served during the period 1917-1921. They received what was commonly known as the “Black and Tan medal”.

The files consist of 47,554 individual applications for medals and a related 18,630 files, making a total of 66,174 files.

While the medal files will be available to search online, the public will have to come into the Military Archives building to access them.

Senior archivist Pat Brennan said: “This release is a great tribute to the actions and service of the members of the IRA and Cumann na mBan who provided support for the fighters involved in the War of Independence.

“These are not ordinary men and women. They are extraordinary. We have to be very proud of the generation that brought about the foundation of the State. The great majority of these dedicated veterans are unknown to history.

“Hopefully this release will go some way to redress that fact and be a proud moment and remembrance for the families involved.”

‘Universal access’

Speaking at the launch of the archives, President Michael D Higgins said the digitisation of the witness statements collected by the Bureau of Military History and the progressive release of the Military Service Pensions collection amounted to a “democratisation of historical research, giving universal access to the first-hand accounts from previous generations, and enabling us to appreciate more fully the experiences, the motivations, the hopes, and sometimes the disillusions, of our forbearers”.

President Higgins also referenced his own family history, which is included in the pension files.

His father John had been on the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War; his uncle Peter had been pro-Treaty and served in the National Army, and his mother Alice was vice-chair of Cumann na mBan.

The president spoke of his father John’s “long and exhausting battle for a small pension, which was eventually granted in 1956, almost 22 years after his first application, in 1935”.

Earlier on Tuesday, a ceremony took place to remember the pacifist and journalist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, who was executed along with two other men, Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre, 100 years ago.

The executions without trial were ordered by Cpt John Bowen-Colthurst and took place at what was then Portobello Barracks, now Cathal Brugha Barracks.

Medal files

Medal files relating to the following were released.

John Robinson: The file for Volunteer John Robinson includes a detailed account of his actions during Easter week.

He was mobilised on Easter Monday 1916 and was part of the team that raided the magazine fort in the Phoenix Park.

He was arrested by soldiers and then detained until the Thursday of Easter week. He received a 1916 Medal and the Black and Tan period medal.

Noel Lemass: The former taoiseach Seán Lemass made an application for a 1916 Medal and a 1917-1921 medal on behalf of his brother Noel Lemass, who was one of the last victims of the Civil War.

Noel Lemass was killed, allegedly by Free State agents in July 1923, but his body was not found until October of that year.

An application for a 1916 Medal and a 1917-1921 service medal was made by Kathleen Boland posthumously on behalf of her brother Harry Boland, an anti-Treaty activist who died during the Civil War.