Military Service Pensions Collection: The tragedies behind the pension claims

The documented claims made by the families of Army casualties record harrowing experiences that touched on all levels of Irish society

The military service pension collection archivists highlight three people who made lasting impacts on Ireland's formation: Agnes McCarthy, Sean Hyde and Dennis (Sonny) O'Neill, the man believed to have killed Michael Collins. Video: Enda O'Dowd


The tragic consequences of the Civil War for families at all levels of Irish society are graphically illustrated in the pension claims arising from the casualties suffered by the National Army.

A total of 913 claims for casualties have been uncovered to date by the archivists at the military pensions archive indicating that around 1,000 National Army soldiers were killed during the Civil War.

The files show the steady attrition in army personnel during the conflict. Three soldiers were killed at Pettigo in Co Donegal on June 4th, 1922, seven died at Macroom, Co Cork, on September 16th, four were killed at Ferrycarrig Bridge in Wexford on October 22nd and five died at Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry on March 6th, 1923.

One of the most poignant claims is that made by Margaret Mahony of Killarney Road, Mill Street, Co Cork, whose husband Jeremiah was killed in Mill Street on January 5th, 1923, while serving as a sergeant major with the army.

His widow Margaret received a dependant’s allowance up to May 3rd 1924, but it ceased on that date. On May 30th she wrote to the authorities stating: “I have received no allowance since May 5th for myself and my three children. I am actually starving. I have had no food with a week. I have every bit of clothes sold to get a bit of food for the children. I have no where to turn for food.”

On June 4th she wrote again: “What in the name of God am I going to do. I am here amongst strangers without a bite to eat. I feel more like committing suicide this morning listening to the three little orphans crying with hunger.”

The Department of Defence replied on the same day sending her a cheque for £5 and an application form for a pension which was ultimately granted.

The other end of the scale

Eugene McQuaid had been a student at Clongowes Wood between 1911 and 1917 and later studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons. In April 1918 he joined the RAF and remained in the air force until after the war.He resumed his studies in 1919 and joined the National Army as a lieutenant in the medical corps. He was wounded in a battle with anti-Treaty forces in Newport, Co Mayo, on February 22nd, 1923 and died four days later.

His father’s claim for compensation was rejected on the basis that he was not dependent on the deceased nor were there any necessitous circumstances.

The claim for the oldest army death related to Private John O’Callaghan of Limerick city who was 60 when he died of cardiac disease. His wife’s claim was turned down on the basis that his death was attributable to disease and not to his army service.

The youngest casualty was Private James Byrne of Market Street, Sligo, who was just 15 when he was killed in an ambush on Sligo Jail on July 3rd, 1922.

His mother Margaret made an unsuccessful claim for compensation of £2,000 but was found to be partially dependant and awarded a gratuity of £60 which was later increased to £100. The dead boy had two brothers also serving in the National Army.

One of the features of the claims is the high number of accidental shootings. One of them was 24-year-old Sgt James Conway of Clancy Street, Fermoy, who was accidentally shot and killed in his home by his wife Ellen. They had been married just three weeks.

‘Serious negligence and misconduct’

It was decided that there had been “serious negligence and misconduct on the part of the deceased” in allowing his wife to handle the revolver and the claim was rejected.

Claims by the relatives of Privates Michael Kenny and Thomas Moore of Mallow, who drowned in the Blackwater after spending the evening in an alleged house of ill repute, were also rejected on the basis that the incident was due to their own “serious negligence and misconduct.”