A woman wounded while fighting with the rebels in 1916 who was refused a pension because of her gender is among the many fascinating stories to emerge from the Military Pensions Archive that has just opened to the public.
Margaret Skinnider was shot and wounded while in command of five men during Easter week. But she was denied a pension because the law was “applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”.
She was a primary school teacher in her mid-20s when wounded on April 26th, 1916. Skinnider was in the Irish Citizen Army commanding five men on a mission to “destroy houses in Harcourt Street to cut off enemy approaches”.
She applied for a pension in 1925 but, despite her
injuries and level of involvement, the legal adviser to the Army pensions office wrote he had “no doubt” her application “cannot be considered under the act” even though, he says, the words referring to masculine could be interpreted as feminine.
After repeated rejections, her pension application was finally approved in 1938.
Her story is in the first instalment of a huge archive that historians believe will transform understanding of the 1916 to 1923 period. It was opened in the GPO, Dublin, last night by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The Military Service Pensions Collection contains more than 300,000 files with the pension applications and supporting documentation from more than 80,000 people who claimed to have been involved in the national movement from 1916 to 1923.
A total of 15,700 people were granted pensions under the scheme, which began in the 1920s and was expanded in the 1930s. The first batch of files put up online last night relates to almost 3,000 individuals and features about 452,000 images. It can be viewed at www.militaryarchives.ie.
Cumann na mBan
The collection details individual applications for the award of pensions and gratuities for veterans who served as members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Irish Republican Army, Cumann na mBan, National Army/Defence Forces on active service and applications from those who were casualties or wounded while on duty from April and May 1916 through to September 30th, 1923.
The records immediately available online will include the pension application files from veterans of the Easter Rising, along with various supporting records.
The remainder of the archive will be released on a phased basis between now and 2016.
At the opening, Minister for Defence Alan Shatter announced funding was being made available for the provision of a military archive facility at Cathal Brugha Barracks as part of the decade of commemorations programme.