50,000 Rising and War of Independence military records made available

Family members of nearly 50,000 men and women who took part in the 1916 Rising or War of Independence can access files relating to their service for the first time.

The records dating from the 1940s onward are also now available at the Military Archives to researchers of the Irish revolution.

They will offer further evidence of individuals and incidents in the period up to the Civil War of 1922-23. Previous Military Archives collections relating to applications for military service pensions were digitised and can be accessed online, with work on those files continuing in the facility at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin.

However, the medal files may only be viewed physically in the archive in Rathmines, which has been moved into a new purpose-built facility at the barracks.

It will be opened today by President Michael D Higgins, as one of seven government-funded “permanent reminders”, capital projects aimed at improved awareness of the Rising, or people and events of that time.

On the military service pensions collection pages of the Military Archives website, anyone can search for a specific individual, or by county or named area. Appointments can then be made to access files in the reading room at the new archive building.

Like previous archival collections linked to the period, the newly-available files detail extraordinary actions of ordinary Irish people, but also the tragic consequences for many.

“While there are some well-known names included, the series is a great tribute to the sworn membership, the men and women of the IRA and Cumann na mBan who carried out support roles to the active service fighters in both organisations,” said Pat Brennan, senior archivist and project manager.

“The members of Na Fianna Éireann played a valuable part too. Without their contribution, the War of Independence could well have taken a different course,” he said.

The files were transferred from the Department of Defence, which oversaw the decision-making process relating to the award of the medals. The searchable online database links to summary details of 66,174 files of more than 47,500 applicants, including almost 200 who applied for the 1916 medal.

Although 2,594 people qualified for this prestigious medal, most had already received theirs automatically and earlier been awarded a pension for participation in the Rising, and so did not have to make a separate medal application.

It was not until 25 years after the Rising that the 1916 medal was instituted. It was given to members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Hibernian Rifles, Na Fianna Éireann, and Cumann na mBan whose claim for service during April 1916 had been recognised as “active service” under various army pensions acts between 1923 and 1934.

With its green and orange ribbon, it is easily distinguishable from the service medal, often called the “Black and Tan medal” owing to its ribbon colours.

This was also the name given to part of the police force opposed by the Volunteers and IRA in the latter stages of those years, with service in the month leading to the July 1921 Truce.

It was made available from 1942, with a special distinction for those who undertook more serious duties in 1920 or 1921. Their ribbons are crossed by a service bar bearing the inscription “comhrac”, translated as “combat”.

Enjoyed this? Then check out our dedicated micro-site, developed in collaboration with UCC, to mark the revolutionary period HERE

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