Thursday, April 28, 2016

Travel Thursday: The Sacred Site of Clonmacnoise

On the grounds of Clonmacnoise.
For many of us who search for evidence of ancestors, rarely are we able to cite the location of a found ancestor in a monastic settlement. Nevertheless, depending on where our ancestors settled on the island of Ireland, and how far back in time their homesteads were established, some among us may be able to count an ancestor or two among those interred on the grounds of these sacred sites. Sadly, I cannot count myself among those lucky souls. Still in all, I find early Christian settlements fascinating, and muse that perhaps one day I shall learn of an ancient ancestor or relative interred among the ruins.

Recently I revisited two monastic sites— Monasterboice in County Louth, near Drogheda (founded in the late 5th century by Saint Buithe) and Clonmacnoise in County Offaly on the River Shannon (founded in 544 by St Ciarán Mac a tsar). The sites are approximately 140 kilometres (87 miles) apart via good roads. Thankfully, the rain held off and the drive was uneventful. Today's post features images from my visit to Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is the much larger of the two, and is said to have been more like a small town than a monastic settlement — it is estimated that in the 11th century between 1,500 and 2,000 people lived here. Unlike other monastic settlements, there was a significant lay population living and working here. All of the domestic buildings were constructed of timber, so none remain, but traces of them have been found during archaeological excavation.

There are remarkable similarities between Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice, with respect to not only the structures, but also the High crosses, replete with carved figures said to have been used to illustrate biblical stories and the history of Christ. Such similarities between the sites give you a sense of the efforts made so very long ago to spread Christianity across the untamed wilderness of Ireland.


Perhaps it is its place on the edge of the River Shannon, or the fact that within the grounds of the settlement there are so many markers of lives once lived in this community, but the spirit of this place is palpable.

On his visit to Ireland in 1979 Pope John Paul II made it a point to include Clonmacnoise in his itinerary. Upon his return to Rome he reportedly said, "I will never forget that place ... the ruins of the monastery and churches speak of the life that once pulsated there. Whole generations of Europe owe to them the light of the Gospel. These ruins are still charged with a great mission. They still constitute a challenge."

From the hillside looking toward the River Shannon.
Between the 6th and the 13 centuries, the grounds between the buildings were used for burials.
Temple Connor: Also called the Little Church,
it has been roofed and used by the Church of Ireland since the 18th century.
Temple Finghin with its round tower.
Looking toward the round tower of Temple Finghin from the ruins of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral dates to 909, with the main entryway replaced around the year 1200.
In front of the ruins of the Cathedral, a replica of the Cross of the Scriptures,
placed outside where the original cross once stood
when the original was brought into the museum to protect it.
The original Cross of the Scriptures. The shaft and the ringed head were
crafted from a single piece of sandstone sometime around 900 AD.
It stands 4 meters tall (13 ft). The stories depicted with the carved figures include
The Crucifixion, the Last Judgement and Christ in the Tomb.
As well, there are figures of ecclesiastics and King Flann depicted on the cross.
One out of a large collection of burial slabs which date from the 8th to the 12th century.
These are now inside the onsite museum in order to protect and preserve them.
In English: ‘A prayer for Turcain by whom this cross was made.’
A burial slab. The inscription reads:
in English: 'A prayer for Tuathal the craftsman'.
Clonmacnoise Castle: dating to the 13th century, it was plundered on many occasions,
including one last time in 1552, when English soldiers from an Athlone garrison reduced it to a ruin,
carrying away what they could and destroying the rest.
The 'New' Cemetery beyond the walls of Clonmacnoise.
©irisheyesjgg. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday's Tip: 'Grandpa was in the G.P.O': did he apply for a pension & a medal?

Irish History 1916-1923; Military Pension Records & Medals
One page of a lengthy application
for a dependant's allowance for a
member of my family.
(Information has been redacted)
In Ireland, 2016 has seen the marking of the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. In addition to the commemorations of this landmark rebellion, the government has seen fit to release medals records for those who served in the Rising, (as well as the War of Independence). If you suspect any members of your family were among those in the battalions who played a role in the Rising, then you may want to visit the pension and medals records collections web page of the Bureau of Military History Archives.

When it comes to the history of the 1916 Easter Rising, it sometimes seems as though every Tom, Dick and Harry claims one of their relatives was in the General Post Office (G.P.O) in Dublin during the Rising. However, there were many sites across Dublin, including The Four Courts, North King Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Liberty Hall, Jacob’s Factory and the Royal College of Surgeons, among others, as well as a few sites outside the Capital, including Cork and Mayo, where insurgents set in to battle the British.

All those laying claim to family history in the independence movement, no matter where their relatives fought, may finally have proof of their service, because of the extraordinary collection of military pension files which was first launched online in January of 2014, and the complete medals files which was released online today.

If one of your ancestors or relatives participated in the 1916 Easter Rising and/or the Irish War of Independence, and that individual or his/her dependants applied for a military pension and/or a medal for service, these records may provide you with evidence of his/her participation.

The military pension collection comprises the applications of over 60,000 individuals. Pension records for those only involved in the War of Independence and/or the Civil War are not currently online. However, the first part of the pension application collection, which is concerned with those involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, is available via the fully searchable Military Service Pensions Collection. The medals collection includes the War of Independence.

To mark the official opening of the new Military Archives building at Cathal Brugha base on Tuesday 26 April, the Department of Defence has released the files of 47, 554 applicants for the 1916 Medal and The 1917-1921 Service Medal. In all 66, 174 Medals applications and related files are being released via the Military Archives. You can search for a record of your family member's medal via this page --> Medal Applications Files. This page also gives access to the Organisation and Membership files of the independence movement, including the IRA Membership Series, the IRA Brigade Activity Files, the Cumann na mBan (The Women’s Branch of the Irish Volunteers) Series, The Fianna Éireann Series and the Irish Citizen Army Activities Files. A wealth of information.

A caveat:

If you believe you have a family member or family members who served during the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and/or the Irish Civil War, but they (or their dependents) did not apply for either a medal or a military pension or a widow/dependent pension, then you will not find their name/names in the pension/medals records. The Irish government did not simply award pensions and medals to persons whom they believed had served in these conflicts. Instead, those individuals had to go through a petitioning process, beginning with a lengthy application on which the applicant had to fully outline the particulars of their service covering the period for which they were claiming a pension and/or medal.

The pension application process:

Irish History 1916-1923; Military Pension Records & Medals
One page of a lengthy application
for my grandmother's military service pension.
(Information has been redacted.)
In 1923, the first in a series of legislation was passed by the government of Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State, for the founding of a pension system intended to recognise and compensate those who fought for the freedom of Ireland.

Pension applications for service during the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and/or the Irish Civil War were made in the period from 1924 to 1949. These applications were adjudicated by a panel of referees.

The applications were viewed as 'statements of claim’. In effect people could assert whatever they liked with respect to the details of their service. However, the individual applicant had to provide proof of that service and of those claims, so a pension application had to be accompanied by sworn affidavits made by witnesses attesting to the veracity of an individual's assertions. 

Persons deemed acceptable to serve as witnesses included commanding officers, comrades with proof of their own service, as well as other high ranking officials. Also, despite the inclusion of letters of affidavit, a pension applicant was not always given full credit for what he/she was claiming. An individual could claim to have served with the I.R.A. for years but, based on the affidavits of others, as well as the judgment of the referees, he/she may have been denied their pension claim entirely, or had it significantly altered.

Originally, the rules governing the release of the military pension records permitted only next-of-kin access to the pension application form, and letters from the applicant. The release of pension and medals records has not only opened up access to all, but the files which were released include items to which even next-of-kin were not previously given access. These include such documents as letters of affidavit submitted in support of the application, notes produced by those judging the application, and other notes, maps, and/or letters germane to the file.

For those of us who have family members who served, and who were vetted through the application process, access to these previously unreleased materials gives us a more complete picture of what life was like for them during this period.

Do you have a family member or family members 
who served in the Irish independence movement?

See also: Records of the Military Service of Irish Soldiers, Volunteers & Freedom Fighters.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

24 April 1916: The Easter Rising: 'An Irish Republic has been declared': Commemorating 1916

Today, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which began on 24 April 1916,  I would like to share with you a select few of the many images I shot of the variety of ways in which the rebellion has been commemorated. All around Dublin — the principal site of the Rising — there have been parades, receptions, wreath laying ceremonies, artists' installations, and banners across buildings, as the Irish people have sought to honour those who fought for Irish freedom.

On Wednesday 30 March I was honoured to attend a private wreath laying ceremony at Arbour Hill,
the burial site of 14 of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising.
In front of the Joyce Library at UCD hangs this banner bearing the names of all those killed during the Rising.
Even Dublin bus shelters commemorate some of those involved in the Rising, U.C.D.
On South Great St. George's Street, The Mercantile remembers the 7 signatories of the Proclamation.
On South Great St. George's Street, Irish artist Gearoid O’Dea's mural depicting
Countess Markievicz (left), Margaret Pearse (right) and Grace Gifford-Plunkett (bottom)
honours the women who served during the Rising.
The Tapestry of 1916 enwraps the SIPTU building, Eden Quay, honouring James Connolly
and all those who fought for Irish freedom.
On Holy Saturday, 26 March, there was a parade from the SIPTU building in which participants marched in costume to
remember those who fought in the Rising as part of the Irish Citizen Army.
On a banner in Lusk, North County Dublin, Thomas Ashe is quoted and remembered as part of the Fingal Brigade. 
Throughout the area delineating the reserved section for the Easter parade were banners such as this one.
On  Dawson Street, a banner featuring some of the persons
portrayed in the e-book '1916 Portraits and Lives' (go to to
download your free copy.) 
On Dame Street a banner featuring Dr. Kathleen Lynn,
Chief medical officer for the Irish Citizen Army during the Rising
(and incidentally a gun runner in the weeks leading up to the Rising).
A banner on Dame Street featuring a photograph of some of the 77 women who served during the Rising.
The original flag of the Irish Republic which was raised over the General Post Office on the morning of 24 April 1916.
On O'Connell Street, the office of Dublin Bus bears an image of the GPO prior to the Rising.
On Benburb Street, this photographic installation created by photographer Steve McCullagh
features 19 out of the 150 Volunteers who served in the Four Courts Battalion (my granduncle Michael Magee's battalion),
pictured together with a living relative or relatives.
In each pairing the past and the present are joined together with a quotation drawn from
the individual Volunteer's respective Bureau of Military History Archives Witness statement.
Seán Heuston, commander at the Mendicity Institution, Usher's Island.
The banner covering the building depicts it as it looked in 1916.
Inside the courtyard of The Four Courts, on Monday 28 March, I joined other members of 1916 Four Courts Battalion families in remembering the service of our respective family members who served with the Four Courts Battalion.
On Parliament Street (at Cork Hill) windows filled with important figures from the Independence movement.
All around Dublin lamp posts bear similar flags marking the centenary.
On Harcourt Street (at St. Stephen's Green) a banner honouring the service of Countess Constance Markievicz.
At Eden Quay the tri-colour flies next to the SIPTU tapestry.
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