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.



  1. The penny has dropped for us, Jennifer. Thanks for this information. Catherine.

    1. Catherine, thanks very much for your comment. I hope the dropping penny is a good thing. :-)


  2. This is a very helpful guide to those who still had family living in Ireland and supporting the Rising. For those who'd emigrated long before, the support came only from afar.

    1. Pauleen, thanks very much for your comments. Although these records speak to those who fought in the Rising and War of Independence, or served in other capacities, no doubt they were spurred on by the support of others from afar, both monetary and moral support. In 1906 well before the 1913 founding of the Irish Volunteers, our Thomas Michael Kettle made a fund-raising tour of the United States of America, making speeches to spur donations and build support for the Irish Parliamentary party.



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Cheers, Jennifer

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