The Military Service Pensions Collection are applications made by individuals or their dependants for the award of a pension and gratuities for service with the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Army, Cumann na mBan and any other organisation who saw active service or were casualties or wounded while on duty between April and May 1916 until 30th September 1923.
What will you find in the Military Service Pensions Collection
Each applicant had to provide a detailed account of their activities during the stated period and referees who could vouch for their service. The applicant was required to provide details for each year of service (from 1st April until 31st March the following year), the name of the company in which they served, the district in which they were active, the name of their commanding officer, the duration of their service during that period and any absence from duty and reasons why. The applicant was also requested to justify their claim that their service was active and provide particulars of any military operations or engagements rendered during the stated period. The application forms alone can provide a detailed account of service and insight into military activities in a particular area. The applications can point to periods of imprisonment and areas of expertise of the applicant, such as bomb making or intelligence work.
The files, however, are not just limited to application forms. The applicant could also submit a personal testimony, which can often contain more details of activity and letters of recommendation that confirm and elaborate on the activities of the applicant. The applications for several siblings of one Dublin family, who corroborate each other’s involvement, include the story of their 15 year old sister who spent the weekend of Easter 1916 making tea and sandwiches for her brothers and their comrades and spent the following week transporting weapons and ammunition around the city, hidden in a milk pail.
Files for applications that were denied can contain pages of correspondence by the applicant, arguing their case for receiving a pension or an increase in the amount granted.
Applications from widows or other family members can offer insight into the circumstances of the death of an individual who was on active service between 1916 and 1923. One application from a widow, whose husband died several years after his involvement with the Irish Volunteers, leaving his wife and children destitute. He was arrested ‘without his coat’ and while imprisoned, for a week contracted pneumonia. He never properly recovered and his later death was attributed to his imprisonment. The widow accounted for the activities of her husband with the Irish Volunteers. Granted a gratuity, her file contains detailed accounts of the money that was spent on the upkeep and education of their children.
The pension application of Michael Phelan, the uncle of Martin Sheen, gives an account not only of his activities during the War of Independence but also during the Civil War, when he was engaged in ambushing Free State troops throughout Tipperary, Offaly and Laois and his imprisonment in Maryborough, where he ‘assisted to burn the prison’ [on the night Michael Collins was shot].
The Military Service Pensions Collection offer a vivid and personal account of the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. The files identify not just the applicant, but the men and women that they served with and served under. Applications identify fellow soldiers and volunteers who emigrated and who died long after the period in question. This is a long awaited source and the first release is for applications for the earliest period of the conflict. This source tells the story of the birth of a new nation and the men and women who fought for Irish independence.
The Military Service Pensions Collection can be found through the website of the Irish Military Archives.