Irish Military Records
Irish Military Records – British Army
The recent and ongoing anniversaries of the First World War and the 1916 Rising has meant that a large volume of archive material for these conflicts has been published online, making researching ancestors who participated that bit easier.
A large number of Irish men served in the British Army and Navy during the 19th century and the First World War. Pension and service records are held in the British National Archives and before you start searching online collections for army and naval records, I would highly recommend that you start by reading the guides to British Army and Navy personnel records
Surviving service and pension records have been indexed and published online at both Findmypast and Ancestry. It can often be easier to find 19th century service records than records for those who served in the First World War. This is because roughly 60% of First World War service records were destroyed when the Ministry of Defense was bombed during the Blitz. The records that did survive were for the men who were already serving soldiers prior to the outbreak of the War and who survived to claim their pension. Those that served for the duration of the war, enlisting at the outbreak, did not receive a pension and their service records were largely destroyed.
Irish men may have served in any regiment of the British Army. It was not until the outbreak of the First World War that we start to see enlistment in Irish regiments, such as the Royal Dublin Fusiliers or the Connaught Rangers. Don’t limit your research to just these regiments when searching for your ancestors.
The best place to start searching for your ancestor in British Army records is to search for a campaign medal. These records are probably the most comprehensive, which is why they are such a good starting point. There are medal rolls for the Boer War and the First World War, the Indian Mutiny, etc. Campaign medals were awarded to all soldiers to fought in a certain campaign and were not awarded on merit. If you can find your ancestor in the Medal rolls, you may be able to establish their regimental number and the regiment in which they were serving. This will make searching surviving service and pension records easier.
If you are able to identify the regiment in which your ancestor served, you can start looking into the activities of that regiment during a particular conflict. The British National Archives have digitised the Unit War Diaries for the First World War. These can be purchased and downloaded from their website and are an almost daily record of the activities of the unit, detailing deaths and casualties as well as the activities of the unit. If you cannot find a service record for your ancestor, you may find a reference to them in the Unit Diaries or at least an understanding of the actions that they may have participated in.
More and more naval records are also being published online at both Ancestry and Findmypast. These records were part of the Admiralty collection and so did not suffer the same destruction as First World War Army records. Don’t forget, there are also records for women who served as nurses overseas during the First World War. Women who served overseas also received campaign medals.
The British Army and Naval records for Irishmen on Findmypast can be found in UK records and not in Irish records.
The British National Archives guides will direct you to the websites where these sources are available and whether they are free or on subscription sites.
Irish Military Records – Irish Military Archives
The largest and most significant collection of Irish military records are the military service pension and medal applications from men and women who fought during the Revolutionary period in Ireland from 1916 to 1921. Applicants had to fill in an extensive form detailing their activities during this period, identifying the company in which they served and their commanding officers and men who could act as referees to their application. The applications often came with a personal statement and supporting documentation, such as letters from fellow Volunteers and commanding officers. Some application files number over 400 pages. The index to the medal and pension applications can be searched on the website of the Irish Military Archives. There is a wealth of information on this part of the website, including IRA Nominal (membership) Rolls, Administration documents and maps and rolls of honour for the 1916 Rising. It is well worth spending some time on this site exploring the vast content and reading about the origins of the material.
If you have a family member who you believe may have fought in the Irish War of Independence I would also highly recommend undertaking a search of the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements, which are available online through the website of the Irish Military Archives. Published by the Archives of the Irish Defense Forces these are witness statements written by the men and women who fought between 1913 and 1921. These statements were written in the 1950s and recollect members of their company and the actions undertaken in their area. The search function will search the text of all of the statements, so even if your ancestor did not submit a witness statement, they may be mentioned in someone else’s statement. When searching, remember that some individuals went by nicknames or used an Irish version of their name. Timothy O’Shea may have been recorded as Tim Shea and David Barry may have been Daithi Barry.
Even if your ancestors were not mentioned, the statements can be used to identify significant actions taken in a particular area as well as the designation of the company, battalion and brigade operating in a particular area.
The Irish Military Archives have also published a 1922 Irish Army census, detailing the soldiers in the National Army on 12th/13th November 1922. The census information is particularly valuable because it records the name of the soldier’s next of kin and was compiled when the National Army was at its largest number.