Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday's Tip: 'Grandpa was in the G.P.O': did he apply for a military pension?

One page of a lengthy application
for a dependant's allowance.
UPDATE: The launch has taken place! The first part of this collection has already been put online: visit Military Service Pensions Collection

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. Beginning tonight all those laying claim to family history in the independence movement may finally have their proof, because there is an extraordinary collection of military pension files being launched by the Bureau of Military History Archives.

If one of your ancestors or relatives participated in the 1916 Easter Rising, or fought during the Irish War of Independence, and that individual or his/her dependants applied for a military pension for service, these records may provide you with evidence about the extent of his/her participation. The collection scheduled for release comprises the military pension applications of some 60,000 individuals, the first part of which is promised to be online on the Bureau of Military History Archives website, after it is officially launched at the General Post Office at 7:30pm (Dublin time) this evening by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Previously, the rules governing the release of the military pension records of those who participated in these landmark events in Irish history permitted only next-of-kin access to the pension application form, and letters from the applicant.  

One of the exciting aspects about this release of pension records is access is not only now open to all, but the files being released include items to which even next-of-kin were not previously given access. These include such things 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.

One page of a lengthy application
for a military service pension.
Pension applications for service during the fight for independence were made in the period from 1924 to 1949, and were statements of ‘claim’. People could in effect claim whatever they liked in an application; therefore, a pension application had to be accompanied by sworn affidavits made by witnesses attesting to the veracity of an individual's claims. 

These witnesses might include commanding officers, or other high ranking officials. Also, 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, or had it significantly altered. Access to these previously unreleased materials will now give us a more complete picture. 

Those of us who have lobbied the Irish government to allow the full release of these records are truly grateful to see this finally come to pass. Writing letters really can make a difference.

After tonight's launch at the G.P.O., be sure to visit the site of the Bureau of Military History Archives at http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie to peruse these extraordinary historical records. For more information visit the news page of the Military Archives.

Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny T.D., on the occasion of the launch of the Military Service Pension Archive , G.P.O.


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