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After receiving a Royal Charter from Charles II in 1679 the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham opened its doors to old, wounded and infirm soldiers on 25 March 1684. The hospital was built to house around 300 soldiers, and could accommodate up to 1000 in war-time conditions. Opposite the Phoenix Park on the outskirts of Dublin city the 64 acres contained landscaped gardens and orchards. The building, purpose built as a rest-home, was grand and spacious. It must have been an impressive sight.
Very few of the soldiers recorded in the Kilmainham Pensions wrote memoirs. These men were, for the most part, ordinary privates, and many were illiterate, capable only of making their mark (X) on the discharge documents. One account that does survive is that of John Green, an English born carpet weaver pensioned from Kilmainham in December 1814 at the age of twenty-five. His account of his life in the British Army in the early nineteenth century, The vicissitudes of a soldier’s life (1827), gives us an insight into the system of assessment soldiers seeking to be pensioned out.
Most soldiers, as John Green did, received a pension payment (out-pensioners) rather than staying in the hospital. From John’s account we learn that soldiers hoping for a pension made their way to Dublin and found lodgings where they could. On presenting themselves at Kilmainham they were examined by the surgeon. The soldiers were then called into a room where secretary read out the surgeon’s findings to a panel of officers, and a summary of the soldier’s conduct and the reason for discharge. Each officer then called out an amount of money they felt was appropriate to the case. This could range from 6 pence per day to 1 shilling per day, to be paid in advance, equivalent to 6 months pension. At 9 pence per day this would work out at about ten weeks full pay.
John Green captures the feelings of the soldiers lucky enough to be granted a pension. These men, having survived deprivation, hardship and battle were living in a time when there was little charity, and no social welfare. They could just have easily been expected to support themselves after their discharge. John says their pension made them feel “delighted as though we had gained a comfortable independency, or fallen heirs to some great estates”.
Among the nearly 20,000 records of men pensioned from Royal Hospital, Kilmainham between 1783 and 1822, are those of over 10,000 Irishmen from all 32 counties and you can explore them all on Findmypast.
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