How to trace your Irish rebel ancestors Photo by: Wiki commons

Tracing a rebel ancestor


How to trace your Irish rebel ancestors Photo by: Wiki commons

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The archives of the Irish revolutionary period (1913 to 1923) are in Dublin, Ireland. This archive won’t appeal to the pedigree nuts, but is a treasure trove for those who want to document the experiences and motivations of their ancestors who fought for Irish independence.

The Bureau of Military History is one of the archive’s most popular collections. It contains over 1,700 witness statements, compiled in the 1940s and 50s. Witnesses were asked to give an account of their involvement in the independence movement, from 1913 when the Volunteers were founded, to 11 July 1921 when the War of Independence officially ended. These records broadly represent all the organisations involved including the Volunteers, Cumann na mBan (a womens’ movement), the Irish Citizen Army, Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All those interviewed gave their reasons for taking up arms, and they often show a deep historical knowledge of their communities. One of my personal favourites is the witness statement of Bob Kinsella of Ferns, co. Wexford whose reasons for rebelling go back to the eviction of his ancestors in 1830 by a harsh landlord! To the family historian these records are pure gold, as they provide not only detailed accounts of events, but also their motives.

The Collins Papers are another interesting collection of records, to trace a rebel ancestor. The Collins Papers are the records of the revolutionary movement between 1919 and 1921, when Michael Collins was head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. There are also some records for the period between the end of the War of Independence in 1921 and the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1922. This collection contains some grisly records, including details of the capture and execution of many of those in Ireland who were thought to oppose Independence.

The Military Service Pension Archive contains records of when, in the late 1920s, the Irish Free State first paid out pensions to anyone who could prove they had fought during the revolutionary period. The applicant had to submit an account of their military service and to identify three referees to support them. The State was very poor in the 1920s and 30s, and did everything it could so as not to pay out pensions.

Earlier this year, the Military Archives released online files of 3,200 individuals, mostly veterans of Easter Week 1916, on bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie. The complete collection yet to be released includes 80,000 individuals, so most of the evidence is yet to come. The real value to family history researchers is the huge amount of information on Rebels’ own family members including wives and (some) husbands, children and aged parents.

You’ll also find plenty of Irish rebel-related records on findmypast, home to the largest collection of Irish family history records online, including The Irish Times, Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, from Easter 1916. It provides an official list of the casualties, prisoners, photographs, and important maps of key locations in Dublin city during the Easter Rising.

For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from findmypast click here.


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