Ten million documents regarding the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War will be digitized in the coming years, the Irish Department of Defense announced.
In one of the biggest digitization projects of its kind in the world, 300,000 files pertaining to 80,000 individuals will be gradually made available online.
This announcement comes following the decision of Irish Minister Defense Simon Coveney to allowing funding to the digitization of the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection project until the year 2023, which marks the end of a decade of centenary celebrations of some of the most important historical events in recent Irish history that began with the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout.
“The public cannot underestimate the significance of this research which will allow our future generations the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the events of the period,” said Minister Coveney.
In 1923, the Oireachtas (parliament) of Saorstát Éireann (the Irish Republic) made the decision to recognize and compensate wounded members, and the widows, children and dependents of deceased members, of Óglaigh na hÉireann including the National Army, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Citizen Army who had been involved in the fight for Irish independence through the payment of allowances and gratuities.
Those who felt they were entitled to a pension could apply supplying prove of their involvement.
Several files from the Pensions Collection were released on Friday, all dealing with pension applications from those claiming to have been involved in the Rising, War of Independence or Civil War.
Included among these files was the pension application from the father of current Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who fought on the Anti-Treaty side of the Civil War.
His father John was denied a pension for 22 years before eventually applying successfully in 1956. The family believe it was because of his Anti-Treaty beliefs that he was denied a pension for so long, especially when compared to the ease with which the President’s Pro-Treaty uncle was granted a pension in the 1920s.
“I think you will see, my father sends all the stuff (application forms) and it gets lost. If you were dealt with on the Free State side, you were dealt with quite early,” President Higgins said.
In the years immediately after the Civil War, many Anti-Treaty supporters were blamed for starting the war and sometimes ostracized from society. The President’s father had a good job before the war but was arrested for his involvement in January 1923 and interned in the Curragh in Co. Kildare.
On his releases in December 1923, he was unable to return to his old job despite the recommendations of several of his old IRA comrades. He was also denied a military pension.
In his 1935 application, John Higgins wrote “He [Owen Binchy] refused to do so [allow him to return to his old job]. With the result that I was idle until the 1st Aug 1924 when I got a position as a junior grocer’s assistant from Michael Nolan, Eyre Street, Newbridge, Co Kildare, at a salary of £50 per year indoor. At the time very few people would employ an ex-internee.”
Speaking to the Irish Times, Higgins said that his father was struggling financially, battling with ill health and had four young children. Realizing he could not rely on the pension, he decided to open up a pub.
“The only way you could get going was to rent a premises and he rented No. 1 Catherine Street in Limerick,” Higgins told the Times.
“He got out of the pub thing and he opened a shop during the war and everybody had ration books. Times were very tough. He was very unfortunate by economic circumstances.”
One of the President’s earlier poems, “The Betrayal,” is said to be about the manner in which his father was treated in Ireland despite having played a role in the fight for independence because he stood on the Anti-Treaty side.
On Friday, 2,839 files covering 882 veterans were released including those referring to author Dan Breen, and Fine Gael politician and soldier General Seán Mac Eoin.
The Irish Military Archives can be visited at http://www.militaryarchives.ie/.
H/T: Irish Times