In the land of saints and scholars, Dublin has several resources available for historical research. While I was studying at Trinity College Dublin, I was doing research on republican women during the War of Independence and I booked an appointment at the Irish Military Archives to look at some documents captured by the Irish Free State.
The archives are located outside Dublin city center at the Cathal Brugha Barracks, about a twenty minute walk from the city center. I walked up to the barracks’ front gate expecting a uniformed security guard, to ask directions to the archives. A young man in his 20s dressed in green camo answered my question and asked one of his similarly dressed co-workers to lead me to the archives.
As my guide led me across the barracks, we passed other soldiers going about their business. He asked why I was visiting and after I explained my interest in the Captured Documents collection, he told me that they were recruiting and were administering the fitness test that day. I quickly reiterated I was just interested in old books and documents.
Research at the military archives was far different from reading at an American library. Whereas, reading in the New York Public Library can feel like an isolated, quiet oasis from the bustling city, barrack life continued around the small building that housed the archive collections and the two large tables in the ground floor reading room where I sat with five scholars. Small groups of soldiers occasionally ran by and more than once small bands featuring multiple bagpipe players slowly and loudly marched outside the windows. After a break for lunch, there was a line of about fifteen teenagers outside the gate waiting to take the fitness test that I had turned down earlier that day.
The staff at the archives, which included three civilian archivists and two military archival assistants, were very helpful offering advice of other relevant documents at the archives to look at during my visit.
The archives are lucky to have such a great collection because since 1924 the National Army preserved documents from the War of Independence, which are still available to researchers. The military archives became the official place of deposit in 1990 after the National Archivist Act in 1986. The archives have a vast collection of documents on the history of the Defence Forces. Unfortunately only a couple collections have been digitized thus far and are available for online viewing. The archives can also help people research family members who served in the Defence Forces.
To learn more about the Irish Military Archives and see some of their collections, you can visit their website at www.MilitaryArchives.ie.