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The 1922 Irish Army Census is an excellent resource for family historians trying to discover relatives from the early 20th century. This is a period in Ireland’s history when we have fewer records available due in large part to the thousands of records that were destroyed by the fire at the Four Courts just months before this census was created. The census records include over 32,000 names of those serving with the newly formed National Army, and was taken at midnight on 12/13 November 1922. They include the soldier’s name, age, where they enlisted, the name and address of their next of kin and where they were stationed at the time of the census. Soldiers as young as 14 are recorded in these pages. Held in the Military Archives of Ireland, the census records are bound in leather and comprise 10 volumes. Some of the records have been damaged and, as a result, some transcripts are incomplete. The census was taken to help with administrative challenges faced by the new Army Pay Office. These administrative challenges faced by the new government were further exacerbated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War.
The National Army was established in 1922 after the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) ended. The Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, which declared an Irish Free State for twenty-six counties. The Free State would still be a part of the British Empire, similar to Australia, and the Dublin parliament would swear an oath to the King. Dublin would have its own operating parliament and would be responsible for all of Ireland’s internal affairs including policing, judiciary and a small military. The treaty did not give Ireland the Republic that so many had hoped for, and many felt betrayed.
The treaty was ratified by a small majority on 7 January 1922 in the Dáil Éireann. Immediately Eamon De Valera and his followers left the Dáil and later anti-Treaty, or Republican, forces occupied the Four Courts building. This left the pro-treaty supporters to establish the new government and oversee the transfer of power from the British government to the Dáil Éireann, including the creation of the National Army.
With mounting pressure from the British government and further agitations, Michael Collins gave the anti-Treaty forces occupying the Four Courts a final chance to surrender. The National Army bombarded the Four Courts building on 28 June 1922 and thus the Irish Civil War had begun. It was because of these events that large volumes of government papers were destroyed, which continues to affect family historians today. The Republican army surrendered at the Four Courts after two days. The Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924, another excellent resource for finding ancestors during this period, contain notable names of those arrested on 30 June 1922 including Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows.
But the war continued across the country. Ireland descended into ten months of brutal fighting. The Republican forces used guerrilla-style warfare of ambushes and reprisals. The months were filled with assassinations, executions, and atrocities committed by all sides. Ireland lost some of its brightest and best leaders including Liam Mellows, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, and Michael Collins. The Irish Army Census was created only months after the head of the National Army, Michael Collins, was killed in an ambush in Cork. In the waning months of the Irish Civil War, the National Army authorised the execution of 77 anti-treaty prisoners between November 1922 and April 1923. Public support for the Free State was rattled by the continuation of the civil conflict. A conflict, the new government ensured would be over soon.
Some of the men found in the Irish Army Census would not survive to see the end of the war. Found in Findmypast’s newspapers, the Derry Journal reported on 20 November 1922, that Private Peter Hogan of the National Army was killed in an ambush. ‘He was in charge of a small party of troops, which was going from Wexford to Wellington bridge…at Aughnagan fire was opened on the party from three positions, on both sides of the road and ahead of them.’
According to the census, Private Hogan was stationed at Wexford, part of the Eastern Division on 12/13 November 1922. He was a single, 22-year-old from Carlow and had enlisted in the army in April 1922.
Fighting finally ended by May 1924. There was no formal surrender by the Republican forces or negotiation. The Irish Civil War is one of the lowest points in Ireland’s modern history. The bitterness of the Civil War left a lasting impression on the new nation. From the opposing sides, two political parties emerged: Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Today, these two political parties still dominate Irish politics. After the end of the Civil War, the National Army was reduced in size and then further restructured into the Irish Defence Forces on 1 October 1924, a name it still holds today.
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