A quick reference guide to researching the Irish Military Archives for family history research

As the fantastic team over at Cathal Brugha Barracks continue to digitise the collection, this guide may need adaption from the Reading Room list to the Online list.

The information provided below is a guide to aid you in your search of the Irish Military Archival Collection held at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Military Rd, Rathmines, Dublin 6. Phone: (01) 804 6457.

Accessible at: http://www.militaryarchives.ie/en/home/ 

It is not an exhaustive list and is designed to work in conjunction with your own research. For any further help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Online Collections

Bureau of Military History (1913-1921)
The Witness Statements collection contains 36,000 pages of testimony from people who played various roles within the Irish Revolutionary Period. The Bureau of Military History Collection, 1913-1921 (BMH) is a collection of 1,773 witness statements; 334 sets of contemporary documents; 42 sets of photographs and 13 voice recordings that were collected by the State between 1947 and 1957, in order to gather primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921. The Bureau’s official brief was ‘to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25th November 1913, to the 11th July 1921’ (report of the Director, 1957).

Pension Application of Molly McGinley nee Mullen, Cumann na mBan Fairview. (Irish Military Archives Pension Records)

Pension Applications
1924 Pensions Act- only open to those who served in the National Army or worked with the Irish Free State and as a consequence - Pro-Treaty!. Highly Restrictive.
No female applicants were allowed- completely excluded Cumann na mBan.
1934 Pensions Act- When Fianna Fáil came into power in 1932. This round of applications allowed applicants from Cumann na mBan, anti-treaty, and applications from what was known as ‘key men’: non-combatants, engineers, dispatch writers, intelligence men and women and all rejections from 1924. By December 1935 there were 51,000 applications which took up until July 1947 to review.
Military Pensions Act of 1949- Saw the establishment of a referee and an advisory committee. It is believed that there was no systematic bias in the award of pensions.

Medal Applications
There are four medals awarded by the Department of Defence of relevance to the MSPC. These are The 1916 Medal, The Service (1917-1921) Medal, The 1916 Survivors Medal and the Truce Anniversary Medal.
In the 1940s and 1950s, there were over 12,900 medal applications rejected due to a lack of evidence.
The total number of files in this collection amounts to just less than 70,000 and some of the later applications and special award applications are in the middle of being processed for digitisation.
Image gallery which contains 400 photographs submitted to the bureau, reflecting sites such as the GPO during 1916 and some later images from the Irish Air Corps.

Medal Collection of William (Liam) McGinley, Irish Volunteer, F Coy 2nd Battalion. (Personal Collection)

Brigade Activity Reports (BAR’s)
These reports deliver a detailed outline of activity taken around the country by local IRA Brigades(Units) during the War of Independence and Civil War as recorded by the people who took part.
Information recorded includes Maps, Sketches, Fatalities, and Key Operations.
The file series were created between 1935 and 1941 to support the work of the referee and advisory Committee in the administration of the Military Service Pensions Act,1934.
They are open to scrutiny, for example, some applicants exaggerated events in order to be awarded pensions and medals.

Collins Collection
The paperwork held in the Collins Papers was created between 1918 and early 1922, taking in the War of Independence years (1919 – 1921) and tumultuous post-Truce and Treaty period. The paperwork contains communications (despatches) between I.R.A. Brigade and Battalion Officers, (less frequently between rank and file members), and predominantly those holding appointments in G.H.Q. including Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Cathal Brugha and Gearoid O’Sullivan. The chief creator and recipient of most of the paperwork held in this collection was General Michael Collins.

Irish Army Census Records (12 Nov 1922 - 13 Nov 1922)
After the formation of the National army, there was no official way of keeping track of numbers of soldiers throughout the country, this led to issues with pay, equipment, supply requirements, and a lack of knowledge surrounding how many members were in the National Army.
A census form was designed to capture the required information, specifically: Regimental Number, Rank, Corps, Surname, Christian Name, Age, Home Address, Number on Pay Book, Date of Attestation, Place of Attestation, Married or Single, Religion, Next-of-Kin, Name and Address of Next of Kin and Remarks.
The census is a snapshot of one night in November of 1922. It is useful for looking for enlisted family members at this time but does not reflect the actual strength of and issues within the National Army.

An tÓglach Magazine
Began as ‘The Irish Volunteer’ in 1914 as a secret publication.
After 1916, it was resurrected in August of 1918 as ‘An t-Óglach’ and played a significant role in GHQ meetings, with the editor required to submit articles and notes to the meetings for consideration. It was published twice a month initially and successfully managed to remain in circulation despite numerous raids and having to operate in secret to avoid complete closure.
After the formation of the Irish Free State, it was used by the National Army to act as a source of instruction.

Photographic Collection
This gallery contains circa 400 photographs submitted to the Bureau, many of which are instantly recognisable as iconic images of the period. Certain photographs in the BMH, such as the aerial shots of 1916 Rising action sites, were taken in the early 1950s by the Air Corps. The original BMH index for the photographs included basic descriptions of 'groups' of photographs from certain contributors.

Reunion - 1918 Belfast Jail Hunger Strikers. William McGinley Top Right. (Personal Collection)

United Nations Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement Forces Unit Histories from 1958
Unit Histories constitute the day-to-day record of that unit’s service overseas. In most cases the histories follow a similar pattern, recording details on the formation of the unit, the area of operations and a nominal roll of the personnel in the unit. Additional information recorded can include reports on specific operations/incidents, morale and discipline or welfare and sports in the unit, visitors to the unit, or, in some cases, images from the mission itself.
Not all units produced a Unit History in the end, which explains gaps in the sequence of histories uploaded here. This project to release the histories of the battalion and infantry group size units (from before the 30 year rule cut-off) is on-going, so more will be added over time.

Oral History Project
The Military Archives Oral History Project (MAOHP) began officially in 2015 with the aim of digitally recording memory, oral history and tradition associated with the Defence Forces since its inception in 1922. In the first three years of the project, the MAOHP has collected more than 250 interviews from predominantly former members of the Defence Forces, including the integration of previously collected interviews and legacy material. The collection includes direct testimony from interviewees who had served in the Congo, Lebanon, Cyprus, Chad and in other overseas missions as part of the United Nations mission.

Reading Room Collections

Reading Room opens by appointment, Tuesday to Thursday each week between 10.00-12.30 and 13.30-16.00. Please contact the Duty Archivist to arrange an appointment.

Truce Liaison and Evacuation Papers (1921-1922)
Chronology of events. Three (3) files containing index to events 1922 (with newspaper extracts) and Chronology showing key events connected with the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican movement 1913-1921, prepared by the Office of the Directorate of Intelligence
Liaison Correspondence
Handover of Barracks and Property. Six (6) files and one (1) bound volume
Prisoners. Four (4) files of correspondence between CLO and LO’s concerning Republican prisoners in Irish, English and Welsh jails 1920-1921
Office of the Directorate of Intelligence. Twenty one (21) files mainly containing press cuttings, articles and notes relating to Irish history generally.

Civil War Captured Documents
The collection contains 233 lots of captured documents relating to current political issues, to assessments of public opinion and sentiment in relation to the issues of the war, and of the reactions of the civilian population to the actions taken by the combatants. The documents include a few dating to 1919 to the prelude to the War of Independence. The items relating to the period between the conclusion of the Civil War and July, 1925, contain information concerning the efforts made to re-organise the IRA to improve military training and organisation in the light of the experience of the Civil War, to maintain the strength of units and to establish a reserve force.

Civil War Operations and Intelligence Reports Collection
This collection consists primarily of reports on National Army Operations and daily and weekly Intelligence reports for the period of the Civil War. The collection also contains administrative material such as general orders and staff memoranda issued from General Headquarters.

Civil War Internment Collection
16 Boxes and 32 folios of material relating to prisoners interned by the National Army during the Civil War. Much of the collection is comprised of administrative material issuing from the Office of the Director of Intelligence and the Prisoners Department.

Department of Defence "A-" series administrative files from 1922
One of the bigger Reading Room collections. 100 boxes, containing 4400 files with paper reports, letters and memoranda, newspaper clippings, photostats and copy photographic prints.
The Departmental A-Files mostly cover the period from early 1922 up until the official formation of the Department of Defence, which was established by the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924. This Act assigns to it “the administration and business of the raising, training, organisation, maintenance, equipment, management, discipline, regulation and control according to law of the military defence forces”.

Department of Defence "2-" series administrative files
Continuation of the previous collection - 1923-1972. The collection of files presently available from the Archives primarily covers the period 1924-1947. Contains 700 boxes, 9000 files.
This collection comprises administrative files produced by the Department of Defence. It is not a complete collection as the Archives have not received all the files from this series as yet. A number of the early files in the series are continuing from the previous A- series, so they are covering War of Independence and Civil War subject matter and outstanding issues such as border incursions, arms surrendered to British Authorities, compensation claims for damages and the continuing activities of Republican personnel in the years following the cease-fire.

Coastal Defence Artillery Collection
Five separate sections: (1) Organisation and establishment of the Coastal defence artillery, (2) harbour defences, (3) personnel files, (4) photographs, maps, and drawings, and (5) a miscellaneous section containing files broadly relating to Coastal Defence matters and the Naval Service.

Military Mission/Temporary Plans Division
The collection is split into 11 boxes containing two parts: (1) The administrative files and various reports from the Organisation Board and the Temporary Plans Division, numerous progress reports and the final report on the Military Mission, including lecture notes, and policy documents and memoranda. (2) Series of bound volumes containing notes, example strategic documents and maps from the various US Military Schools attended by the Military Mission Officers.

Air Corps Museum Collection (1918 - 2004)
347 boxes containing information on an extensive period of the history of the Irish Air Corps that includes the era of the Martinsyde Aircraft, Spitfire, Fouga, Dauphin, Chipmunk and right up to some present day aircraft such as the Casa and the Cessna.. Within the collection are series that concern the technical aspect of the aircrafts including technical manuals, details and reports.

Army Equitation School Collection 1926 - 1981
69 boxes containing 2543 files with paper reports, letters and memoranda, newspaper clippings, copy photographic prints, bound volumes, published booklets, leaflets and magazines, printed dockets, invoices, tags and tickets.

Emergency Defence Plans

17 boxes of files containing information on the context of the Emergency Defence Plans collection, the Defence Forces, in connection with the Department of An Taoiseach and the Department of Defence formulated defence plans and policy during the Emergency period 1939-1946, in response to the outbreak of World War 2, 1939 and war developments until 1946.

Notes on retrieving soldiers' service records: soldiers’ service records, are available to proven next of kin only and can be requested by emailing the Duty Archivist. You should provide the soldier’s full name, date of birth, address or service number where possible to assist with this search. Proof of relationship is required to complete these requests.

Other recommended sites to visit for military records pre-1922, this includes information on :

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ Kew Archives



As mentioned above, this is not an exhaustive list of available records and is meant to be used as a guide to help you navigate your way when starting family history research for this era in Irish history.