In his WDYTYA? episode, Boy Ge­orge traced his an­ces­tors to the Ir­ish Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War. Here the show’s Ir­ish ex­pert Ni­cola Mor­ris ex­plains how you can do the same

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Ni­cola Mor­ris is the co-founder and di­rec­tor of Ir­ish ge­neal­ogy com­pany Timeline (

The Ir­ish ex­pert of WDYTYA? ex­plains how you can trace your an­ces­tors to the Ir­ish Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, as Boy Ge­orge does in the lat­est se­ries

With cob­bled-to­gether uni­forms and wooden guns, they mo­bilised, marched and were trained

As Ire­land con­tin­ues to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod, a wealth of records doc­u­ment­ing the men and women who fought for Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence have been made avail­able by the Ir­ish Mil­i­tary Ar­chives for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans in­ves­ti­gat­ing their rev­o­lu­tion­ary an­ces­tors.

The Ir­ish Vol­un­teers were formed in Novem­ber 1913 to counter the threat posed by the re­cently mo­bilised Ulster Vol­un­teers, who were com­mit­ted to re­sist­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of Home Rule – by force, if nec­es­sary. Com­pa­nies of Ir­ish Vol­un­teers were or­gan­ised in parishes across Ire­land. With cob­bled-to­gether uni­forms and wooden guns, they mo­bilised, marched and were trained, of­ten by Ir­ish­men who had served in the Bri­tish Army.

At the out­break of the First World War the Ir­ish Vol­un­teer move­ment split, the ma­jor­ity re­spond­ing to a call to join up and help Eng­land in her hour of need. The minority who re­mained were closely aligned with the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Brother­hood, a se­cret so­ci­ety cre­ated in the 19th cen­tury who planned the 1916 Easter Ris­ing. Although the Ris­ing was not widely sup­ported, pub­lic out­rage at the sub­se­quent execution of its lead­ers in­creased sup­port for the Repub­li­can move­ment.

Af­ter the vic­tory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 gen­eral elec­tion and the for­ma­tion of the first Ir­ish Par­lia­ment (the Dáil), the ranks of the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers were filled once again. With the first shots of the Ir­ish War of In­de­pen­dence in 1919 the Vol­un­teers mo­bilised and be­came the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army (IRA), who fought a guer­rilla war against Bri­tish forces in Ire­land un­til the truce of July 1921.

Although the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers and IRA mim­icked the Bri­tish

Army in or­gan­i­sa­tion, they did not cre­ate the records of a tra­di­tional armed force. Bear­ing in mind that for the du­ra­tion the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Vol­un­teers and IRA were se­cret, few records were kept that might iden­tify the mem­ber­ship. There were no en­list­ment pa­pers or con­tem­po­rary records of serv­ing sol­diers. Vol­un­teers were is­sued with a mem­ber­ship card, but very few of these sur­vive and they hold lit­tle use­ful in­for­ma­tion any­way. The ma­jor­ity of the records that doc­u­ment the men and women who were ac­tive dur­ing the pe­riod were cre­ated years later from peo­ple’s mem­o­ries, and may not ac­cu­rately re­flect the facts.

Sup­port for sol­diers

From 1923 the newly formed Ir­ish Free State pro­vided com­pen­sa­tion for the wounded and for the fam­i­lies of de­ceased mem­bers of the IRA, Ir­ish Vol­un­teers and Ir­ish Cit­i­zen Army. In 1924 leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced to pro­vide a Mil­i­tary Ser­vice Pen­sion to mem­bers of those or­gan­i­sa­tions who saw ac­tive ser­vice be­tween 1916 and 1923. The leg­is­la­tion was amended in 1934 to in­crease the scope of these awards, and it is from this era that we find the largest col­lec­tion of ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to men and women ac­tive in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod.

In or­der to con­firm that a pen­sion ap­pli­cant had ac­tu­ally seen ac­tive ser­vice, the au­thor­i­ties re­quested that for­mer com­mand­ing of­fi­cers gen­er­ate a list of the men and women who served in their bat­tal­ion, iden­ti­fy­ing them by each bat­tal­ion com­pany. These are known as the IRA Nom­i­nal Rolls and are avail­able to down­load from the web­site of the Ir­ish Mil­i­tary Ar­chives ( mil­i­tar­ The

lists are not com­plete, but those that do sur­vive may be the only record of a rank-and-file Vol­un­teer’s ser­vice.

The records are or­gan­ised ge­o­graph­i­cally and can be ac­cessed through a di­vi­sional map of Ire­land at­nom­i­nal-rolls-map. Since most Vol­un­teers joined the com­pany that was es­tab­lished in their home parish, the first step is to es­tab­lish an ad­dress for the Vol­un­teer in the sec­ond decade of the 20th cen­tury. The eas­i­est way to do this is with the 1911 cen­sus, which is also freely avail­able on­line ( cen­sus. na­tion­

Ser­vice de­tails

The ad­dress should lead you to the divi­sion, brigade, bat­tal­ion and com­pany that served the area in which your an­ces­tor lived. For ex­am­ple, a Vol­un­teer from Bantry in Co Cork should be found in the 1st South­ern Divi­sion, Cork III Brigade, Bantry Bat­tal­ion. Each bat­tal­ion was di­vided into com­pa­nies, and the Nom­i­nal Rolls in­clude lists of the men and women who served in each com­pany, as re­called by the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer. Un­for­tu­nately, these lists have not been in­dexed, so a man­ual search of the doc­u­men­ta­tion for the rel­e­vant bat­tal­ion is re­quired.

Iden­ti­fy­ing an an­ces­tor on the Nom­i­nal Rolls will iden­tify the com­pany and bat­tal­ion that they served in, as well as their com­mand­ing of­fi­cers and fel­low Vol­un­teers. Rather than a reg­i­men­tal num­ber, it is this in­for­ma­tion that will help to build a pic­ture of your an­ces­tor’s time as a Vol­un­teer.

Note that pen­sions were not au­to­mat­i­cally granted – the Vol­un­teer was re­quired to make an ap­pli­ca­tion, and not ev­ery ac­tive Vol­un­teer ap­plied. A rel­a­tive may have ap­plied for a pen­sion or a medal on their be­half, as was the case with the fam­ily of Thomas Bryan, who Boy Ge­orge dis­cov­ered was ex­e­cuted in 1921. The records of those who did ap­ply for a pen­sion, or a medal, have also been pub­lished on­line by the Ir­ish Mil­i­tary Ar­chives. It is pos­si­ble to search this col­lec­tion by name and down­load the en­tire ap­pli­ca­tion at­ish-ap­pli­ca­tions.

Some ap­pli­ca­tions run to hun­dreds of pages and in­clude let­ters of sup­port, queries re­gard­ing the amount granted and re­ceipts for ex­penses as well as per­sonal tes­ti­mony from the ap­pli­cant and a com­pleted ap­pli­ca­tion form de­tail­ing their en­tire ser­vice be­tween 1916 and 1923, mak­ing these doc­u­ments a gold mine of in­for­ma­tion. How­ever, even if your an­ces­tor did not ap­ply, ap­pli­ca­tions from other Vol­un­teers in their com­pany will pro­vide in­sight into your rel­a­tive’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

Along­side the Nom­i­nal Rolls and Mil­i­tary Ser­vice Pen­sion ap­pli­ca­tions, the third record set pub­lished by the Ir­ish Mil­i­tary Ar­chives is the Bureau of Mil­i­tary His­tory Wit­ness State­ments, which were gath­ered by the Bureau from the late 1940s. Par­tic­i­pants in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod were asked to write an

The 1,773 wit­ness state­ments have been digi­tised and pub­lished on­line. They can be vivid and of­ten hair-rais­ing

ac­count of their ex­pe­ri­ences from 1913 to 1923, on the un­der­stand­ing that their ac­counts would not be re­leased un­til af­ter their deaths, to en­cour­age them to be as frank as pos­si­ble.

These 1,773 wit­ness state­ments have been digi­tised and pub­lished on­line and can be searched for any term, such as a sur­name or place name: bu­reauofmil­i­tary­his­ in­dex.html. The state­ments can be vivid, some­times amus­ing and of­ten hair-rais­ing ac­counts by par­tic­i­pants in the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers, the Easter Ris­ing and the War of In­de­pen­dence. Even if your an­ces­tor did not write a state­ment them­selves, he or she may be men­tioned by one of their fel­low Vol­un­teers or com­mand­ing of­fi­cers.

There are also plenty of pub­lished lo­cal his­to­ries, web­sites and fo­rums where ge­neal­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans have gath­ered in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod in a spe­cific area. How­ever, it is al­ways a good idea to try to ver­ify the source of the in­for­ma­tion pub­lished.

Later in the cen­tury, obit­u­ar­ies in lo­cal pa­pers of­ten re­fer to a for­mer Vol­un­teer’s Repub­li­can ac­tiv­i­ties, and may iden­tify the com­pany in which they served. A large num­ber of 20th-cen­tury Ir­ish news­pa­pers can be searched on­line at ir­ish newsarchive. com; you will also find con­tem­po­rary re­ports about the ar­rest and in­tern­ment of Vol­un­teers, as well as ac­counts of am­bushes and skir­mishes.

A jour­ney into these records is not al­ways easy – you may read tes­ti­mony that makes you shud­der. But the pub­li­ca­tion of these sources on­line has made us all his­to­ri­ans of Ire­land’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary past, with an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover and tell the story of our an­ces­tor’s role and ex­pe­ri­ence in the fight for Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence.

Gen­eral Richard Mulc­ahy, the min­is­ter for de­fence, in­spects Free State sol­diers at Beg­gars Bush Bar­racks in Dublin, 2 Fe­bru­ary 1922

The Gen­eral Post Of­fice in Dublin was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary strong­hold dur­ing the Easter Ris­ing

Michael Collins speaks at a pub­lic meet­ing in Col­lege Green, Dublin, fol­low­ing the launch of the Free State

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