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Written and researched by professional Genealogist Ann Marie Coghlan, this week's article explores the Military Archives, a FREE resource that holds a repository of personnel files, as well as several other collections of interest to those researching their family history.

Guide to researching Irish Military Archives

The Archive was set up in the early 1920s by Col M J Costello and Thomas Galvin with the purpose of not only meeting the immediate needs of the new Military but as a ‘national memory’ and as a resource for historians. The Archive was purpose-built at Cathal Brugha Barracks. The early material includes documentation from the Civil War Intelligence Department, Kilmainham (19th century), and Dublin Castle’s War Office. It has sources for the Island of Ireland. However, some early material was destroyed before archiving.

It is worth noting that the archive does not hold records relating to military service prior to 1922. If your relative served during World War I, or at any point up to 1922, it is likely their service was with some of the Irish Regiments of the British Army.  

There are two ways to access the Military Archives holdings. 

  • A personal visit to the Archives in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin.
  • Consulting the Archive's online sources.

Since 2014 All-access to the Military Archives whether in person or online is public and FREE

Any documents stored online are free to download to your pc. However, the Military Archives hold the copyright for all documentation. If material is to be published in any form, written permission must be sought in advance from the officer in charge, Military Archives.

Military Archives Online Collection includes the following;

Within Divisions of the British Army, the following Irish Regiments were involved: 

Many old barracks in Ireland are still extant and have publications and websites about their particular history. 

BROWSE Military BARRACKS Connections

First Steps for Researching Military Archives

The Military Archives is already rich in resources from 1916 to the present day. It is uploading material to the site regularly so well worth checking in or subscribing to the blog. If you are new to Military research in Ireland, there is a short video to bring you up to speed. Watch below 

Please note that each section of the website may be searched, but at the moment it is not possible to search across the whole Military Archives .ie website.

Military Service Pensions Collection

The section we are searching here is called the [ Military Service Pensions Collection 1923-1988 ] which is now updated in its own section with other sources, though the core databases, although updated, stay the same. This Collection holds applications for Medals and Pensions for service between 1916 and 1921. Both successful and unsuccessful applicants are in the databases. It holds information provided by the applicant which includes addresses from 1916 to death, personal details, action in the War, death records, next of kin, and details of military colleagues.

Every application has a file number. This is needed for further research.

The Military Pension was awarded on application to registered combatants in The Oglaigh na hÉireann (IRA) The Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Citizen Army from 1916 to 1921.

The Military Medal awards are in two sections.

  • The 1916 Medal (An Bonn 1916) was awarded to those who were ‘in active service’ at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising.  The recipients may also have the 1966 Survivors Medal (An Bonn Marthanóurí)  The 1916 Medal also came with a ‘special allowance’ with extra benefits which was regularly means tested and so further family information is available in the recipients’ file.

NOTE; The files for the 1916 medal recipients are closed and may be viewed in person with permission at the Reading Room

  • The Service Medal (An Bonn Seirbhíse)  1917-1921 was awarded from 1942 for active service in the above military for the years 1917 to 1921 for any successful applicant for the Military Pension.

In 1971, living veterans holding either or both the 1916 and 1921 medals were awarded An Bonn Cuimhneacháin an tSosa Cogaidh. Images of all medals are on the website. Any medals awarded to a deceased member should have their name on the reverse.

    Exploring The Military Databases

    • Medals Database  - This is a database with the collection of applications for the 1916 Medal and the 1921 Truce Medal. Both successful and unsuccessful applications are included, including some with scanned application documents. File Number beginning with ‘M’ is quoted which is needed for further research in the Military Archives. Search by name, location etc. You can access them HERE

    • Organisation and Membership Database For this database, you will need to know the Unit or a location for your ancestor. It includes IRA,Cumann na mBan and Fianna na hEireann members. Not searchable by individual person. You can access them HERE

    • Pensions and Awards Database This database holds applications for the Military Pension. You can search by individual. If your ancestor is in the database, there may be information up to the mid 20th century which could include addresses, personal details. Successful applicants may have further family information through the death notice. Save the file number ‘M’ for further research in the Military Archive. You can access them HERE

    • Administration Files A general collection of scanned images of files connected to the Pensioners and Medal holders historical administration. Search by freeword. However, a general search by county showed files for individual cases. The images are not searchable and a general description (abstract) is shown by the folder. You can access them HERE
    • People and Places A recent offering now under the Military Service Pensions collection is a set of resources clustered on the 1916 to 1923 timeline. This is useful for researching specific incidents or a timeframe and also includes links to members' documents (administration files)  and personal accounts (stories).  1916 - 1923 Resources - Brigade Activity
    • Onsite Research The Reading Room is open to the public by appointment. If you wish to view any material which is not online you will need to make an appointment with the Duty Archivist. Files belonging to ancestors may need evidence of your status as next of kin. Other research opportunities can be found in the Reading Room Collections webpage.  Reading Room Collections Email Contact Preferred.

    FAQ'S Military Records

    FAQ #1: I know my ancestor had the 1916 medal and I would like to know more about them”

    FAQ #2: “I think that my ancestor was involved in the Independence War but I don't know much about them”

    FAQ #3: “I don't know if my ancestor was in the Independence War and I would like to find out”

    • Use the wildcard search boxes in all the databases. Recommending that you start with a known county and narrow the search. Also search for siblings and cousins.
    • Check ‘People and Places’ for activity in your area.
    • Remember that some combatants chose not to make a pension application.

    FAQ #4; “I am interested in the Independence War in my homeplace in Ireland”

    • Start with ‘People and Places
    • Do the same search as the above query except for this time, use location names as the wildcard
    • Identify the local Units and follow their stories in the new parts of the Pensions website.  

    Over to You

    Finding branches of one's family tree touching upon military service in more than one country's armed forces is a common theme in Irish genealogy. 

    Do you have stories to share? Whether your ancestor was Irish-born or of Irish descent we invite you to bring their memory home to Ireland.  No matter where they served or what conflict they were involved in, if your ancestor was born more than 100 years ago we'd love if you added them to our Ancestors Roll-call for veterans.

    BROWSE Our Military ANCESTORS Roll-Call

    So many Irish names were memorialized far away from Ireland and the personal stories behind them are so important. Whether they were born in Ireland or abroad, we'd love it if you brought their memory home and reconnected them to our "special group" for Military Ancestors. 

    About the Author

    Ann Marie Coghlan is a professional Genealogist living in Ireland. She is a Fellow of the Cork Genealogical Society. She is experienced in traditional family research and in genetic genealogy. You can follow Ann Marie on her Facebook page HERE or over on her website Family Past & Places. With tremendous knowledge and experience in the South and South East Counties of Ireland, Ann Marie can be contacted at regarding professional services. 

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    ***originally published in June 2023


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