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Speech by Minister for Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., at the occasion of the launch online of the first phase of material from the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection
GPO, 16th January 2014
Taoiseach, Ministers Jimmy Deenihan and Frances Fitzgerald, Attorney General Máire Whelan, Ministers of State Fergus O’Dowd, Joe Costello and John Perry, Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you here this evening for the launch on-line of the first phase of material from the Military Service Pensions Collection.
At about 12:30 hours on Easter Monday 1916, Captain George Plunkett marched 50 volunteers from Kimmage up the quays and onto Sackville (O'Connell) Street. As they came abreast of the GPO he ordered the column "Left wheel. The GPO. Charge". Charge they did and set about the occupation of the GPO. It is possible that there haven’t been as many members of Óglaigh na hÉireann present inside the GPO foyer since then, until tonight!
The mission of the Military Archives is to acquire, preserve and make available the records of the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Army Pensions Board. The origins of the Military Archives can be traced to the early 1920s. The Military Archives, through the dedication and professionalism of its staff, will make a significant contribution to the State’s centenary commemorative programme through its public research facilities. The Military Service Pensions Collection is an indication of the importance of its role in preserving the records of the State.
The Military Service Pensions Collection is one of the last and largest pieces of the archival jigsaw relating to Ireland's revolutionary period in the lead up to independence. The Collection comprises almost 300,000 applications, files and supporting documentation. It provides an unparalleled and detailed picture of Irish Volunteers, Irish Republican Army, National Army and anti-treaty forces’ activities throughout the period from the 1916 Rising to the end of the civil war in 1923. The Collection records the personal commitment and sacrifice by those men and women who shouldered the task of gaining independence for this country. These records provide a window into every parish and town-land in the country and the activities undertaken by ordinary people pursuing the ambition of nationhood.
The release of these records to researchers will transform the scholarship of the period. It will provide Irish people at home and abroad with fascinating and copious information about their ancestors who played a part in the establishment of independent Ireland. Professor Eunan O'Halpin of Trinity College who is here with us this evening has described the release of the Collection as “a groundbreaking initiative” which will “transform our understanding of Ireland's revolutionary years and of the activists caught up in them.”
The Collection is a testament to the diligence of public officials in the early years of this State who undertook the huge challenge of collating and verifying these records. We are indebted to their foresight in preserving and maintaining these records. This is a tradition which continues to this day due to the diligence of Departmental officials and the staff of the Military Archives. All these deserve our thanks for preserving such a cornucopia of detailed information about one of the most important periods in Irish history.
The project is overseen by a steering committee comprising representatives of the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Defence Forces, the Military Archives, the National Archives, and my own Department. The project manager, Patrick Brennan, and archivist staff of the project have to date conserved, processed, databased and scanned those files, largely dealing with 1916. They have also gathered an impressive array of administrative and contextual material which underpins and illuminates the files themselves and the structures which governed the awards of pensions.
Their archival methodology has been impeccable, protecting the often fragile records for the future, providing a detailed catalogue to the highest archival standards. They have also created a website which will showcase the most important records in the Collection. Various personnel on both the civil and military sides of the Defence Organisation and its technology partners, too numerous to name in the time available to me now, deserve great thanks for the provision of ongoing support to the project. Special thanks are also due to the Ordnance Survey Ireland for their assistance with this project.
This first online release of material from the Military Service Pensions Collection is primarily focused on the participants of the 1916 Rising. It is therefore very fitting that the Collection is launched in the place that is most synonymous with the Rising, the GPO. I thank the Chairman, Chief Executive and board of An Post for facilitating the launch here at this historic venue.
Future releases of material from the Military Service Pensions Collection will take place over the next few years but not all of this material will be available online. Visits to the Military Archives will be required.
I am pleased to announce this evening that funding has been provided for a new Military Archive facility. This will be provided over the next few years as part of the Government’s Decade of Commemorations programme. A design team is already in place. When completed, it will provide improved facilities for the viewing of this and the other material held in the Military Archives.
I hope you enjoy your evening and invite you to join with me in welcoming An Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny to formally launch the first online release of the Military Service Pensions Collection.
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