On Saturday 23 February, the Minister with responsibility for Defence, Mr Paul Kehoe, T.D., will launch the BRIGADE ACTIVITY REPORTS (of the Military Service Pensions Collection) at a public Symposium organised in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines.
The release of these files will be accompanied by a new publication and new website elements. All files are fully digitised and will be available for access online on www.militaryarchives.ie
What are the Brigade Activity Reports (BARs)?
The Brigade Activity Reports (or 'A' series) represent the most anticipated file series within the MSP Collection. There are 151 files and around 400 sketches /maps of all sizes. In order to administer pension claims under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1934, the Referee and his Advisory Committee encouraged the formation of Brigade Committees around the country, comprising persons who had formerly held rank in the IRA structure. These committees were initially requested to provide listings of operations and activities undertaken by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Army, with a focus on operations during the most active years of the War of Independence (1920-1921). Some files even go on to cover IRA activity during the Civil War (1922-23), although these are a minority. The Brigade Committees would ultimately be asked to provide more details including the nature of the operations, numbers involved and casualty figures for both IRA and British forces, the names of IRA participants and maps illustrating the operations. Some committees were successful in gathering very comprehensive listings of activities (down to company level, with details on arms used, people involved and sketches...) while others faced many difficulties. The ability and willingness to meet the Referee’s requests fluctuated greatly and exposed issues linked to emigration, internal strife, and of course, the fact that many participants had also passed on. This comes to the fore in the correspondence and internal memoranda in the files.
Why are they important?
The Referee and Advisory Committee relied heavily on these files to assess personal claims as the material offered, though uneven, basic chronologies of activities, compiled by those who took part in the events. They represent a unique and valuable source of evidence about the nature of guerilla warfare during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Their release will mark a new phase in the study of the Irish Revolution. While the files vary enormously in quantity of information and quality of recording, the series is one of a kind and, for the first time, it will enable researchers to connect a lot more individuals to either well-known operations or lesser known/unknown activity. Not only that, but some participants referred to in the BARs also applied for a pension/financial award. This series will be used along with the IRA nominal rolls (already online) and individual files of the collection. The files, created some 15 years after the events, show more than that though. Internal discords, unwillingness to participate and painful interactions are plain to see, thanks to correspondence and 'behind-the-scenes' memoranda. However, the BAR series, as it is the case with all archival collections, should be examined carefully, contextualised fully and used alongside other sources.
The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection (MSPC) project is a joint Department of Defence and Defence Forces contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. The project is mandated to release the files and records of the Department of Defence dealing with the service of members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Hibernian Rifles, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Republican Army from the period April 1916 to the 30th of September 1923. This involves cataloguing and digitising nearly 250,000 files. There have been six releases of information from the Collection to date since 2014. The release of the Brigade Activity files forms the 7th release for the MSP Project.
The MSPC is significant in many ways. It is unique in quantity. It is much larger than any other archival collection covering the period from the Rising to the end of the Civil War. The quality of the information contained in the files is captivating and multi-faceted. This is not just about the administration of pension money: topics like military operations, social and family conditions, welfare history and politics are all present throughout the files.
It is also a significant collection because it presents a variety of unknown or forgotten identities caught in a momentous context in Irish History. The work of preserving archives and making them available has been be vital in our deepened understanding of the Rising.
This is an 'invite only' event but the new information, to be launched, will be available on www.militaryarchives.ie