Preserving Pension Records in Ireland

Images courtesy of The Military Archives
Images courtesy of The Military Archives

In June 1923, the Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State) decided to recognize and compensate the wounded members, and the widows, children and dependents of deceased members of the Irish National Army, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Citizen Army that had active service during the Easter Week of 1916, the War of Independence, and the Civil War.

An early recruitment poster, c. 1925. Image courtesy of the Military Archives
An early recruitment poster, c. 1925. Image courtesy of the Military Archives

Various pieces of legislation allowed applicants to consider themselves eligible for gratuities, allowances, or pensions. In determining the accuracy of these applications, supporting material was gathered by a committee. These materials included membership rolls, reports of activities carried out by the military formations, detailed information on the course of events during the time period, and about 68,896 military medals.

Today, the Military Service Pensions Collection is being made available online through a series of releases ending in Easter week 2016. Project leaders want to enable the long term preservation of the original records, and allow the public to access the complex collection of about 270,000 to 300,000 individual files. The materials have suffered from poor storage conditions, use of poor quality paper, rusting of the pins, staples and fasteners used, and bad handling.

The preservation process began with the documents being physically cleaned, including the removal of metal, treasury tags and other ties. Files were then reorganized using acid free archival standard supplies. A lab was established on-site for the conservation of badly damaged material. Due to their poor physical state, some files were microfilmed and digitized in order to minimize the handling of the material. Other sources were scanned in color directly as TIFF files and backed up and stored. To allow the public and relatives of former participants in the 1916-1923 period to obtain high quality copies of relevant files in the collection, PDF files were created, and photographs taken of the very fragile material.

One of the Pension Documents, image courtesy of the Military Archives
One of the Pension Documents. Image courtesy of the Military Archives

Next, an online database was created with the digitized original documents through a Military Archives website to maximize the access to the collection. A suitable collections management software package was identified, and then customized to suit the military nature of the files and records. The entire collection was divided into searchable databases, reflecting the vast bulk of the individual applicant’s files in the collection. All files relating to an individual are co-located to fit the various reference codes and have a unique file code as a primary key for reference and sourcing.

The release of the Military Service Pensions Collection comes at a critical time. In 2016, Ireland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rebellion in Dublin. This marks the most significant uprising in Ireland, and the start to the independence movement. Following the rebellion, the Irish Republican Army launched a war against the British government that ended in a July 1921 cease-fire and an eventual treaty that established the Irish Free State. The fully independent Republic of Ireland was formally proclaimed on Easter Monday in 1949. With the release of the pension records over the next two years, Ireland can continue to celebrate its independence and remember those who fought to gain it.