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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 24 September, 2018
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IRA spies and 10-year-old dispatch carriers: Inside newly-released military docs

A new collection of documents relating to the revolutionary period have been released.

edit Inside the archive. Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

THE LATEST TRANCHE of documents from the Military Service Pensions Collection has been released, opening up access to a further wealth of information about those involved in the Easter Rising, Civil War, and War of Independence.

Some 5,000 files have been made public this morning, relating to 1,576 veterans who were in active service between 1916 and 1923.

They belonged to organisations such as Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Hibernian Rifles, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

If their role could be corroborated, either they or their dependents if deceased could apply for pensions.

The files, aside from detailing the application process, also reveal details of the activities of these individuals during this period, the social conditions of the time through to the 1940s, and government bureaucracy between different departments.

This release includes:

  • 300 claims lodged by women who were active during the War of Independence and Civil War
  • 343 IRA Civil War casualties
  • 66 individuals executed during the Civil War
  • 352 claims lodged by dependents of deceased participants
  • 5 veterans of Easter Week
  • 510 applications for service (either pre-Truce or War of Independence and Civil War – IRA and National Army).

A team of archivists, based in Cathal Brugha barracks in Rathmines, has been sifting through more than 250,000 records, a third of which has been processed and some 850,000 individual pages scanned.

In a media briefing last week the team highlighted cases of interest, including one which revealed the hidden role of a woman at the very start of the War of Independence.

Irish Army Delployed to Golan Heights File photo of troops in Cathal Brugha barracks. Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

She was so close to key IRA figures that they considered her a “de-facto” member.

Marian Tobin’s file was described by Cécile Gordon, project manager of the Military Service Pensions Project, as ‘quite normal’ at first glance.

Tobin made her claim later than most – the Act covering the pensions scheme expired in 1946, with Tobin’s application being made four years later in 1950 – but she explains that although she was once well-off, she was now in different circumstances.

Inside the 40-page document lay the handwriting of three key IRA figures – Ernie O’Malley, Dan Breen, and Seamus Robinson.

Daniel_Breen_police_notice Dan Breen features in this famous wanted poster. Source: Wikimedia

The latter describes a key role she played in the aftermath of the what is considered the first engagement of the War of the Independence, the Soloheadbeg Ambush in Tipperary.

“You were the first person to receive (and with open arms and encouragement) Liam Treacy, Sean Hogan, and Dan Breen the day the ambush came off”, Robinson writes.

Tobin Clip 1 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to see a larger version.

His letter begins by detailing how he doesn’t remember her being a member of Cumann na mBan (CnamB), the female wing of the Republican movement. However, he goes on to say:

I personally have no hesitation in stating that, whether or not you were officially a member of CnamB, you were de facto and de jure a member of the IRA.

Robinson writes that she received orders from IRA officers, and that even if she had been a member of CnamB, she would have immediately been seconded to his forces.

Tobin Clip 2 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to see a larger version.

Cases of women having official roles in the IRA during this time are rare, and it is more common for people like Tobin to take up the role without being a member of an organisation to avoid detection.

Ernie O’Malley details in his letter how Tobin’s home was used several times as a safehouse, to hide arms, and to mix explosives. It also becomes apparent that it was used for high-level meetings.

Tobin Clip 3 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to see a larger version.

Two other cases highlighted by the archivists, detail high-level intelligence work carried out by Cumann na mBan members.

Frances Brady Cooney was working for the British War Office in London censoring letters that were being sent to and from prisoners of war. In 1917 when Michael Collins, at the time the director of the Irish Volunteers, sent for her.

After this she began undertaking “very special work in an extremely confidential and highly dangerous nature” for the Republican movement.

She fascilitated the supply to Collins with classified information she was working on and samples of writing paper used by the office.

Cooney Clip 1 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version.

The documents detail how she would slip letters into bags of post that had already been censored, allowing sensitive information to bypass the channels where it may have been caught by British authorities.

When she left this job, she was praised by the War Office for her excellent work.

Cooney Clip 2 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version.

She was arrested in 1919 for possession of a firearm, later released, and went on to carry dispatches during Civil War and became a crucial link between Dublin, Belfast, and locations such as Newry and Derry along the way.

Cooney Clip 3 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version.

Another example of high-level intelligence work appears in the file of Josephine O’Donoghue from Cork.

Her work with the IRA was considered vital to troops in the county during the War of Independence.

O’Donoghue was working at the Cork Military Barracks and made contact with the IRA to offer help. She relayed information on troop and ammunition movements to the IRA, sneaking the original documents out to her commanding officers before returning them.

O'D Clip 1 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version.

It was soon obvious that a spy was working in the office, and O’Donoghue instead resorted to shorthand and memorising entire documents.

Liam Tobin, a member of IRA counter-intelligence unit The Squad, described her as their “most reliable and important operator”.

O'D Clip 2 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version.

“I remember Michael Collins expressing his pleasure on more than one occasion when information secured by the applicant was forwarded to him,” Tobin continues, before praising her diligence despite the danger she faced daily.

The documents constantly reveal hidden gems of individual’s involvement at key events of the revolutionary period, but also the grim reality of the conflict that gripped the country.

This is evident in one document released today – that of Edmund Quirke, currently the youngest recorded IRA casualty during the Civil War.

Quirke Clip 1 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version of this image.

Although his age varies in the documents, the archivists have ascertained that he was 10 years old when died.

Edmund was working as a dispatch carrier in Co Tipperary during the Civil War, under the instruction of Dan Breen TD and Denis ‘Dinny’ Lacey.

He and three others, including Lacey, were killed in an attack by the National Army in Banshea on the February 18, 1923.

His father’s application for a pension was unsuccessful, as it was deemed he was not dependent on his son at the time of his death.

Quirke Clip 2 Source: Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Project

Click here to view a larger version of this image.

You can read the files mentioned in full below (if you’re on mobile data, bear in mind that some are quite large)

Read: Seventy years ago today, the social history of Ireland began changing forever >

‘A punishment from God’s own hand’: The Irish got Biblical in their objections to 1985′s contraception law >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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