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What was it like to take part in 1916 Rising or War of Independence?

You’ll soon be able to find out when witness statements are released online – including audio files made in the 1940s.

Trade unionist Jim Larkin's HQ left in ruins after the 1916 Rising in Dublin.
Trade unionist Jim Larkin's HQ left in ruins after the 1916 Rising in Dublin.
Image: Sport and General/S&G Barratts/EMPICS Archive/PA Images

AN IRISH MILITARY history website will soon be posting witness statements which detail the experiences of people involved in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.

The militaryarchives.ie site, operated by the Defence Forces, has today posted a new online collection of maps, plans and drawings of Irish barracks as part of its project to digitise the country’s military archives. Barracks built and maintained here from 1830 to 1980 can be viewed and the collection “contains many previously unseen architectural drawings”.

However, the site has plans to post valuable archives in the upcoming weeks which will relate first-hand accounts of the turbulent period from 1913 t0 1921. The statements were taken down – and in a small number of cases, recorded – by the Bureau of Military History which was set up in 1947 by the then Defence Minister Oscar Traynor. The report of the Director of the Bureau ten years later said that the objective was “to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25th November 1913, to the 11th July 1921″.

While the archive does not take in accounts of the Irish Civil War, it does cover the period of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence. According to militaryhistory.ie, we can expect:

  • 1,773 witness statements
  • 334 sets of contemporary documents (including pamphlets, photographs, letters, drawings, posters, legal documents, newspaper clippings etc.)
  • 42 individual photograph collections
  • 210 photographs of action site during Easter Week taken subsequently by the Air Corps
  • 12 voice recordings (including one of Constance Markievicz who served in the Irish Citizens’ Army)

Those wondering if a relative might be one of those whose recollections were recorded by the Bureau can see in advance the full list of contributors here. Among them are the widows of Erskine Childers and Tom Barry, the brother of Michael Collins, Minister Ernest Blythe, the manager of the Gresham Hotel  on the day a British agent was assassinated there by the IRA on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 1920, and many members of the ‘old’ IRA and IRB, but also members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, a prison warder in Mountjoy and many others across the spectrum of “sides” in the conflict.

See: In pictures – Revolutionary Ireland 1913-1923>

Read: ‘Secret’ Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921 now online>

Slideshow: Auction of Independence items>

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