Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Ancestry releases Irish independence struggle files

Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) has released two major collections of files from the national Archives in England that detail courts martial and intelligence profiles of many involved in the Irish republican struggle for independence in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The collections are as follows:

Ireland, Courts Martial Files, 1916-1922

The Easter Rising of 1916 took place on Easter Monday, the 24th of April 1916.

Martial Law was declared in on the 25th of April 1916 in an attempt to maintain order on the streets of Dublin. This was later extended to the whole country. During the aftermath of the Easter Rising, and during the years of the Irish War of
Independence individuals were arrested under Martial Law if suspected of being pro-independence and committing treason to the Crown.

Under Martial Law individuals were tried without a defence council, without a jury and the trials took place in private chambers. Members of the public and members of the press were not allowed to be present at the trial.

This collection covers Field General Courts Martial Records, with nearly 2,000 searchable names and additional names found within the images. Each record contains evidence against the defendants, their statements and proclamations.

Original data: The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England.
Source: War Office: Army of Ireland: Administrative and Easter Rising Records. WO 35/68,96-119,143.
Judge Advocate General's Office: Courts Martial Proceedings and Board of General Officers' Minutes. WO 71/344-358.

Ireland, Intelligence Profiles, 1914-1922

As nationalists in Ireland struggled for independence, the British Intelligence Forces were keeping a close eye on their movements. The Dublin Metropolitan Police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary, recorded the known daily movements of those suspected of being disloyal to the Crown.

Included in this collection are photographs, newspaper clippings and notes recording Sinn Fein meetings as well as the everyday movements of those deemed to be suspects in the eyes of the British forces.

The records in this collection date mainly from 1917 but include some people who were involved in the nationalist movement prior to 1917.

The records relate to activities all across the island of Ireland and with close to 800 names searchable within, they shed light on major events happening at this time. There are over 22,000 images within the collection available to browse.

Original data: The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England.
Colonial Office: Ireland: Dublin Castle Records. CO 904/193-216.
War Office: Army of Ireland: Administrative and Easter Rising Records. WO 35/206-207.

For more information on these and other records relevant for family history from the period, please see my book A Decade of Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923 (further details on how to purchase are available in the Books tab at the top of this page).

UPDATE: the following is the official press release (with thanks to Bryony Partridge):


Over 60,000 images telling story of 1916 Easter Rising now online at Ancestry.ie
· Collection dates from 1916 – 1922 and includes 2,600 records and 60,000 images
· Records include court proceedings, notes confirming executions had taken place, surveillance notes, hand drawn sketch maps, letters, photographs
· Collection will be free to view forever on Ancestry

For the first time in history these significant intelligence files regarding key figures in the 1916 Rising are being made available online to the Irish public. Over 2,600 Courts Martial Records, Intelligence Profiles and Prison Records from 1916-1922 are now available online for free, forever at Ancestry.ie, the world’s leading family history resource.

This rare collection includes the execution orders for the seven signatories of the Easter Rising Proclamation as well as 60,000 images, hand drawn maps, personal letters and photos concerning key figures involved in the events of 1916.

Rhona Murray, Family Historian at Ancestry comments: “These papers were deposited in the National Archives in Kew in 1922 so they are virtually unseen by most Irish people. They are a very significant part of Ireland’s history containing some crucial and fascinating information about the events of the 1916 Easter Rising and the people involved. We have digitised intelligence profiles, Courts Martial records, personal letters and photos which gives a very comprehensive picture of what happened during one of the most important events in the history of Ireland”.

Included in the collection are the following records:

Courts Martial Records

The Courts Martial Records ordering the execution of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation – Padraig Henry Pearse, Eamon Ceannt, Thomas James Clarke, James Connolly, Sean MacDiarmada, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh - as well as the orders for eight other executions held between 3rd-12th May 1916.

Their guilty pleas, evidence brought against them and their sentences of ‘death by shooting’ are also included.

Personal Letters

Many personal letters from concerned family are in the files, including the letter written by Padraig Henry Pearse to his mother Margaret. In the letter Pearse describes his movements between the GPO and Moore Street during his last surviving days before surrendering “in order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers”.

He notes his struggle between the majority’s will to surrender versus his own personal desire to rally the troops one final time. He expresses his hopes that the British Forces will spare the lives of the followers of the Rising but does not believe that the lives of the leaders would be spared. Pearse’s letter was dated 1st May, he was executed by shooting two days later on 3rd May. His letter to his mother was never posted.

Sketch Maps

The collection also features hand drawn sketches recording the order in which the bodies of the leaders were buried. The bodies of the leaders of the 1916 Rising were interred in Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime and the order in which the bodies were buried remained a secret for many years.

Intelligence Profiles

Gathered by British intelligence against a large group of nationalists, the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary kept daily records of the movements of those suspected of being disloyal to the Crown. Figures include Éamon De Valera who was the only leader of the Rising not to be executed.

Courts Martials of Civilians

Martial Law was declared in Ireland on the 25th of April 1916 in an attempt to maintain order on the streets of Dublin. During the aftermath of the Easter Rising, and during the years of the Irish War of Independence, civilians were arrested under Courts Martial if suspected of being pro-independence and committing treason against the Crown.

These records include details of arrests made for conspiracy, murder, treason, and securing and publishing secret government information. Also contained in these files is an alphabetical roll of prisoners and detailed individual prisoner cases imprisoned as a result of Court Martial Proceedings.

The new Easter Rising collection is available to view free and forever at www.ancestry.ie

The history of this collection:

The original paper records of this collection are held at The National Archives at Kew. The National Archives of Ireland has a portion of the collection - covering the period 29 May 1915 to 20 April 1916 - ending four days before the Easter Rising. The collection Ancestry has worked on with The National Archives records the intelligence gathered and the Courts Martial proceedings recording the handling of the aftermath following the Easter Rising.

COMMENT: Ancestry.ie does not seem to work for me, nor the previous Irish platform www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/uk/ireland - I've asked for an update as to what has happened with Ireland's previous dedicated platform on the site.


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html. My Pinterest account is at https://www.pinterest.com/chrismpaton/.

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