Ministers Shatter, Deenihan, Chief Executive of an Post, Donal Connell, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m delighted to be here this evening to launch the first tranche of the Military Service Pension Archive and the accompanying Guide to the Military Service Pensions Collection. (1916 to 1923).
I join with Minister Shatter in congratulating the staff at the Department of Defence.
I mention, especially, Patrick Brennan and his colleagues.
Patrick, you haven’t just been working on this project… ..it’s fair to say you’ve all been living with this project…… for the last few years.
I know it’s been tough…..and it’s been painstaking……because the archive relates to such a complex, difficult time in our nation’s history.
Tonight then, is a very special night for you….. not alone have you assembled such a magnificent archive…. but your work brings this era to life for a new generation.
Thanks to you we get to look back at who we were then. Something that is so important now for people across Ireland……with the huge and growing interest in researching family and social history.
Naturally then….I want to say a warm thank you to Caitriona Crowe of the National Archives for her work on this project.
The information contained in the Census of 1901 and 1911 has been fascinating for families who want to know the details that support….. or perhaps in some instances give lie…… to the stories of the past.
And I know Caitriona that you see this archive as greatly complementing that invaluable Census resource.
The term ‘invaluable’ applies equally to what we are launching here this evening.
It’s the last great repository of these revolutionary years …. that hasn’t yet been released to scholars and the general public.
No wonder it’s so eagerly awaited.
It’s important because it’s not just a military collection. It’s a terrific source for all who want to know more about life as lived at that time……how personal histories combined….. or collided…… in laying the foundations of this State.
Every State….. nation…. has defining moments in its history. And the period 1910 – 1925 was certainly that in modern Irish History.
The decade 1912 – 1922 altered radically the relationship between the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
It was a transforming decade.
We had uprising here at home….. imprinted not only in the national psyche but in the very building in which we stand.
There was revolution in Russia.
And of course…. there was war in Europe….where, in the Trenches… thousands of Irishmen lost their lives…. or limbs……. their sanity…sometimes even hope itself……their experiences denigrated…even denied…. when they came ‘home’.
But no more. Last month, with Prime Minister Cameron, I honoured these men, both at Messines and the Menin Gate.
At Glasnevin there will be a cross jointly commissioned by the Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It will be unveiled on August 4th next, the 100th anniversary of World War One.
In 2015 the Government will issue a stamp to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign where the 10th Irish Division fought with distinction.
In 2016 the Battle of the Somme will be appropriately commemorated at Islandbridge.
In the years coming up to the war, across the water, there was the 1911 Parliament Act triggering the 3rd Home Rule Bill – arguably John Redmond’s and constitutional nationalism’s greatest achievement.
And I’m greatly looking forward to what Cecile Gordon will have to say, shortly, about the archive and the period it covers in her explanatory overview.
Also, at this point, I want to thank Professor Townsend, Professor Ferriter and Professor O’Halpin for their advice on the project and their expert input to the Guide.
Yes – public servants today have done extraordinary work in giving us this archive in time for examination and reflection…ahead of the centenary of 1916….which will be of such huge importance to us as a nation.
As was said by my colleague Minister Shatter, we also owe a great debt – seldom acknowledged – to the public servants of previous generations. Those who collected, collated and analysed this data while it was fresh in memory – in response to the legal requirements of the 1923 to 1953 Military Service and Army Pensions Acts.
Thanks to them we have glorious collection of raw data across almost 300,000 files which is now part of the patrimony of our nation. Indeed it has an international relevance, as can be witnessed by the scope and award of the applications. It has unique resonance with our Diaspora, permitting people across the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK to see firsthand the contributions their ancestors made to our country and its political evolution.
And that evolution was so critically dependent on a generation who, in eight years, endured a Rising, executions, imprisonment, a War of Independence and the horror of a Civil War.
Yet, within years of that war, those same Irishmen and Irishwomen had the capacity and courage to engage in a democratic process where power was handed over, peacefully.
Theirs was a remarkable journey, and a glorious bequest – a peaceful democratic state where the rule of law and the ballot box reign supreme. That Ireland is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world – is due in no small part to their endeavours.
We owe it to them to see that the collective memory of that revolutionary generation be preserved, released and cherished by all.
With these papers it is. They are our nation’s memory and our children’s inheritance and I now invite you all to explore with open minds and due respect.