Eyewitness accounts from Ireland’s struggle for independence to go online today

7 Aug 2012

A crowd outside the Mansion House, Dublin, in the days before the truce was signed in the Irish War of Independence, July 1921. Image from the National Library of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bureau of Military History was established in 1947 to gather information on Ireland’s fight for independence from 1913 to 1921. In March 2003, the statements, documents and photographs assembled by the bureau were opened to the public, and today they will reach a wider audience online.

The bureau spent 11 years compiling the history of the events that led to Ireland’s independence, speaking to members of the Irish Volunteers (later the Irish Republican Army), Fianna Éireann, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Clann na Gael, Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin, the Irish Citizen Army, and relatives of the deceased. But, when the task was completed in 1957, the archive contents were considered highly sensitive and were boxed up and locked away in the Department of An Taoiseach until 11 March 2003 when the collection was formally made available to the public at the National Archives of Ireland.

In all, the collection contains 1,773 witness statements, 334 sets of contemporary documents (such as pamphlets, publications, letters, drawings and posters), 42 photograph collections, 210 photographs of actions sites taken by the Air Corps, 12 voice recordings and a selection of press cuttings.

The historic archive recounts events such as the Howth gun-running in 1914, the Easter Rising in 1916, and the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1919.

Today, this archive will be made available online at www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie. Archivists have spent years preparing the archive for online viewing, digitising the documents and making every word searchable.

The initiative comes from Military Archives, a site launched in conjunction with the National Archives of Ireland.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic