The Military Archives

Searching for our 20th Century Ancestors

Ireland’s Military Archives is one of its jewels for family research but is often overlooked unless family history tells us of our ancestral link to the events of 1916 to 1923. However, it is a very rich source of material for everyone who has ancestry in Ireland or is interested in the formation of the Republic. It also serves as a searchable twentieth century census substitute

There are two ways to access the Military Archives holdings.  

  1. A personal visit to the Archives in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. 
  2. By consulting the Archives online sources on . 

All access to the Military Archives whether in person or online is public and free.

Any documents stored online are free to download to your pc. However, the Military Archives hold copyright for all documentation. If material is to be published in any form, written permission must be sought in advance from the Officer in Charge, Military Archives.

What is the Military Archive? 

The Archive was set up in the early 1920s by Col M J Costello and Thomas Galvin with the purpose of not only meeting the immediate needs of the new Military but as a ‘national memory’ and as a resource for historians. The Archive was purpose-built at Cathal Brugha Barracks. The early material includes documentation from the Civil War Intelligence Department, Kilmainham (19th century) and Dublin Castle’s War Office. It has sources for the Island of Ireland. However, some early material was destroyed before archiving. 

What is the Military Service Pensions Collection? 

This Collection holds applications for Medals and Pensions for service between 1916 and 1921. Both successful and unsuccessful applicants are in the databases.It holds information provided by the applicant which includes addresses from 1916 to death, personal details, action in the War, death records, next of kin, details of military colleagues. 

The Military Pension was awarded on application to registered combatants in The Oglaigh na hÉireann (IRA) The Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Citizen Army from 1916 to 1921. 

Every application has a file number.This is needed for further research.

NOTE; Further supporting material for 1916-1923 can currently be found in this section of the website. 

The Military Archives Website

Genealogy | Military Archives

Please note that each section of the website may be searched, but at the moment it is not possible to search across the whole Military Archives website. 

The section we are searching here is called the [ Military Service Pensions Collection 1923-1988 ] which has its own section with other sources, though the core databases, although updated, stay the same. 

Research Questions

I know my ancestor had the 1916 medal and I would like to know more about them”

  • Use  1.’The Medals Database’. Confirm the File number and combatant information. 
  • Search 2. ‘Organisation and Membership’ database.
  • Make an appointment to view their file at the Archive. See ‘On Site research’ and .’Contact details’. 
  • Also see 5 ‘People and Places’ for new information. 

“I think that my ancestor was involved in the Independence War but I don’t know much about them”

  • Use 3. ‘Pensions and Awards Database’ If you have found them, access their documents.
  • Use 2. ‘Organisations and membership Database’ for more information about their activity. 
  • Use 5 ‘People and Places’ for an overview 1916 to 1921.
  • If their name is not there, search for family members and extended family. 
  • Contact the Duty Officer to see if their file is in the archive see ‘Contact details’

“I don’t know if my ancestor was in the Independence War and I would like to find out” 

  • Use the wildcard search boxes in all the databases. Recommending that you start with a known county and narrow the search. Also search for siblings and cousins. 
  • Check 5 ‘People and Places’ for activity in your area. 
  • Remember that some combatants chose not to make a pension application.

“I am interested in the Independence War in my homeplace in Ireland”

  • Start with 5 ‘People and Places’ 
  • Do the same search as the above query except this time, use location names as the wildcard
  • Identify the local Units and follow their stories in the new parts of the Pensions website.  


  1. Medals Database 

This is a database with the collection of applications for the 1916 Medal and the 1921 Truce Medal.Both successful and unsuccessful applications are included, including some with scanned application documents. File Number beginning with ‘M’ is quoted which is needed for further research in the Military Archives. Search by name, location etc.

Military Service Pension Collection

  1. Organisation and Membership Database

For this database, you will need to know the Unit or a location for your ancestor. It includes IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna na hEireann members. Not searchable by individual person.

Military Service Pension Collection 

  1. Pensions and Awards Database

This database holds applications for the Military Pension. You can search by individual. If your ancestor is in the database, there may be information up to the mid 20th century which could include addresses, personal details. Successful applicants may have further family information through the death notice. Save the file number ‘M’ for further research in the Military Archive.

Military Service Pension Collection

  1. Administration Files 

A general collection of scanned images of files connected to the Pensioners and Medal holders historical administration. Search by freeword. The images are not searchable and a general description (abstract) is shown by the folder. 

Military Service Pension Collection

  1. People and Places

A recent offering now under the Military Service Pensions collection is a set of resources clustered on the 1916 to 1923 timeline. This is useful for researching specific incidents or a timeframe and also includes links to members’ documents (administration files)  and personal accounts (stories). 

1916 – 1923 Resources – Brigade Activity

On Site Research

The Reading Room is open to the public by appointment. If you wish to view any material which is not online you will need to make an appointment with the Duty Archivist. Files belonging to ancestors may need evidence of your status as next of kin. Other research opportunities can be found in the Reading Room Collections webpage. 

Reading Room Collections

Contact detailS

Email Contact Preferred. 

Post Address

Officer in Charge,

Military Archives,

Cathal Brugha Bks,


Dublin 6.

Further Reading
Ayiotis,D. (2022). The Military Archives:A History. Dublin: Eastwood Books.

Research and blog commissioned by Ireland Reaching Out Easter 2023

Images 2016 Centenary Dublin. Copyright.