Over the decade of centenaries there will be huge interest in researching the period. This section provides guidance to the most useful sources ranging from interviews with family relatives to researching in national institutions and online.
Our thanks to Dominic Price, historian and author of The Flame and the Candle, the seminal book on the period in Mayo, for his assistance in compiling the information below:
Researching the War of Independence and Civil War – Historical Sources for County Mayo
For the next decade Ireland will be commemorating the period which saw the country define itself as an independent nation. You may wish to know and learn more about the events which took place one hundred years ago when the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and Civil War took place. The level of detail you wish to study will depend on you and exactly what you are looking for. The following areas will provide some guidance before you begin searching in archives. Historical research is fun but be patient. It takes a while to understand how each archive and its collections have been organised. Taking your time to explore will ensure you can best obtain what you are looking for.
Family and Relatives
Talking to members of the family is a good place to start. They have a lifetime of experience and will be able to fill in gaps with all sorts of interesting stories. Family members also have important details of the locations of former family homes and townlands, churches and graveyards. They will also know who you might ask for more information on a local level. Some families will also have old documents and historical artefacts which provide fascinating insights into family and general history of the period.
Mayo is very lucky to have a number of excellent historical societies which have been undertaking quality historical studies for many years. Some of these studies are available in the various historical societies’ journals. Talking to these societies is well worth your while as they can advise you on what material might best suit your own study.
Mayo Historical and Archaeological Society:
Noel O’Neill, 10 Fr. Meehan Place, Castlebar. 094 9024540 firstname.lastname@example.org
Westport Historical Society:
Aiden Clarke, Rosbeg, Westport 087 6300963 email@example.com
North Mayo Archaeological and Historical Society:
Carmel Hughes, Rathnaconeen, Ballina. 096 21510 087 6426349
Newport Historical Society:
Peter Mullowney, Melcomb, Newport 086 8102106 firstname.lastname@example.org
Killasser / Callow Heritage Society:
Michael Murphy, Killasser. 087 9743174 094 9251525
Ballinrobe Historical and Archaeological Society:
Averil Staunton, Springvale, Ballinrobe. 087 2655444 email@example.com
Libraries and Archives
Talking to an experienced librarian in National or County Libraries and in the various Archives is central to any progress. They will advise you on the best material for you to consult and will assist in using some of the computerised databases and microfilm viewers. They will also have met literally thousands of people engaged in research. They are very familiar with the archives in their care and therefore are one of the best ways for you to get results quickly.You can get afull list of irish public libraries at
The Internet can offer a lot of information on background reading and on archive collections which is free. It is also very useful for locating material or people you would like to research. There are also many useful images and maps which can be accessed easily. Simply type in the name of the person, event or place you are looking for and away you go. For more detailed research you will have to search the catalogues of the various libraries and archives.
National Archives now have excellent websites which are free to use. Some material can be viewed online whereas other collections will require a visit to the archive for consultation. The difficulty can be that there is a lot of material so you are not sure where to start. Identify the area you are particularly interested in and away you go!
Memorials and Ambush Sites
Memorials contain important details such as dates and names of people involved in historical events. Visiting an ambush site or town or village where certain events occurred is an important part of building up a picture of historical actions. Visiting such memorials can also be part of paying our respects to those who lost their lives. Lastly, a word of caution, many of the War of Independence memorials in County Mayo are situated on busy main roads. Extreme caution is advised in visiting such sites to ensure the safety of all concerned.
When requesting information from archives it is important to use the correct language for historical references and terms. For example, the War of Independence referred to in Ireland is referred to as the Anglo-Irish War 1919-21 in the United Kingdom. Also the looking for RIC/British Intelligence Files on IRA or Cumann na mBan members may not yield any results because they have been filed under the heading ‘Sinn Féin Suspects’. One classic example was that of William O’Keefe Irish Volunteer Staff Officer from Claremorris. His Bureau of History Witness Statement on the War of Independence was filed under Manchester Active Service Unit. A good discussion with an archivist or reading the introductory material to collections on archive websites is a great way to begin more detailed research. As you progress you will develop your own expertise around a certain field of study and the terms and references will flow. So do not be discouraged at the beginning keep working away and a lot of interesting material will emerge.
Mayo County Library, Castlebar
Mayo Library holds a comprehensive collection of material relating to all aspects of the county’s history at their headquarters in Castlebar from books and journals to photographs, maps and original material: www.mayolibrary.ie Their Mayo Newspapers Collection contains a fascinating insight into almost every aspect of life in the county one hundred years ago. The details include court cases, social events, the GAA club and county championships, drama and politics. Military activities of the British Army, the IRA, the RIC and the Black and Tans are well documented. The most relevant for the period 1913-1923 include: The Ballina Herald, The Connaught Telegraph, The Mayoman [1919-1921 only], The Mayo News, The Western People. These papers are held on microfilm and can be viewed in the Library. Advance booking may be necessary. Phone 094 9047953.
There is also a collection of historical articles on the War of Independence written by Mayo journalists based on interviews with veterans. The collection was gathered as articles appeared in the County Press in the 1960s and 70s.
The Library holds a collection of Witness Statements of Irish Volunteers 1913-1921 in the Mayo Brigades collected by The Bureau of Military History in the 1950’s in hardcopy. The witness statements collected by the Bureau are now available online to read or download free at www.militaryarchives.ie
Jackie Clarke Library Ballina
A fascinating collection of letters, maps, books, posters, photographs and artefacts which includes material from Michael Collins, O’Donovan Rossa, Douglas Hyde and leaders of the 1916 Rising.
National Library of Ireland
To undertake research at the National Library of Ireland a reader’s ticket is required. This can be obtained in the main reading room by supplying photographic identity such as a passport or driver’s licence and also by completing an online application form with a passport sized photograph of self. There are a number of facilities offered in assisting visitors which are very useful for researching Mayo history of the Irish Revolution. There is an online catalogue which will save a lot of time before you visit and you can pre-order your required material/manuscripts/books/microfilm online and it will be waiting for you when you arrive. When searching this catalogue it is important to known there are two databases to search which are in the process of being amalgamated. They are the Main Catalogue: http://catalogue.nli.ie/ and the Sources Database: http://sources.nli.ie/
There is also a reprographics room which will arrange to copy any material for you. Some of the relevant material for The Irish Revolutionary Period includes:
- National and Provincial Newspaper Collections available on microfilm. Important here are The Freeman’s Journal, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. There is a photocopying facility for copying relevant material found on microfilm.
- Photographic Collections of which the most relevant are ‘The Keogh Collection’ – a collection of 300 photograph covering the period 1913 to 1930 can be viewed at the National Library of Ireland Digital Photographs Database online at http://www.nli.ie/digital-photographs.aspx Simply type in the collection you would like to view in the search box.
- The Irish Independent Newspaper Collection which covers the Irish Revolution period. The period 1912 to 1936 can be viewed online at the National Library of Ireland Digital Photographs Database online.
- Letters and documents from the major figures in Irish history. These documents must be searched in the online catalogue and pre-ordered before you visit the Manuscript Room.
- Books and pamphlets published on The Irish Revolutionary Period.
National Archives of Ireland
In order to gain access to archive material it is necessary to obtain a reader’s ticket. Present two forms of photographic identification to the Duty Archivist on the Fifth Floor opposite the reading room and you will have your ticket. The archives available again depend on what you would like to consult. Most relevant for County Mayo are:
- Royal Irish Constabulary Registers on microfilm.
Consult Herlihy, Jim. ‘The Royal Irish Constabulary’. A Complete Alphabetical List of Officers and Men 1816-1922. Four Courts Press, Dublin 1999. (The Big Red Book) Available at the Counter in The Reading Room, Fifth Floor. Each Officer or Constable has a number. The higher the police number the later the period of service. Once you identify the name you wish to check go to the microfilm room to obtain your microfilm reel. The reels are coded MFA/24/ and contain the Constable numbers listed on the reels. For example MFA/24/17 and MFA/24/18 contain members of the Auxiliary Division Royal Irish Constabulary. Their Police Numbers are above 72,000. For members of the RIC who joined at an earlier date, for example, Richard Francis Raleigh Cruise, Divisional Commissioner Galway and Mayo 1920-22, the police number is 60, 575. Take your microfilm and go to the machines which enable you to view the files. Some of the machines are also linked to a photocopier to help you take copies or you can write down the details in your notebook.
- Dublin Castle Files available on microfilm MFA 54 Series
- Crown and Peace Papers for County Mayo 1775-1931 CSER/CP/MO
- 1901 and 1911 Censii available on microfilm and available online. The Census of 1901 and 1911 can identify the locations of families and individual identities in the years before the Revolutionary Period.
UCD Archives, Belfield, Dublin.
This archive contains a number of collections of private papers, photographs and notebooks of the prominent political and military figures from the Irish Revolutionary Period. A reader’s ticket and a visit, booked in advance, are required to consult archive material.
- Ernie O’Malley Military Notebooks and Papers. The notebooks are available on microfilm but are written in difficult script. Many of Ernie O’Malley’s Interviews with Mayo IRA Veterans are now in print. Please see ‘The Men Will Talk to Me’ Series on Mayo edited by Vincent Keane & Cormac O’Malley and Galway edited by Cormac K.H. O’Malley & Cormac O’Comhraí Published by Mercier Press.
- Seán Mac Eoin Papers
- Richard Mulcahy Papers
- De Valera Papers
- Desmond Fitzgerald Photographs Taken mostly during the Civil War but some from 1916 and the War of Independence.
Royal College of Physicians
- Dr Kathleen Lynn Diaries 1916-1955
Military Archives, Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin
- Bureau of Military History Collection containing witness statements of veterans or witnesses to the Irish Revolution, maps, plans and photographs available online.
- Military Service Pensions Collection. A collection of pension applications of IRA and Cumann na mBan Veterans seeking their medals and pensions for service 1916-1921.
- Civil War Operational and Intelligence Reports
- Rev Br Ward Collection is a small series of RIC Intelligence Reports on the Irish Volunteers in Westport and also IRA GHQ Orders for actions to be taken against spies. The documents were saved from destruction by Br Ward who was acting Principal at the Christian Brothers School in Westport and buried in a tin box. After the conflict was over the documents were kept in his possession until being handed in to the Military Archives.
- Collections held by the Military Archives are considerable. For some you will have to visit Cathal Brugha Barracks but for others they may be researched online. You can read about some of the Collections available online at:
- Cashman Photographic Collection – containing photographs of the Irish Revolutionary Period available to view on the RTÉ Archive website.
- Murtagh Photographic Collection – containing photographs of the aftermath of the Easter Rising 1916 available to view on the RTÉ Archive Website.
Tuam Diocesan Archives
- File on Black and Tan Atrocities in County Mayo and North Galway collected on the orders of Archbishop of Tuam Dr Gilmartin 1920-21.
- Correspondence of Dr Gilmartin relating to ‘The Truce of God’ in 1920.
United Kingdom, Public Record Office, Kew.
- Records of the Irish Office listed as Dublin Castle Records: CO 904 series.
- These files contain personalities, incidents, arms landings, Sinn Féin and Unionist files of The Royal Irish Constabulary and are most relevant for Mayo research. Some of the Colonial Office Files are also found in the National Archives of Ireland.
- Sinn Féin Suspects: WO 35/207/ Series
- British Military and RIC Prosecutions: WO 35 Series
British Regimental Archives
Each Regiment which served in County Mayo during the War of Independence should have a ‘War Diary’ for the Battalion/s which were on active service in Ireland. The Diary is sometimes part of The Great War Diary. Once you know the Regiment history you wish to consult you can visit the associated website for assistance in locating the records you seek. In most cases the records are slim and you will find more information in the Mayo Newspapers of the period for names, ranks, regiments, battalions and even company strength. Regimental Archives appreciate a donation for the assistance given in locating your required records.
Irish College, Rome, Italy
- Monsignor John Hagan Papers, Rector Irish College during the Irish Revolutionary Period
Researching the Irish who Died in the Great War
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
This is a list of the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. Most Irish soldiers who died in World War One appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website www.cwgc.org
Mayo Peace Park
The Mayo Peace Park committee have researched records of the Mayo men who fought and died in the Great War and have added many extra names to the CWGC list. These are available at www.mayopeacepark.ie
Local newspapers and church memorials are also very useful in this endeavour, as they recorded the men and women from their locality who died.
British Army Records
Unfortunately two thirds of all First World War soldiers’ service records were destroyed in the London blitz of World War Two. Recently findmypast re-indexed these ‘burnt records’ and recovered the names and partial service files of over 600,000 soldiers whose records had been lost.
National Archives UK
The UK National Archives, Kew holds over 5.5 million First World War army medal cards,which are now accessible on-line. The medal cards include the recipient’s name, service number, rank and unit. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
UK naval records survived intact and are currently being digitised to be made available on the UK National Archives website http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
You can find a lot more information on tracing First World War ancestors at http://www.greatwar.co.uk/research/military-records/ww1-war-dead-records.htm