Expert Workshop at the NLI, March 2016. Cecile Gordon – Revolutionary Women in the records.

Outline: The Women in the Military Service Pensions Collection 1916-1923.


Through successive commemorative exercises, the narrative of the Easter Rising 1916 as a historical event, has been subjected to a variety of filters and revisions.

The event is a contested ground in Irish history and nothing leads to believe that it will be any different in the years to come. Nonetheless, if the centenary does not provide us with certainty about the ultimate significance of the event, it has done something very positive for the revolutionary women and this is also evident through the new publications of quality being released lately.

Due to many factors, including the lack of primary sources, the women of the Revolution have been cast aside. They were disremembered. As a result their stories also have been consistently ‘simplified’ and their actions were steadily ‘reduced’ to some bland blanket statements mentioning the wonderful credibility of their engagement.

From 2003, the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements did a good job in pushing the story of some of them in forefront. There are things that the Witness Statements cannot do though: it cannot give us a quantifiable appreciation of the women’s involvement in the revolutionary movement and it does not give us the story of the ‘ordinary’. The people interviewed back in the 40s or 50s were selected for their prominent role in their respective organisations and therefore a lot of voices were left unheard.

The Military Service Pensions Collection helps us address the work of the women differently: with a large quantity of files from the leadership to the rank and file, the collection navigates between the personal story and its wider context. It also forces us to rethink Cumann na mBan as an organisation which, from 1916 onwards did not succeed at becoming a fully functioning military influence.

The talk will cover what the collection brings to the 1916 table and how it alters the narrative regarding revolutionary women in Ireland but will also show that the pension files convey evidence that women, influenced by the Rising, and within a wider context, possibly vitalised by the suffragette movement, truly find their voice through the events that followed.



Ms Cécile Gordon is an archivist and has been working on the Military Service Pensions Project in Cathal Brugha Barracks since the beginning of the project in 2008. The MSP Project holds an important place in the centenary commemorations as part of the Government’s plans, along with the opening of a new building for the ever growing archive collections held in the Military Archives.

Cécile has been working as an archivist for more than 10 years and prior to 2008, was managing the archives of the Mid-East region (Wicklow, Kildare and Meath County Councils). She was awarded a Higher Diploma in Archival Studies and a Master’s Degree in Archives and Records Management from University College Dublin. Her areas of interest include the impact of the work of the archivist on the nature and use of primary sources and the connection between archives, nationalism, identity, commemoration and collective memory. She has published various articles in specialised publications such as History Ireland, Irish Archives, the Irish Labour History Society’s Soathar and other local history journals.

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