The story of the Bennett family from Ballingarry, County Tipperary is just one of the thousands that available in the collection. Their interaction with the administrative process that became the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection began with the application from John Bennett whose son Patrick was killed on 3 December 1922 at age 19. Bennett also informs the Secretary, Department of Defence that he was unable to secure a death certificate as his son’s remains had been ‘refused admission into the “Catholic Church”.
Patrick Bennett joined the IRA during the War of Independence in 1919. At the outbreak of the Civil War he opted to fight on the side of the anti-Treaty IRA. Bennett was killed during an exchange with members of the National Forces at Bawndonnell, Slievenamon, County Tipperary. He was a Private in 3 Tipperary Brigade. According to information in the file Bennett was killed while guarding IRA troops who were in retreat.
The report from the Customs and Excise Officer, Thurles in 1934 detailing the circumstances of the Bennett family makes for difficult reading. Patrick being the eldest working child was the chief support of the family. He was employed as a farm labourer, earning £19 per annum. Of this £19 he contributed the majority of it to the up keep of his siblings with locals stating that ‘he was of extremely generous nature’. Other investigations mark the contribution between £2- £5 per year whereas John claims he received up to £10 per year from his son.
The report reveals that John was employed as a farm labourer and was in receipt of 9 shillings per week in 1923. He also had use of a house but no land to work. Following the death of his son, John was forced to give up his employment as he was a widower with ten children ranging in ages between 18 months and 21 years. A knock on effect of him leaving his employment was the loss of the family home. The report also reveals that the family’s circumstances changed drastically following the death of Patrick. The eldest daughters, Mary and Rose, who in 1923 were acting as ‘housekeepers’ to the younger children, left for England to find employment. As a result John Bennett was required to place three of his youngest children in Cashel Industrial School where two of them died. Moreover by 1934 none of Mr Bennett’s children were in a position to assist him financially. Indeed, he was required to supply his married daughter Nan with vegetables and free milk.
One can see why the officer’s assessment of John Bennett rings true: “owing to hardships endured since and subsequent bereavements he has aged considerably with consequent impairment of his health.”
Given such circumstances it could be difficult to see why John Bennett’s application was rejected. The Army Pensions Board had recommended a gratuity payment of £112.10.0. However his application was rejected on age grounds. After numerous representations, appeals on medical grounds and queries by the Investigation Officer Bennett’s application was reconsidered and he was deemed a Special Dependent under the Army Pensions Act, 1937. This entitled him to the sum of £26 per annum payable from 2 June 1937. John Bennett died on 24 January 1944.
The Bennett case illustrates the multi-faceted histories that are available in the collection. While the file owes its origins to the death of Patrick Bennett it quickly becomes a story of the social history of the family over the next quarter century.