Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Sean/John Barry 1897-1931

Sean Barry was born at Tullamore in 1897. His parents Richard and Emily Barry lived at Earl (O’Moore) Street. Richard worked as a nail maker and was reportedly a Fenian veteran. Sean’s stepbrother Dick was a well-known figure in the towns Irish-Ireland movement before emigrating to New York.

Sean was associated with the Colmcille Pipe Band and was a member of the Tullamore senior football side which won the 1917 county championship.

Barry joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and was opposed to John Redmond’s call for Irishmen to enlist in the British Army during the Great War. In the aftermath of the Tullamore Affray in March 1916 when RIC sergeant Ahern was wounded, Barry secured volunteer’s weapons to prevent their discovery by the police.

As a result of his republican activities,  Barry lost his job in the post office. In 1918, he took part in a hunger strike while spending 4 months in Belfast prison on a charge of illegal drilling. On the run throughout the War of Independence he took part in attacks on crown forces at Clara Barracks and Ballycommon bridge.

In late October 1920, the IRA carried out a series of retaliatory attacks nationwide in response to Terence McSweeney’s death on hunger strike in Brixton prison. As part of this operation Barry and Sean Killeavy shot dead sergeant Henry Cronin in Tullamore on Halloween night.

A leader of the north Offaly flying column Barry was arrested and interned in May 1921, but escaped from the Curragh by tunnel the following September.

Joining the National Army as a Lieutenant he served throughout the midlands during the Civil War. In December 1922 he married Elizabeth Phelan from Laois and Transfered to Roscrea a short time later.

On 28th February 1923, Barry led a detachment from Roscrea to carry out arrests in relation to ongoing land disputes near Moneygall. Sergeant Patrick Byrne and Private John Gunning were killed when the detachment was attacked by an anti- Treaty column at Crimblin Hill.

Demobilised in 1924, Barry’s health suffered in the years that followed and he spent prolonged periods in a sanatorium to treat TB. When he passed away in January 1931 his obituarist commented…

‘He was a staunch and courageous follower of the movement, and those who were associated with him bear testimony to the fact. He was imprisoned for his activities, and was one of those who in Belfast jail, under the leadership of Austin Stack, fought against the tyranny of the Belfast prison authorities. He also spent long terms in the internment camps. He endured great hardships in the campaign but carried on valiantly to the end.(1)

He was buried in Clominch cemetery, in 1966 Barry’s widow wrote…

‘His comrades didn’t wrap the National Flag on his coffin, neither did the Pipers’ Band turn up, although he was a member of same, nor was the Last Post sounded. Was his record not up to standard?’ (2)

This author wishes to acknowledge the existing work of the Michael Byrne on Sean Barry and Tullamore in the early 20th century.


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Bureau of Military History Statements. Peader Bracken Witness 12 & 361. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension File. John Barry 24SP1944. Brigade Activity (A17)Reports search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Michael Byrne. Sean Barry: a volunteer who ‘was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly’, and three cheers for Mrs nurse Barry’ Offaly History online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/sean-barry-a-volunteer-who-was-in-any-operation-worthwhile-in-offaly-and-three-cheers-for-mrs-nurse-barry-by-michael-byrne

‘Seamus Doherty. The Crimblin Hill Ambush’ in Under Crimblin Hill Vol 3 (2022).

‘The Blues’ – A 125 Photographic History of Tullamore GAA Club. (Tullamore) 2014.

Evening Herald. 13 April 1918. 14 May 1921.

Offaly Independent. 24 January 1931. 29 August 1959. 19 January 1979. 4 December 1992. 11 December 1992. 18 December 1992.

Midlands County Advertiser. 22 January 1931.

(1) Midlands County Advertiser. 22 January 1931.

(2) Michael Byrne. Sean Barry: a volunteer who ‘was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly’, and three cheers for Mrs nurse Barry’ Offaly History online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/uncategorized/sean-barry-a-volunteer-who-was-in-any-operation-worthwhile-in-offaly-and-three-cheers-for-mrs-nurse-barry-by-michael-byrne

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