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TOM BARRY: From Mesopotamia to Macroom to the Mardyke

Updated: Feb 17

Figure 1: Tom Barry during the Irish War of Independence.

Early Life

Tom Barry, like many young Irish men joined the British Army during World War I ‘to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel like a grown man.’[1] Thomas Bernadine Barry, was born in Killorglin, Kerry on 1 July 1897, the second child of Thomas and Margaret née Donovan.[2] Thomas Barry, Senior, joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on 26 August 1881 aged twenty and his first posting was to Galway.[3] In May 1894, he was transferred to Cork, but his time in his native county was short-lived. He married Margaret in Dublin on 6 November 1894 and shortly after, on 11 December 1894 he was transferred to Killorglin, County Kerry.[4] He applied for his pension in 1907 which was granted and the Barrys returned to West Cork, settling in Rosscarbery, where they ran a retail business in The Arcade (The Old Post Office) until 1915. [5] The Barry family moved to Bandon and subsequently immigrated to Liverpool. Thomas Barry died on 28 July 1943, his wife, Margaret, predeceased him, dying on 5 March 1940.[6]

Figure 2: The Arcade, Rosscarbery (NLI)

World War I

Tom Barry, Junior, enlisted in the British Army on 30 June 1915 and was posted to the Royal Field Artillery depot at Athlone on 1 July 1915, his eighteenth birthday. He gave his age as 19½ on attestation, however. The records also note that he was ‘5 feet 7 1/2’ and had a ‘large mole on his left thigh’.[7] In January 1916, Barry departed for Iraq with the 14th Battery, 4th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery which formed part of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. Over two years later, on 20 May 1918, he left Iraq bound for Egypt. The 33rd (Lahore) Division of which his battery was part, spent eighteen days on board a British vessel, arriving in Egypt on 6 June. He remained there for eight months, before departing on 20 February 1919. He was discharged on 7 April 1919, his records noting that he was ‘a good hardworking man’.[8]

Figure 3: From Skibbereen Eagle

Barry’s service records also display brief glimpses of a fiery character. Four months after his attestation he was reprimanded for being absent from a parade and not complying with an order. The following year, on 27 June 1916, he was once again reprimanded for irregular conduct. His insubordination escalated as did the punishment: on three occasions between June 1916 and December 1918, he was sentenced to ‘F.P. No. 2’ and twice suffered loss of pay.[9] This field punishment meant he was shackled for a fixed period each day of his sentence, suitable punishment for stating a falsehood, creating a disturbance and an improper reply to an NCO?

Figure 4: From Tom Barry's British Army records.

Return to Cork

After his discharge, Barry returned to Cork, settling in Convent Hill, Bandon. He was granted a British Army pension on 7 August 1919 which continued to be paid until at least 1923. His records note his disabilities as malaria and ‘D.A.H.’ [disordered action of the heart and malaria], his ‘degree of disablement - 40%’.[10] On his return to Ireland, Barry joined the thousands of unemployed veterans and Hart notes that contemporaries described him as a restless individual not fitting in anywhere.[11] Initially it appears he kept company with British army personnel, and on Armistice Day, 11 November 1919, he raised the Union Jack in the YMCA Hall in Bandon.[12] He also became a prominent member of the Bandon Branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS), an organisation formed in 1917 by the Liberal MP James Hooge to lobby for better conditions for ex-servicemen. On November 8th, 1919, he addressed a large meeting of veterans in Cork City Hall and successfully proposed a motion protesting against civilians working in a ‘Government and War Department …who, under no circumstances whatever would serve in the navy or army, no matter how great the need’ and calling upon those responsible to have them replaced by ‘discharged and demobilised men’.[13]

Shortly after the meeting in Cork City Hall, Barry sought a Civil Service Commission, preparing for the ensuing test in Skerries College, Cork. However, he was unsuccessful in the examination of ‘Male Clerk, Ministry of Labour, Reconstruction Scheme, Ireland Division’.[14] On 2 February 1920, he requested an Indian posting indicating he may have been seeking a government position in India. It seems Barry’s disillusionment was growing and he publicly expressed his frustrations at a meeting in Bandon Town Hall. He described the NFDDSS branch in the West Cork town as ‘sleepy and lazy’.[15] He also commented on the boycotting of ex-soldiers in the town and the attempts to politicise them; the Skibbereen Eagle article concluding that Barry ‘as an Irishman he would not become the tool of an [sic] political party.’[16]

On 18 July 1920, James Burke, a former Royal Munster Fusilier, was killed by members of a British military patrol at North Gate Bridge, Cork city.[17] In the aftermath of his killing, tension was rife in the city. Liam de Róiste wrote that ‘Cork had an experience of terrorism and frightfulness’ with ex-servicemen attacking soldiers in uniform.[18] He noted that the ex-servicemen were ‘arrayed against the service men, and … threatening to clear every so-and-so-soldier off the streets!’[19] Two days later, more than 5,000 ex-servicemen marched in Burke's funeral procession and among those acting as pallbearers were representatives of the Bandon branch of the NFDDSS, including Tom Barry.[20] This appears to be Barry’s last interaction with his former comrades, and in his Irish military pension application, he declared that these encounters were to discover ‘what the British Government intended to do with the ex-soldiers’.[21] During the early months of 1920 Tom Barry was on the fringes of Irish Republican Army (IRA) membership, however in the summer he claims that he approached Seán Buckley, a member of the Bandon Company of the IRA, who brought him into the organisation. The Pension Board, which later assessed Barry’ entitlement to a pension for his service in the Irish War of Independence, concluded that 1 August 1920 was when he became a full-time member of the IRA.

War of Independence

In August 1920, Cork No. 3 Brigade sought a training officer to prepare the Volunteers for intensifying activities against Crown forces. Between 1916 and 1920 numerous articles were published in the Irish Volunteer and An tÓglach outlining guerrilla tactics employed during World War 1. In April 1920, ‘Lessons from East Africa’ was published in An tÓglach summarising the tactics of General Lettow-Vorbeck. In 1919, the general had been grossly outnumbered by Allied forces but using the principle of avoiding defeat, he fought only when his prospects were encouraging. At all other times, he ensured his troops avoided the enemy, forcing them to pursue, thereby turning the conflict into a protracted, stamina-sapping marathon. The general was successful and by the end of the First World War, he remained at large. His ‘campaign in East Africa affords perhaps more valuable instruction for the employment of the Irish Republican Army in its present circumstances than any other campaign that was ever fought.’[22] Seán Buckley suggested that Tom Barry would be an ideal candidate, however, ‘the majority of the members … were not enthusiastic about the selection’.[23] This was a common theme among many of the IRA battalions with some ex-servicemen suspected of being informers. In the majority of cases, this masked a reluctance to concede that the Great War veterans were better qualified to command the local units, and indeed, the current officers feared they would be cast aside in favour of the men who had returned from British trenches.

To allay these fears Brigade Officer Commanding (O/C) Charlie Hurley and Vice O/C Ted Sullivan interviewed Tom Barry at the Camden Hotel, Cork city, Barry successful and was appointed as Brigade Training Officer.[24] This was an appointment that was mirrored in many other brigades; other former soldiers such as Patrick Kelly, James McIntosh, William Walsh, James McCann and Thomas Liston were all recruited to train the rebels in weaponry, tactics and communications.[25] In Cork, in September 1920, the brigade officers decided to establish a brigade column and, for this purpose, several men were identified for special training. The training camp took place at O'Brien's, Clonbuig, Kilbrittain under Tom Barry. John O’Driscoll recalled that the training ‘was heavy … we were kept at it all day for seven days, foot drill, extended order, ambush positions and finally after aiming practice we fired three or four rounds at targets.’ [26] Subsequently, Barry was appointed as the West Cork Brigade's flying column leader. During the period he led audacious attacks at Kilmichael and Crossbarry.

In the aftermath of the ambushes, the last months of 1920 were a turbulent time in Cork culminating in the burning of the commercial heart of the city by Crown forces on the night of 11 December 1920. The early days of 1921 continued with a series of attacks and reprisals.[27] At this point, General Peter Strickland conceded that ‘the formations of the Republican force were almost as well organised of those of the British Army’.[28] By the summer, an impasse had been reached; a month later, Colonel Sir Hugh Elles observed that ‘the British Army in Ireland is besieged … on the other hand, the population moves when, where, and by whatever route it wishes.’[29] He believed with severe restrictions and controls, Ireland would be brought back under control within two years, but anything less would ‘cause us to abandon the country, and we shall be beaten.’[30] This grim analysis coupled with Britain’s burgeoning debt in the aftermath of the First World War brought the Anglo-Irish War to an abrupt end.[31] Senior IRA officer, Florence O’Donoghue summed up the British position, ‘to put it in plain and inelegant language – the enemy is in the very devil of a knot.’[32] A ceasefire was proclaimed on 11 July 1921, and ‘when noontide – the hour of truce – arrived the glad news was celebrated by the hooting of sirens [sic] of the ships and cheers from the joyful crowds, glad that the tense atmosphere of former days was over’.[33]

By employing guerrilla tactics, the IRA had achieved what a regular army could never have achieved against the military might of Great Britain.[34] Rebel Cork had ‘ample reason for taking pride in the part its men, women and boys played in the fight to free Ireland from British rule.’[35] However, while the fight for freedom had been successful, it was the internal discourse between ‘the leaders of Ireland’s protest … young men who made revolution their whole and only career’ that precluded peace in Ireland.[36]

Civil War

The Anglo-Irish Treaty signed between Britain and Ireland on 6 December 1921 was narrowly accepted by Dáil Éireann in January 1922.[37] Although the Treaty was democratically ratified, tension permeated throughout the country and when anti-Treaty militants occupied the Four Courts, Dublin on 14 April 1922, a civil war was imminent. Civil war finally broke out when Provisional Government troops bombarded the Four Courts on 28 June 1922. However, outgunned the rebels eventually surrendered, ensuring that some of the Republican leadership would be imprisoned through the early stages of the Civil War. Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows were incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison until their execution in December. The war lasted until May 1923, but according to Killeen, the outcome was determined within the first six weeks.[38] The Irish people, weary from conflict with the British Empire, were, according to writer and anti-Treaty solder Seán Ó Faoláin, ‘at best sullen and uncooperative, at worst hard against us.’[39] Fighting soon ceased, the anti-Treaty side outnumbered and outgunned, suffered ‘a progressive wearing down of any will for a continuation of the struggle.’[40]

Tom Barry opposed the treaty, believing that it betrayed the Irish Republic and partitioned the country and he fought on the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War (1922–1923). During the occupation of the Four Courts, he attempted to enter the building disguised as a woman but was arrested. He was imprisoned in Gormanston internment camp but made an audacious escape shortly after. He then travelled south, taking command of the anti-Treaty IRA Second Southern Division. In November 1922, he led his men in the capture of a several towns including Carrick on Suir, Thomastown and Mullinavat. However, at this juncture, he realised the situation was futile and increasingly argued with Liam Lynch, the IRA commander-in-chief, that the Civil War should be brought to an end. In March 1923, Barry proposed to the IRA Army executive that a ceasefire should be called, but he was defeated by 6 votes to 5. This was in stark contrast to six months earlier when he proposed at the Army Convention of 18 June 1922 that unless the remaining British troops left Dublin within seventy-two hours, they would be attacked. Soon after Liam Lynch was killed in a skirmish with Free State troops and subsequently a ceasefire was called by Frank Aiken. On 19 December 1923, Tom Barry and Tom Hales were stopped by C.I.D. men, and Barry was detained.’[41] He was released after a few hours but spent the next twelve evading arrest until the ‘general amnesty for offences committed by those concerned in the Irregular campaign against the State’ was announced in November 1924.[42]

Figure 5: Tom Barry and Leslie Price’s wedding party at Vaughan’s Hotel, Dublin on August 22nd, 1921, featuring the who's who of leading figures in the IRA.


In 1937, he succeeded Seán MacBride as chief of staff of the IRA and during the year he travelled to Germany to seek support to attack British bases in Northern Ireland. However, at an IRA convention held in April 1938, Barry’s proposals were rejected, and Seán Russell’s S-Plan was adopted instead.[43] This decision prompted Barry to resign and reputedly he remained in contact with German agents until early 1939. In 1940, he was made responsible for intelligence in the Southern Command of the Irish Army, holding the position for the duration of World War II. In 1941 he was denounced by the IRA for writing for the Irish Army’s journal. He was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1946 Cork Borough by-election. In 1948, Tom Barry’s memoirs were serialised in the Irish Press and a year later he published the accounts as Guerrilla Days in Ireland. At this point, he was also General Superintendent of Cork Harbour Commissioners, a position he held from 1927 until his retirement in 1965. Barry and his wife Leslie nee Price, President of the Irish Red Cross and participant in the 1916 Easter Rising, did not have children. She and ‘her ever attendant spouse’ were often found ‘on the elm-shaded Mardyke Walk which served as a convenient Sunday morning promenade convenient to their home in Daunt’s Square where the vibrant heart of Cork is always beating.’[44]

Figure 6: Tom and Leslie's home in Daunt's Square, Cork.

Tom Barry died on 2 July 1980 at ‘Cork Regional Hospital’ and his funeral was private in keeping with his wishes that ‘there should be no public demonstration of sorrow.’[45] To this end, the family notice in the Cork Examiner was printed after his funeral ‘which ended with a decade of the Rosary and the most famous son of the war of Independence was finally laid to rest as he wished. Without ceremony and pomp.’[46]

Figure 7: Final resting place of Tom and Leslie Barry, Saint Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork.


[1] Tom Barry, Guerrilla Days in Ireland (Dublin, 1981), p. 2. [2] Copy of birth certificate for Thomas Bernadine Barry, 1 July 1897. (accessed on 17 March 2023). [3] Thomas Barry’s service number was 47700. Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary Service Records 1816-1922, The National Archives, HO, 184/25, The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom (hereafter, TNA). [4] Ibid. Copy of marriage certificate for Thomas Barry, 6 November 1894. (accessed on 20 May 2023). [5] Thomas Barry, 1911 census return, National Archives of Ireland (hereafter NAI). (accessed on 20 May 2023). [6] Cork Examiner, 31 July 1943; Evening Echo, 6 March 1940. [7] War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War WO363. Thomas B. Barry, 100399, TNA. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Ibid. [11] Peter Hart, The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923 (New York, 1998), p. 31. [12] Meda Ryan, The Tom Barry story (Cork, 1982), p. 16; Peter Hart, The I.R.A. and its enemies (New York, 1998), p. 31. [13] Cork Examiner, 10 November 1920. [14] Gerry White, Irish Times, 3 June 2020 ( [15] Skibbereen Eagle, 12 June 1920. [16] Ibid. [17] Copy of death certificate for James Burke, 18 July 1920. (accessed 20 May 2023). [18] Liam de Róiste diaries, Cork City and County Archives, (accessed 20 May 2023). [19] Ibid. [20] Cork Examiner, 21 July 1920. [21] Tom Barry pension application, MSP34REF57456, TomBarry.pdf, Military Services Pension Collection, Irish Military Archives. [22] An tÓglach, 13 April 1920. [23] Ted O’Sullivan, BMH, WS 1478. [24] Ibid. [25] Emmanuel Destenay, Shadows from the Trenches (Dublin, 2021), p. 44-5. [26] John O’Driscoll, BMH, WS 1250. [27] Between New Year’s Day 1919 and 1921, 8,857 ‘outrages’ occurred in Ireland (See Appendix 8). Before the cost of damage inflicted by Crown forces in Cork, ‘the estimated cost of the property destroyed by Sinn Feiners in Ireland’ to 14 July 1920 was almost £2,000,000, 60 per cent of the total attributable to Munster. ‘Ulster £162,772, Munster £1,201,139, Connaught £191,669 and Leinster Royal Irish Constabulary Area £411,079.’ HC Deb 22 July 1920 vol 132 cc597-808. [28] Hartlepool Northern Daily, 21 January 1921. Strickland became the Military Governor of counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary when the British Government declared Martial Law in those counties on 10 December 1920. [29] Colonel Sir Hugh Elles, ‘The military situation in Ireland’, memorandum by the Secretary, 24 June 1921, CAB 24/125/77, TNA. [30] Ibid. He concluded his memorandum to Cabinet with a statement that ensured that each politician was aware of the gravity of the situation; ‘I am strongly reminded of certain phases of the Third Battle of Ypres.’ [31] Britain’s war effort had ‘entailed substantial borrowing, resulting in high inflation and a large increase in the national debt. By 1920, the GDP deflator stood at 270.8 (1913 = 100) and the national debt was £7.8 billion (1.3 times GDP), compared with £0.62 billion (0.25 times GDP) in 1913. Stephen Broadberry and Mark Harrison (eds), The Economics of the Great War: A Centennial Perspective (London, 2018), p. 121. [32] John Borgonovo, Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue's War of Independence: a destiny that shaped our ends (Dublin, 2006), p. 172. [33] Sheffield Independent, 12 July 1921. ‘Troops who have never dared to venture out unarmed walked the streets weaponless, and mingled with the populace as if they were a part of the joyous throngs.’ The New York Herald, 12 July 1921. [34] An tÓglach, 13 April 1920. [35] Rebel Cork's fighting story: from 1916 to the truce with Britain (Tralee, n.d.), p.5; Cork brigades ‘were responsible for 28 per cent of all of the IRA’s victims, thereby earning pre-eminent notoriety.’ Peter Hart, ‘The geography of revolution in Ireland’, Past & Present, no. 155 (May 1997), p. 146. [36] Edgar Holt, Protest in arms: the Irish troubles, 1916-1923 (London, 1960), p. 123. [37] The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 bestowed dominion status on Ireland and is the State’s founding document. The Treaty, a concise document, at 1,800 words, granted Ireland ‘the same constitutional status in the Community of Nations known as the British Empire as the Dominion of Canada … with a Parliament … and shall be styled and known as the Irish Free State.’ Ronan Fanning, Michael Kennedy, Dermot Keogh, Eunan O’Halpin (eds) Documents on Irish foreign policy (10 vols, Dublin, 1998 – 2016), i, 356. [38] Richard Killeen, A Short History of the Irish Revolution, 1912 to 1927: From the Ulster Crisis to the formation of the Irish Free State (Dublin, 2007), p. 130. [39] Sean O'Faolain, Vive Moi! (London, 1993), p.156. [40] Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green: the Irish civil war (Dublin, 1998), pp. 239-40. [41] Irish Independent, 21 December 1923. [42] Freemans Journal, 8 November 1924. [43] Seán Russell’s S-Plan was based on a sabotage campaign involving the bombing of key commercial and infrastructural targets across England. [44] Corkman, 13 July 1984. [45] Irish Independent, 3 July 1980. [46] Irish Press, 4 July 1980.


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