Barry is born into a farming family in Riverstick, ten miles south of Cork city, on July 15, 1883. He enjoys Gaelic culture and sport and is a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joins the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club where he wins four senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.
In 1913, Barry joins the newly formed Irish Volunteers. He is a member of the first Cork brigade and has been politically active in Sinn Féin. In 1915, he moves to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continues his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising in 1916, he is arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1917 he becomes election agent for W. T. Cosgrave in the Kilkenny by-election, one in which Cosgrave is successfully elected. However, just six years later he finds himself imprisoned by Cosgrave’s own government.
In 1922 Barry is imprisoned in Newbridge camp in Kildare and takes part in the hunger strike of 1923. On November 20, 1923, after 34 days protesting against the harsh regime and undignified conditions, he dies but even in death he is still refused dignity.
Barry’s body is not released to his family and is instead, on the orders of Minister of Defence, Richard Mulcahy, buried in the grounds of Newbridge internment camp. The Barry family takes legal action against this and eventually receives the body, but this is not the last of their troubles.
Upon their arrival in Cork with Barry’s body, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, instructs his priests not to allow Barry’s funeral in any church. Ironically just a few short years before, Bishop Cohalan had been a strong vocal supporter of Terence MacSwiney, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.
Shortly after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan’s attitude towards the Irish Republican Army (IRA) changes and he issues a decree condemning the IRA in which he states, “Anyone who shall within the diocese of Cork organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.”
On December 10, 1922, Bishop Cohalan preaches publicly his support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which establishes the Irish Free State and he urges his flock to do the same. This leads to an even greater wedge between the Catholic Church and many IRA members, yet it is the incident with Barry that seriously taints the Bishop of Cork and the Catholic Church in republican eyes.
Because of Bishop Cohalan’s stern objection to Barry’s body being permitted into a Catholic church, his body has to lay in state in the Cork Sinn Féin headquarters on the Grand Parade in Cork city. He is then taken in a funeral procession to St. Finbarr’s Cemetery where he is buried in the Republican plot next to Terence MacSwiney, whose funeral Bishop Cohalan had presided over three years previously. In place of a priest is David Kent, Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork and brother of Thomas Kent, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Kent gives an oration, recites the Rosary and sprinkles holy water on the grave.
On November 28, 1923, the day Barry is buried, Bishop Cohalan sends an open letter to The Cork Examiner publicly denying a Christian burial for Barry and urging all men of the cloth to stay away from any such attempts for such a funeral. He goes so far as to write to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. Patrick Foley, to enquire about Barry getting the last sacraments. Barry did indeed receive the last rites from a Fr. Doyle who was serving as prison chaplain and this does not impress the Bishop of Cork.
Barry’s funeral precession through Cork City draws massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man who had been at the heart of the revolution in Cork during the last decade of his life. The IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fíanna Éireann march in military formations with the funeral party.
Two days after Barry’s death another IRA prisoner, Andrew O’Sullivan, from Cork dies and the strike is called off the following day. Women prisoners are then released while men remain in prison until the following year.
A memorial to Barry is unveiled in Riverstick in 1966.