Some of the more recent contributions to the narrative of the 1912–23 period, such as that of Ferriter and Dolan, have looked at the personal histories of the combatants and less at causation and the course of the military campaign (Hopkinson and Laffan). Others such as Foster (and earlier Thompson) examined the cultural background for what role it played in the mind-set of the young revolutionaries. These approaches can be combined in the context of at least one Tullamore family that of Barry of Earl Street, now O’Moore Street, Tullamore. Here two sons of Richard Barry, Richard jun. and John (Sean) each played a significant role – Richard on the cultural side and Sean as a soldier Volunteer. We will look at Richard’s early years in the cultural movements in Tullamore in a later article.
Richard Barry, the Thurles-born smith-nail maker, and old Fenian, lived in 1901 on the terrace, close to the big house at the junction with Cormac Street, with his wife, four children, and four boarders, all Roman Catholic, including young Richard Barry (20) then a temporary clerk with the lately established county council. His step-brother John was three in the 1901 census and their father was 50 and mother 40. Richard jun., with one of the boarders, spoke Irish and English, while their father made a mark over his name. Richard Barry senior was a widower who had remarried and three of the boarders were children of his wife’s first marriage. The family were ten in all, living in four rooms, and there were only two such large families in the 38 houses on the street in 1901. By 1911 there were only five in the house on census night of which John (Sean) was one. Richard jun. went to America in 1904. John was of the second marriage and Richard of the first. The second marriage was about 1896. By 1911 the parents may have advanced in age with Richard now 67 and his wife Emily now 54. (The old age pension was paid at age 70 and had been introduced in January 1909). Richard sen. died at Earl Street on 6 October 1915, aged 71 according to the death certificate.
Richard Barry Jun. was born at Charleville Parade, Tullamore on 19 December 1880 to Richard and Mary Barry (née Butler). They had married in Kilcormac in 1869. He was a nailor and she the daughter of William Butler, also a nailor. Mary Barry died on 9 June 1896 at their home in Harbour Street, Tullamore, at the age of 53. Richard Barry, now a widower, married secondly, on 8 October 1896, Emma Thomas (also a widow) and née Gilson. She was a daughter of James Gilson of Tullamore, a labourer. Their first child, John, was born on 21 July 1897. So Richard Junior lost his mother in 1896 and gained a stepmother a few months later. His stepbrother John followed within the year of the second marriage. John said goodbye to his 24-year-old stepbrother in 1904 when Richard emigrated to the United States and to his own father (died 1915) when he was 17. There were three Thomas children living in the Earl Street household in 1901, all born in Dublin and likely had been living in Cumberland Street and their father was a butcher, one Patrick Thomas. Their son, also Patrick, was living in Earl Street in 1901 and 1911 and like his own father was a butcher. There were at least two children of the first Barry marriage, Richard and Patrick Joseph. Of the second Barry marriage there were John and Frances living in 1901 with the three Thomas children and one boarder (a man aged 56 and a nailor) from Cavan. By 1911 it was John and Fanny Barry with their father, mother and stepbrother.
Sean Barry’s military record
What we know of the younger child John is taken from his military service pension application in 1924–5. This is now online at the Military Archives, but Offaly History was presented with papers relating to John Barry by his grandson in 2021. John applied for a pension in 1924 soon after he was demobbed from the National Army. He painted a pathetic picture of his situation:
I joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and acted as an active Volunteer all along. When the “Army Split” came in 1914 I still continued to be a member of the Irish Volunteers.
In 1916 I took part in the fight in Tullamore the 20th March 1916 when the R.I.C. tried to disarm the Volunteers, on that occasion which will be remembered in History there is no need to give any further explanation. [He is referring here to the Tullamore Incident.]
In 1917 owing to my activity with the Irish Volunteers [and the Pipers’ Club] I was dismissed from the Post Office and although only eighteen years I had to try to support my mother owing to my father having died in 1915, who by the way was a member of the Fenian brotherhood in 1867 and took part in the rising in that year.
In 1918 I was arrested and served a sentence of four months in Belfast Prison (charged at the time of drilling the Irish Vols). I had a very trying time in Belfast Jail I had to go to my religious duties in handcuffs as the strike of Political Prisoners in June 1918 is well known.
When I was released from Jail I was Comdt. of the 1st Battin. Offaly and carried out every order given me, and was in any operation worthwhile in Offaly namely: – The attack on Clara Barracks, and the fight in Ballycommon Tullamore, which can be verified by Sean Mahon then Brigadier of Offaly.
In 1920 I was appointed O.C Active Service Unit Offaly No.1. I carried out all orders including the special orders given me on the occasion of the death of Terence McSweeney. I was in charge of the ambushes in Offaly No.1. Raheen, Geashill, Mount Bolus, and Philipstown where on both occasions the enemy was wounded to the extent of seven or eight men on both occasions.
In May 1921 owing to a big Enemy activity I was captured and interned in in the Rath Camp, Curragh from which place I succeeded in escaping in September 1921.
I never took part in any political or military business until I joined the army in 1922.
I give the names of Peadar Bracken, late Brigadier, Sean Mahon late Brigadier Offaly No.11 Andy Gallagher, late Brigadier, and my present O.C. Comdt. Gantly to verify the above statements.
Comdt Gantly will give my record in the National Army.
I also took part in special Operations which is not proper for me to mention.
John Barry LIEUT…
‘Applicant is one of the very few Volunteers in Tullamore and district who can really claim consideration’ stated Alo Brennan on behalf of Sean Barry, 27 Nov. 1924
In 1924 Peadar Bracken, the former IRA brigadier and organiser testified to Barry’s competency as a first rate leader and in charge of a flying column. Bracken had known him since 1914 and described him as one of the most active Volunteers in the army. He had been dismissed from the Post Office for his Volunteer activities in 1917. Barry alludes to his ‘special orders’. This would have included the reprisal killing of Sgt Cronin at Henry Street, Tullamore on 31 October 1920. Bracken confirms Barry’s role in his Brigade Activity Report to the Bureau in 1940.
In his contribution to the Brigade Activity Report Bracken states that the attack on the R.I.C. in Tullamore on 31 October 1920 was by way of reprisal and that it was intended to kill two policemen. Men were concentrated at Boland’s (the 26th canal lockhouse) to assist.
As a reprisal for the death of the Lord Major of Cork an attack was planned on the most prominent of the R.I.C. who had to deal with the criminal and political side of their duties. In Tullamore R.I.C. Barracks, two men were picked out and a number of our men detailed off to deal with them. Sergt. Cronin left his house to return to the barrack at 7 p.m. and he was dealt with at point shown [on a map with the report] in Henry St, by – Sean Barry (deceased) and Sean Killeavy, both of Tullamore. The other R.I.C. man [Gibson] returned to Barracks about 10 or 15 minutes, earlier than usual and so escaped. Remarks- A large number of men were mobilised at a place called “Round Lock” about one mile from town to counteract any reprisals by R.I.C. or Tans, but the man who had custody of the guns was held up in Tullamore after the shooting of Sergt Cronin and It was too late to do any good when he got clear. – One R.I.C killed.
Cronin was attacked at about 7.45 p.m. on 31 October and died at about 4 a.m. in the nearby county infirmary. At the inquest his wife, Mrs Mary E. Cronin, reported she thought she heard four shots and according to the inquest Cronin was hit with three bullets – two in the stomach, one in the chest and his right arm was shattered. Dr Timothy Meagher (who had fought in the First World War and was decorated) said he found six bullets wounds in Cronin – three entry and three exit from shots fired at close range. District Inspector Rosse said it was a foul murder and that Cronin ‘did not get a dog’s chance’.
Other activities included:
Frank Mooney now (U.S.A) and Sean Barry (decd) saved a number of rifles from been surrendered in 1916.
Assisted with a raid on the Income Tax office in Tullamore in May 1920.
Assisted with Clara Barracks attack on 1 June 1920 and on Durrow Abbey for arms
Very much involved in republican policing in 1919–20 (see Bracken’s BAR report of 1940).
Pat Egan TD also confirmed in June 1925 that Barry took an active part in the Volunteer movement up to the Truce in 1921, and subsequently joined the National Army, from which he was demobilised in 1924. Barry had started in the Post Office in 1913 and his four years there marked the end of full-time employment, save for his two years in the National Army (15 May 1922 –7 March 1924). He had, of course, been full-time on ASU from October 1920 up to his capture in May 1921. His years as a Volunteer on active service no doubt contributed to his long stays in Newcastle Sanatorium and his death from T.B.
Death of Sean Barry at the age of 33 in January 1931
The death of Mr. Sean Barry, Earl St., Tullamore, at the early age of 32 years [his death certificate stated he was 29 years], has caused feelings of deep and heartfelt sorrow. Deceased took an active part as a youth in the Irish Volunteer and Sein Fein movements, and was held in the highest esteem by his comrades and friends, whose confidence and good opinion he won and retained. 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. He subsequently joined the ranks of the National Army and held the rank of Lieutenant. In private life he was a quiet, inoffensive young man, and very popular among all classes. The funeral was very largely attended. To his widow and family sympathy is tendered in their bereavement.
Nurse Elizabeth Barry [later Hochstrasser, mother, nurse and midwife] who gave great public service
John Barry received a lump sum of £200 and a net annual pension of £75 or £1. 10s. per week. He did live long to enjoy his pension, such as it was, and died in January 1931. John Barry had married Elizabeth Phelan (b. 1900) in 1922 in Tullamore and while he was serving in the Free State National Army (posted to Roscrea). The posting to Roscrea was at his own request and may have arisen from a desire to avoid conflict with friends in Tullamore who had taken the Republican side in the civil war .
Phelan was a daughter of Peter Phelan from Ballacolla, Coolderry, Laois and had come to Tullamore to work for her brother John Phelan who was the owner of the Tower Bar in the town. The marriage took place in 1922 and in the ten years remaining they had five children. However, with her husband’s early death the small pension died with him and she was unprovided for, but failed in the several attempts to secure additional support from the Department of Defence. This was notwithstanding representations made by a one-time neighbour of the Barry family, James Rogers, the solicitor who had represented Sinn Féin men in the early days. By the mid-1920s he was state solicitor. Pat Egan, the Tullamore TD (1923-27) also made a plea for support but to no avail. Mrs Barry had to send her four surviving children to an orphanage and retrain herself as a nurse. When she qualified she was able to take the children home for their education. She wrote of all this to the department in 1951 in a letter signed Elizabeth Barry Hochstrasser.
Under that name many older readers will recall the famous Nurse Barry of Cormac Street and the brass plate of this well-known midwife. Her first husband had been denied a disability pension also by reason of a late application. When the 1916–66 commemoration came to be marked in Offaly with a grand parade and speeches Nurse Barry wrote to the local press to let the public know just how the state had treated some of its finest soldiers.
Letter to Offaly Independent 30 April 1966
“One of the Many”
(To The Editor)
The wife of the late Sean Barry, who died on 17th January, 1931, R.I.P., would like state a few facts regarding his part in the Fight for Freedom:-
“Although quite a lad when working in the Post Office in Tullamore, then under British Rule, from a platform there for singing a song entitled “Whac-Fol-Diddle Die-Do-Dee,” he lost his job and got three months ‘imprisonment. When he came out he still continued in the cause of freedom and drilled his men out on the Hills of Arden. He was O.C of the Flying Column with Offaly Brigade. He took part in various ambushes. On one occasion, while on the run, he was knee deep in the water for four hours in order to escape an R.I.C convoy.
At the age of 19 he was one of the men who went on hunger strike in Belfast Jail. When he was released he continued his activities and was arrested in Ballydaly with the late Jack Doody of Convent View (RIP.). He was interned at Rath Camp, Curragh, County Kildare, and escaped with sixty more through a tunnel they had burrowed. After the truce he joined the National Army with the rank of Lieut. He was stationed at Durrow, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Daingean, and Mount Bolus. From there he was transferred to Castle Barracks. Roscrea, 2nd Battalion of Athlone Command, under then Sean McEoin.
While there he saved Seamus Burke’s house at Rockforest, Roscrea, then Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for Finance, from being burned down by the Irregulars. In 1924, when they were reducing the strength of the Army, he was demobilised and was without a job for two years as there was no vacancy for him in the Post Office (only part-time). His health deteriorated owing to the hardships he endured while on the run. He was a patient in the County Hospital then in Church St. being treated for pleurisy under then Surgeon Meagher. The R.I.C got to know of his whereabouts and he had to walk out of there with the late Nurse Heavey of Harbour St. (R.I.P.), disguised as a woman. He was never able to get proper treatment, drifting from place to place. When he finally got his fulltime job back in the Post Office, his health worsened and he had to be sent to Newcastle Sanatorium. It was then too late and he finally died at his home at the age of 33 years. His service pension died with him and I was left with five children to provide for. I had no widow’s or orphan’s pension and his children were then very young and two of them a boy and a girl passed away shortly after him. …. But my thanks are due to Benevolent Fund of Post Office, the Red Cross, and Offaly County Council who helped me out to rear those children. 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? (It makes one wonder).
Elizabeth Hochstrasser, S.C.M
Cormac Street, Tullamore. 19/4/66.
When Nurse Barry died in 1982 the following appreciation was published:
Appreciation of a great nurse (27 September 1982)
In the early thirties there were few social services, or social workers for the less privileged section of the population. At that time Elizabeth Barry (née Phelan) took her place in the medical circle of Tullamore. Her deceased husband, John Barry suffered from his active participation in the struggle for independence. His young widow was left with five children, after his death, she lost her infant son, Richard.
The four girls were placed in a residential school and Mrs. Barry went to train as a midwife in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. Having qualified she returned to work in Tullamore. Soon she was recognised by the doctors as efficient and extremely kind nurse. The last words proved to be the keynote in her career. She overcome losses and difficulties. Her daughter Annie died while away at school. Even in difficult time the three surviving daughters received post primary education; two of them chose nursing. In the late thirties Mrs Barry opened a nursing home at her residence in Cormac Street. This proved a great boon to many who did not wish to leave their home town for confinements etc. The homely yet capable approach appealed to all the patients.
It would be difficult to estimate the mileage, covered by a midwife on a bicycle at that period. Still more difficult to assess the great care and help given by Nurse Barry to the many poor patients she attended in their homes.
The doctors who appreciated her work, and of themselves gave much, are now all deceased. After years of widowhood Lil Barry married Frank Hochstrasser, A Swiss national, who had known and admired her for a number of years. With his companionship and assistance she continued her work until her retirement. Her husband Frank died in December 1967 and his widow spent the last years with her daughter Emily in Wexford.
She will be long remembered with affection by those she served so well during her nursing years.
Ar dheis de go raibh a h-anam dilis.