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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Commodore John Barry Memorial along Boston's Irish Heritage Trail

Visitors to Boston's Irish Heritage Trail will notice a small memorial to Revolutionary War naval hero Commodore John Barry, located on Boston Common along Tremont Street, between Lafayette  Mall and the Visitor Information Center.

Barry (March 25, 1745 – September 13, 1803) was born in  Tacumshane, County Wexford in 1745, and emigrated to Philadelphia in 1760.  He joined the American forces at the outbreak of the war, and was the first Catholic appointed to command a vessel by the Continental Congress.  Barry's ship, Lexington, was the first to capture a British vessel under the American flag.  During much of the war, Barry commanded ships out of Boston Harbor, including the Delaware and the Alliance. After the war, President George Washington assigned Barry to help create the United States Navy.
For many years, Bostonians commemorated the anniversary Barry's death (September 13) on Boston Common dating back to 1919.  For a time in the 1940s the celebrants also journeyed into Boston Harbor. Dan Horgan of the Irish World wrote: 

"There is something sentimental, almost romantic about this gesture, it's a scene almost anyone can picture in his mind.  Distinguished citizens of the Commonwealth getting up early in the morning going out in a small boat, getting four or five miles out of Boston harbor, posing a wreath in mid-air for a few minutes before casting it into the broad Atlantic Ocean.” 
At the Charitable Irish Society annual dinner on March 17, 1949, Boston Mayor James Michael Curley vowed to build a memorial to Barry in 60 days, saying Barry had been ignored for too long.  The project got underway, and the bronze memorial was actually unveiled seven months later, on October 16, 1949.

Then on April 5, 1975, some local college students stole the bronze plaque as a prank. Contrition set in a few years later and the plaque was anonymously returned to the Massachusetts Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The original was put in storage at the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston.  On Saturday, September 12, 1981, the Barry memorial was transferred from the Boston Arts Commission to the National Parks Service for permanent display at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where it remains today.

In September 1956 the USS Destroyer John Barry, built in Bath, ME, was commissioned to the Boston fleet at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

President John F. Kennedy was a great admirer of Commodore Barry.  He owned John Barry's sword and displayed it in office at the White House.  In addition to sharing a love of the sea and sailing, both men traced their lineage to County Wexford.   When he visited Ireland in June 1963, President Kennedy placed a wreath at the John Barry Memorial in Wexford.

After the Revolutionary War, Barry settled in Philadelphia.  He died at age 59 and is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard on S. Fourth Street.

To find out more about Boston Irish history, visit or read Irish Boston, available on October 1, 2013 from Globe Pequot Press and from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.


  1. Great stuff. I didn't know about the memorial. I think a picture of the actual memorial would be a great addition here.

  2. Thanks John, we added a picture of the memorial above.