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Saturday, September 17, 2016

John Barry, Revolutionary War Hero from Ireland


Commodore John Barry (March 25, 1745 – September 13, 1803) was a naval hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in  Tacumshane, County Wexford in 1745, Barry 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.   Barry settled in Philadelphia and died there at age 59.  He is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard on S. Fourth Street.

In 1949, Boston Mayor James Michael Curley spoke at the Charitable Irish Society annual dinner on March 17, and  vowed to build a memorial to Barry in 60 days, saying Barry had been ignored for too long.  The project got underway immediately, 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, and a stone version of the plaque was put in its place. Contrition set in a few years later and the students anonymously returned the plaque to the Massachusetts Ancient Order of Hibernians, who returned it to the city.  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.

Visitors can see the Commodore John Barry Memorial on Boston Common, located along Tremont Street between Lafayette Mall and the Visitor Information Center.  The plaque is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail,  a sequence of public landmarks that tell the illustrious story of the Irish in Boston from the 1700s to the present time.

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.

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