Today we bring you the second in our ‘Rebel Lives’ series, a tribute to Cork republican hunger striker, Vol. Denis Barry. This piece was originally published by our comrades at Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story, and can be viewed here.
Although history has not given him a due remembrance Vol. Denis Barry, or Dinny, was a huge figure in Cork and beyond during the revolutionary period, and, that his body was laid to rest alongside his comrades Terence McSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtain at the forefront of the Republican Plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetary is a clear indication of his esteem due to his role during this period and his favourability amongst his comrades. In fact, the funeral of Denis Barry is recorded to have matched in size both those of McSwiney and Mac Curtain despite being in the midst of the counter-revolution and attempts from both Church and State to disrupt it. Denis Barry’s life and activities are still relatively unknown, but this piece will attempt to do this great volunteer some justice.
Barry was born in 1883 in Cullen, Riverstick – about 10 miles south of Cork city. He was born into a rural-poor farming family. Barry was a lover of Gaelic culture and sport, and was a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joined the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club for whom he won 4 senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.
This champion of Gaelic games was also a champion of the people – which earned him prominence in the trade union movement as well as the growing cultural and nationalist movements. He was highly active in the ITGWU, Conradh na nGaeilge, Na Fianna Éireann, the GAA, and Barry was also a founding member of the Irish Volunteers and the Sinn Féin party in Cork. In 1915 work brought him t0 Kilkenny where he remained active with the Volunteers and Sinn Fein, and on the 3rd of May 1916 he was sent to Frongoch camp in Wales in the wake of the 1916 Rising.
On his release from Frongoch, where Barry undoubtedly like so many others further developed his revolutionary outlook, he continued his work within the now unified Republican Movement. Barry was recalled to Cork and appointed to the brigade staff of the First Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and also as O/C of the Republican Police in the city. He was on hand during the Black & Tans’ infamous drink-fuelled rampage through Cork City on the night of November 11th when much of the city was burned to the ground. Barry was widely-praised for his actions on that night as he attempted to, and in some cases succeeded in, preserving the stock and also the livelihood of many city centre traders.
After Terence McSwiney lost his life while on hunger strike in Brixton Prison in October 1920, Barry was among a group of Cork IRA-men that were sent over to escort the body of their comrade and dear friend back to his native city. Interestingly, Bishop Coholan, who welcomed back the body of McSwiney, would later refuse to grant Barry a Christian burial or to allow his remains to enter any church in the Cork diocese.
As the Tan War ended and the British sponsored counter-revolution began, Barry stuck to his principles and sided with the Republic that so many of his comrades had died to protect. Barry was transferred to Wexford in 1922 and acted on the Divisional Staff of the 3rd Eastern Brigade, IRA, but on the 6th of October 1922 he was arrested by the forces of the Free State and was detained in Newbridge Internment camp without charge or possibility of trial. Barry joined the mass Hunger strike of October 1923 in which over 8,000 republicans participated to protest against their continued internment even after the IRA had ordered a cessation of hostilities and for the Volunteers to dump arms.
On the 20th of November, 1923, after just 34 days on Hunger Strike, Barry succumbed to the stress imposed on his already weakened body and died. Like MacSwiney before him Dinny Barry took the ultimate step in defence of the Republic, but unlike MacSwiney – it was at the hands of his fellow countrymen and former comrades-in-arms that he was to die. As ultimately the hired mercenaries of the British and native capitalist classes, the Free State forces showed little to no compassion for the volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, and Denis Barry was no exception to this rule.
Despite an order from the coroner to have an inquest, Barry’s remains were buried within the grounds of the Curragh camp on the order of his former friend and comrade, the notorious Richard Mulcahy. After much obstruction and an evenutal court order, the remains were exhumed and returned to the Barry family who soon transferred Dinny’s body to Cork for reinterment at the Republican Plot.
As earlier stated, Barry’s funeral precesion through Cork City drew massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man that 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 marched in military formations with the funeral party and Máire McSwiney gave the main oration.
Denis Barry was 40 years old when he died and an impressive monument was erected in his honour in his hometown of Riverstick in 1966. In tribute to Barry his comrade and fellow member of the Cork Brigade staff, Seán O’Hegarty, described him as “the best and truest of the Republican Army of the south”.