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Thomas (Tom) Barry ( ) (1 July 1897 – 2 July 1980) was one of the most prominent guerrilla leader in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence.

Early life

Barry was born in Killorglinmarker, County Kerrymarker, the son of a former RIC officer who had become a shopkeeper. He was educated for a period at Mungret College, County Limerickmarker from 25 August 1911 to 12 September 1912. The reason for his short stay is indicated by a reference from the school register of the Apostolic School, Mungret College, 'Went - Home (ran away) without knowledge of superiors - no vocation'. In 1915, during World War I, he enlisted in the British Army and fought in Mesopotamia (then part of the Ottoman Empire, present day Iraqmarker).. He rose to the rank of sergeant. It was there Barry first heard of the Easter Rising.

War of Independence

On his return to Cork he was involved with ex-servicemen's organisations. In 1920, Barry joined the 3rd Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which was then engaged in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921). He was involved in brigade council meetings, was brigade-training officer, flying column commander, was consulted by IRA General Headquarters Staff (GHQ), and also participated in the formation of the IRA First Southern Division. The West Cork Brigade became famous for its discipline, efficiency and bravery, and Barry garnered a reputation as the most brilliant field commander of the war.

On 28 November 1920, Barry's unit ambushed and killed almost a whole platoon of British Auxiliaries at Kilmichael, County Cork. In March 1921 at Crossbarry in the same county, Barry and 104 men, divided into seven sections, broke out of an encirclement of 1,200 strong British force from the Essex Regiment. In total, the British Army stationed over 12,500 troops in County Cork during the conflict, while Barry's men numbered no more than 100. Eventually, Barry's tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British authorities.

Civil War

During the negotiations that preceded the Truce that ended the war, the Britishmarker had demanded that Barry be handed over to them before progress could be made on other matters. Michael Collins refused, although he afterwards jokingly told his fellow Corkman that he had been sorely tempted. Barry opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921, because, according to him, it betrayed the Irish Republic and partitioned Ireland. He fought on the Republican side in the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) and was imprisoned by the Irish Free State after the Battle of Dublin in July 1922. Barry had voiced the opinion that, at the start of the Civil War, while the Republican side was stronger, they should have taken over Dublin and the major cities and forced a new confrontation with the British.

In September of that year, however, he escaped from an internment camp at Gormanston in north County Dublin and travelled south, to take command of the anti-Treaty IRA Second Southern Division. In November 1922, he led his men in the capture of a string of towns across the south midlands, including Carrick on Suirmarker, Thomastownmarker and Mullinavatmarker, taking the Free State garrison there prisoner. However, due to a shortage of men and equipment, he was unable to hold these places, evacuating them before National Army reinforcements arrived. After this point, Barry increasingly argued with Liam Lynch, the Republican commander in chief, that the Civil War should be brought to an end, as there was no hope of victory. In March, Barry proposed to the IRA Army executive that a ceasefire should be called, but he was defeated by 6 votes to 5. The anti-treaty campaign was belatedly called off by Frank Aiken in May, after Lynch had been killed in a skirmish with Free State troops. Barry was arrested shortly before Aiken's order to "dump arms", on 24 May 1923.

Subsequent IRA career

After the defeat of the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Civil War, Barry was released in 1924. In 1925, he proposed that the IRA surrender their arms and ammunition to the Free State. For this, he was expelled from the IRA and did not re-join until the mid 1930s. He served as general superintendent of Cork Harbourmarker Commission from 1927 to 1965. In 1937, he succeeded Seán MacBride as chief of staff. Barry claimed that they had sabotaged a planned IRA offensive in Northern Irelandmarker. Barry would assert in later life that he opposed both the 1930s bombing campaign in Englandmarker and IRA contacts with Nazi Germany. In fact in January 1937 he had taken a trip to Germany seeking Nazi support, which was assured to him subject to the condition that the IRA limit its actions to British military installations once war was declared. Financing was to be arranged through the Clann na Gael in the USA. The Army Convention in April 1938 adopted Seán Russells S-Plan instead. Barry resigned as chief of staff as a result, but remained in contact with German agents at least to February 1939.

In 1940, Barry was made responsible for Intelligence in the Irish Army's Southern Command, a position he held for the duration of World War II (see The Emergency). In 1941 he was denounced by the IRA for writing for the Irish Army's journal. He was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1946 Cork Borough by-election. In 1949, Barry published his memoirs of the Irish War of Independence, Guerilla Days in Ireland, which became a classic account of the war and an influential guide on guerrilla warfare. Barry was supportive of the Provisional IRA campaign but expressed reservations about many of their tactics, in particular the killing of civilians in Englandmarker.


He died in a Corkmarker hospital in 1980 and was survived by his wife, Leslie de Barra (née Price), whom he married in 1921 and who was the director of organization for Cumann na mBan and later President of the Irish Red Cross. She died in 1984.

Tom Barry in popular culture

Cover of 1968 edition of Barry's memoir
  • Bobby Sands wrote a poem about Barry after his death, entitled Tom Barry. It was published posthumously in the collection Prison Poems.

See also


  • Ryan, Meda; Tom Barry: IRA freedom fighter; Cork 2003; ISBN 1-85635-425-3


  1. Irish Jesuit Archives, School Register of Apostolic School, Mungret College, p. 66
  2. COUGHLAN VC Day Speech
  3. Hull, Mark; Irish Secrets; Dublin 2003; ISBN 0-7165-2756-1; S 47


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