Military Wiki
Tom Barry
Tom Barry
Chief of Staff of the IRA

In office
Preceded by Seán MacBride
Succeeded by Mick Fitzpatrick
Personal details
Born (1897-07-01)July 1, 1897
Killorglin, Kerry, Ireland
Died July 2, 1980(1980-07-02) (aged 83)
Cork, Republic of Ireland
Nationality Irish
Military service
Allegiance  Irish Republic
Service/branch  British Army
Republic of Ireland Irish Republican Army
Republic of Ireland Irish Defence Forces
Rank Commandant General
Unit Irish Republican Army
Commands Officer Commanding, 3rd (West) Cork Brigade, Irish Republican Army
Chief of Staff, Irish Republican Army
Operations Officer, Southern Command,
Battles/wars World War I
Irish War of Independence
Irish Civil War

Thomas Barry (1 July 1897 – 2 July 1980) was a prominent guerrilla leader in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, when he was commander of the 3rd West Cork Flying Column. During the Irish Civil War, he was a leader in the Anti-Treaty IRA.

Early life

"Thomas Bernardine",[1][2][3] Barry was born in Killorglin, County Kerry. He was the son of a Royal Irish Constabulary policeman. Four years later, Thomas Barry Senior resigned and opened a business in his hometown of Rosscarbery, County Cork.[4] Barry was educated for a period at Mungret College, County Limerick 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'.[5]

World War I

In 1915, during Ireland's involvement in World War I, he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery at Cork and became a soldier in the British Army.[citation needed]

In June, in my seventeenth year, I had decided to see what this Great War was like. I cannot plead I went on the advice of John Redmond or any other politician, that if we fought for the British we would secure Home Rule for Ireland, nor can I say I understood what Home Rule meant. I was not influenced by the lurid appeal to fight to save Belgium or small nations. I knew nothing about nations, large or small. I went to the war for no other reason than that I wanted to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel a grown man. Above all I went because I knew no Irish history and had no national consciousness.[6]

Barry enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 30 June 1915 and was sent to the military depot at Athlone for basic training. After six months he was posted to the Mesopotamian front (modern Iraq) on 21 January 1916.[7] He fought from January 1916 in Mesopotamia (then part of the Ottoman Empire). On 1 March he was raised to the rank of corporal.[8] In April while his brigade was attempting to break the Turkish Siege of Kut where the British after heavy losses were forced to surrender, Barry first heard of the Easter Rising. Presumably, in reaction to the British response to the Rising, Barry dropped his rank in protest on 26 May and reverted to his original rank of gunner, which rank he held until the end of the war.[9]

From January 1917 until March 1918 he saw further action south of Kut, where his unit suffered heavy casualties, and also at Fallujah, Samarra and Baquba.[10] In May 1918 his division was moved to the Egyptian front for the campaign in Palestine. Barry, however, remained in Egypt from June 1918 until February 1919, when he was shipped back to Ireland.[11] Barry had some minor disciplinary issues in the Army, being punished on a number of occasions for being late for parade and disrespectful to NCOs.[12] Nevertheless, when officially discharged from the army on 7 April 1919 Barry was described as a sober, good, hardworking man.[13]

War of Independence

On his return to Bandon in Co Cork he first began to study Law and Business Affairs, while at the same time maintaining friendship with local ex-servicemens' organisations and building connections to the Irish republican movement. Initially Barry seemed proud of his wartime British Army service and hoisted a Union flag at Bandon on the first anniversary of the war's end in November 1919. For this reason he was distrusted by some local republicans, particularly Tom Hales.[14]

It was only in July 1920 that the capture and torture of the republican volunteers Tom Hales and Pat Harte so appalled him that he immediately went to join the 3rd (West) Cork Brigade[15] of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which was then engaged in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921). Having overcome the suspicion he could be a spy, helped by the fact that Tom Hales had been arrested and replaced as Brigade commander by Charlie Hurley, by late summer he was their intelligence officer.[16] Barry was initially highly valued by the IRA for his military experience and his ability to train their own raw volunteers.[17]

At this time the IRA's guerrilla tactics were taking shape and small groups of dedicated guerrillas were being organised and trained. Barry participated in four training camps[18] and two attacks on British forces in the autumn of 1920 – the Fanlobus ambush on 9 October and the Tooreen Ambush on 22 October, at the latter of which he commanded a section. He also tried, with Charlie Hurley, to assassinate a number of local police and judicial officials.[19]

The Kilmichael memorial

However Barry soon came to command the West Cork Brigade's flying column and definitively made his name as a guerrilla commander at the Kilmichael Ambush on 28 November 1920, a turning point of the war, in which a company of 18 Auxiliaries was wiped out at the cost three IRA killed.[20] The British alleged that Barry's men killed wounded and surrendering Auxiliaries and mutilated their corpses – a charge that Barry always denied, claiming that he had ordered that no prisoners be taken after the Auxiliaries faked a surrender resulting in the death of some of his men.[21]

Crossbarry Memorial, Crossbarry, County Cork. In March 1921, 104 Irish Republican Army volunteers under the command of Tom Barry attacked and later escaped from an encircling manoeuvre by 1,200 British soldiers and Black and Tans.

Barry was hospitalised for a time after the Kilmichael action and martial law was proclaimed in County Cork and across much of the province of Munster in response. However, in December the column regrouped, attacking a number of police and military barracks and ambushing a British military patrol at Burgatia House in February 1921.[22] The column, which was around 30–40 strong, dispersed shortly afterwards into smaller units and in this time lost 11 men killed. Three men died at the Upton Train Ambush and seven more were arrested and shot in separate incidents by British forces.[23]

In March 1921 Barry mobilised his largest guerrilla force; 104 men, divided into seven sections, and at the Crossbarry Ambush broke out of an encirclement of 1,200 strong British force from the Essex Regiment. At least ten British soldiers were killed in the action along with three IRA Volunteers including Brigade commander Charlie Hurley.[24]

In total, the British Army stationed over 12,500 troops in County Cork during the conflict, while Barry's men numbered no more than 310. Eventually, Barry's tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British authorities except by military means. In the late spring and early summer of 1921, the British forces mounted large sweeps of the West Cork area, complete with aerial surveillance and armoured vehicles, forcing Barry's column to spend much of their time 'on the run' in mountainous terrain to avoid them. While they did avoid being encircled they were able to mount only one more major attack, which was on Rosscarbery police barracks in early April 1921.[25]

Barry's ability as a guerrilla commander was widely acknowledged in the IRA and in the early summer of 1921 he was summoned to Dublin to meet with IRA leader Michael Collins and President of the Irish Republic Éamon de Valera. He also participated in the formation of the IRA First Southern Division, in which he was made Deputy Commander.[26]

Barry openly admitted in his memoir to taking a hard line on people he believed were collaborators with the British forces. He stated that his unit shot dead 16 civilians accused of informing in the first six months of 1921.[27] While he acknowledged that 9 of the 16 killings were Protestants, who were a minority in West Cork, he maintained that they were killed for no other reason than for their aid to British forces. He maintained, 'The majority of the West Cork Protestants lived at peace throughout the entire struggle and were not interfered with by the IRA'.[28] Barry also stated that his unit burned the houses of local loyalists in retaliation for the British burning of republicans' homes and carried out reprisal killings of captured and off duty British soldiers in response to the execution of IRA Volunteers.[29]

The war in rural Cork was abruptly ended with truce negotiated to come into effect on 11 July 1921. At this time the West Cork flying column was, with other IRA units, in a training camp in the mountains along the Cork/Kerry border. Barry recalled his initial reaction as 'dazed and uncertain of the future' but relief that the 'days of fear were ended, at least for a time'.[30] He claimed that his unit had killed over 100 British troops and wounded another 93 during the conflict.[31]

Barry later wrote of the period;

They said I was ruthless, daring, savage, blood thirsty, even heartless. The clergy called me and my comrades murderers; but the British were met with their own weapons. They had gone in the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go.[32]

Civil War

During the negotiations that preceded the Truce that ended the war, the British 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 Cork men that he had been sorely tempted.[citation needed]

During the truce period, Barry married Leslie Mary Price, who was herself a republican activist. Barry opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921, because, according to him, it betrayed the Irish Republic and partitioned Ireland. In March 1922 he participated in an IRA convention which disavowed the authority of the Dáil to approve the Treaty and was elected onto the anti-Treaty IRA's executive. In March 1922 he and his men occupied barracks in Limerick in defiance of the new Irish Free State government, and it looked as if fighting would break out until Liam Lynch IRA Chief of Staff arrived and defused the situation.[33] In May 1922 he, Rory O'Connor and Ernie O'Malley seized a convoy of arms intended for the new Free State police force and drove it to the anti-Treaty IRA headquarter in the Four Courts in Dublin.[34]

On 28 June 1922 the Irish Civil War formally broke out between pro and anti-Treaty factions when Free State forces opened fire on the Four Courts. Barry was captured with 180 others when the Courts surrendered and was imprisoned by the Irish Free State in Mountjoy Gaol 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 County Meath and traveled south, to take command of the anti-Treaty IRA Second Southern Division. Barry returned to his previous role of guerrilla commander, leading a column of around 200 men based in West Cork. In mid December 1922, he led his men in the capture of a string of towns across the province of Munster, including Carrick on Suir, Thomastown and Mullinavat, killing two Irish National Army soldiers and taking the Free State garrisons there, amounting to over 110 men, prisoner and taking their arms. However, due to a shortage of men and equipment, he was unable to hold these places, evacuating them before National Army reinforcements arrived.[35] Withdrawing to the rugged country on the Cork/Kerry border, his column and Kerry IRA units (a total of about 65 men) mounted an assault on Millstreet early in 1923, failing to take the town, but killing two Free State soldiers and taking 39 prisoner.[36]

However, as 1923 went on, Barry found his column increasingly weakened by casualties and arrests. By February 1923, 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, whereupon Aiken issued an order to 'dump arms'. Barry tried to act as intermediary with the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Brotherhood to end the civil war and for a time had a letter from the Free State authorities granting him 'immunity from arrest'. This caused him to fall out with other members of the IRA Army Council.[37] Nevertheless, the Free State government never formally acknowledged the end of the civil war marked by the republicans' ceasefire and dump arms order. Barry had to remain on the run until a general amnesty was declared in November 1924.[38]

The Third Cork IRA Brigade, of which Barry commanded the Active Service Unit or flying column lost 34 men killed in the war against the British and another 21 anti-Treatyites killed in the civil war – a total of 55, excluding pro-Treaty Volunteers who died in the civil war whom Barry did not record in his memoir.[39]

Subsequent IRA career

After the defeat of the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Civil War, according to historian Brian Hanley, Tom Barry proposed that the IRA hand over its arms to prevent further bloodshed between Irish nationalists. When the IRA Army Council rejected this, he left the organisation in late 1923. He rejoined the IRA in 1932.[40] However Barry's biographer Meda Ryan disputes this, claiming that Barry only resigned from the IRA leadership in 1923 but remained a rank and file member and reassuming a leadership role in 1932.[41]

He served as general superintendent of Cork Harbour Commission from 1927 to 1965. He initially proposed cooperation of the IRA and Fianna Fáil, the party led by erstwhile republican leader Éamon de Valera, especially against the Blueshirts, a militant movement born out of pro-Treaty civil war veterans. However De Valera banned both the IRA and the Blueshirts and Barry was imprisoned from May to December 1934 for arms possession.[42] In March 1936 Barry was involved in the shooting dead of Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville. Four men burst into Somerville's family home at Castletownshend, Cork and fired a revolver.[43][44] Somerville was targeted for recruiting local men to join the Royal Navy.

In 1937, he succeeded Seán MacBride as chief of staff. Barry claimed that they had sabotaged a planned IRA offensive in Northern Ireland. Barry would assert in later life that he opposed both the 1930s bombing campaign in England and IRA contacts with Nazi Germany. In fact, in January 1937 he had taken a trip to Germany seeking German 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 Russell's S-Plan instead. Barry resigned as chief of staff as a result, but remained in contact with German agents at least to February 1939.[45]

In 1940, Barry was made responsible for Intelligence in the Irish Army's Southern Command, a position he held, with the rank of Commandant, 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, "An Cosantóir". He was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1946 Cork Borough by-election. Barry was supportive of the Provisional IRA campaign but expressed reservations about some of their tactics.


File:Tom barry gdii.jpg

Cover of 1968 edition of Barry's memoir

In 1949, Barry published his memoirs of the Irish War of Independence, Guerilla Days in Ireland. It describes his Brigade's activities such as the ambushes at Kilmichael and Crossbarry, as well as numerous other less known actions which were directed against the British Army, Black and Tans, the Auxiliary Division and the Royal Irish Constabulary. It became regarded as a classic account of the war and has been an influential guide to guerrilla warfare. Barry took part in a fiftieth anniversary commemoration of Kilmichael on 9 August 1970. It was later republished by Rena Dardis and Anvil Press.


He died in a Cork 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, Price played a major role in the Easter Rising, and was in fact one of the last women to leave the GPO. She died in 1984. Barry is buried in St Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork.

Tom Barry in popular culture

  • Bobby Sands wrote a poem about Barry after his death, entitled Tom Barry. It was published posthumously in the collection Prison Poems.[46]


  1. Peter Hart, ‘Barry, Thomas Bernardine (1897–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  4. Ryan, Meda (1982). The Tom Barry story. Dublin: Mercier Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-85342-672-1. 
  5. Irish Jesuit Archives, School Register of Apostolic School, Mungret College, p. 66
  6. Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland, Anvil Books Ltd, FP 1949, 1981 ISBN 0-900068-57-4
  7. History Ireland, Guerilla Days in Iraq, September/October 2008, by Mark McLoughlin
  8. COUGHLAN VC Day Speech
  9. Bunbury, Turtle: The Glorious Madness, Tales of The Irish and The Great War,
    Gunner Tom Barry and the Siege of Kut; p. 272, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 12 (2014) ISBN 978 0717 16234 5
  10. History Ireland, Guerilla Days in Iraq, September/October 2008, by Mark McLoughlin
  11. History Ireland, Guerilla Days in Iraq, September/October 2008, by Mark McLoughlin
  12. History Ireland, Guerilla Days in Iraq, September/October 2008, by Mark McLoughlin
  13. Bunbury, Turtle: p. 273
  14. Meda Ryan, the Tom Barry Story, p17
  15. Bunburry, Turtle: p.273
  16. Bunburry, Turtle: p. 273
  17. Peter Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, p. 30–32
  18. Tom Barry, The reality of the Anglo-Irish war, 1920-21 in West Cork, p22
  19. Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, p32
  20. Tom Barry Guerilla Days in Ireland, p44-45
  21. Barry, Guerilla Days p. 44-51. For the ongoing debate about Kilmichael see Kilmichael Ambush#Controversy
  22. Barry Guerilla Days pp 70-86
  23. Barry, Guerilla Days, p97
  24. Barry, Guerilla Days, p 130, for British losses, Hart, IRA and its Enemies p. 321
  25. Barry, Guerilla Days, pp. 133–141, 152–153 and 193–201
  26. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p 135
  27. Barry, Guerilla Days, p105
  28. Barry, Guerilla Days, p113
  29. Barry, Guerilla Days, p116
  30. Barry, Guerilla Days, p. 227
  31. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, p 139
  32. Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland, Anvil Books Ltd, FP 1949, 1981 ISBN 0-900068-57-4
  33. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p. 154
  34. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p. 154
  35. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p. 173–186
  36. Michael Harrington, The Munster Republic, p. 110–112
  37. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p189-198
  38. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, p. 200
  39. Barry, Guerilla Days, p236-238
  42. Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter p. 212
  43. The Times, Vice-Admiral Shot Dead Outrage In County Cork 25 March 1936
  44. Peter Hart, ‘Barry, Thomas Bernardine (1897–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  45. Hull, Mark; Irish Secrets; Dublin 2003; ISBN 0-7165-2756-1; S 47


This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).