Due to the persistent efforts of the AOH, Commodore John Barry, the founder of the U.S. Navy under the Constitution, will soon be honored at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Originally conceived of a simple memorial to Barry on the grounds of the Naval Academy, the AOH has obtained approval by Academy’s Memorials Oversight Committee for a Barry Gate and a Barry Plaza containing a newly designed Barry Memorial.
This good news to properly honor Commodore Barry is the accomplishment of the efforts of many people in the Irish American community. Two members of the District of Columbia State Board, Jack O’Brien and John E. McInerney, spearheaded relentless efforts to build support for a memorial honoring Commodore Barry at the Naval Academy. This project was initially approved in 2007 at a State board meeting of the Washington, DC Hibernians.
The team of O’Brien, working as the Historian and Project Coordinator, and McInerney, as the writer and Public Relations Director, previously succeeded in a nationwide effort to erect the Irish Brigade Monument at the Antietam Civil War battlefield that was dedicated in1997. Their perseverance in the face of numerous setbacks to make the Irish Brigade Monument Project a reality proved to be valuable experience in the quest to erect a Barry Memorial on the Naval Academy’s grounds.
On August 29, 2008, following the Academy’s guidelines, O’Brien and McInerney submitted a proposal for the Barry Memorial. The proposal cited the numerous significant contributions made by Commodore Barry in serving our nation and its navy. The passage of the Barry Resolution (Public Law 109-142) by Congress on December 22, 2005 recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy enhanced the proposal. However, the proposal was rejected on January 5, 2009 stating that a memorial to Commodore John Barry “would not be appropriate for placement on the Yard in an exterior location.”
Undeterred, O’Brien and McInerney filed an appeal with the Academy’s Superintendent on February 8, 2009. “It is important that we explain,” said O’Brien, “how a fine officer and gentleman such as Commodore Barry can be an inspiration to future officers of the Navy and Marine Corps. We are asking that the Barry Memorial be placed in a prominent space in the Academy’s Yard,” declared O’Brien, “so that midshipmen, officers, and the public will know of the contributions of the Navy’s first Flag Officer.”
National AOH President Seamus Boyle strongly supports the efforts of O’Brien and McInerney to erect the memorial on the Academy’s grounds. “It is important to recognize the significant contributions of the immigrants that have built America into the great county it is today,” said Boyle. “John Barry emigrated from Ireland and settled in Philadelphia. He came to America as a cabin boy and worked his way up to be the senior commanding officer of the U.S. Navy.”
At the very beginning of the American Revolution, John Barry offered his services to George Washington and Continental Congress in the cause of American liberty and independence. In December of 1775, Captain Barry was given command of the Lexington, a small brig. On April 7, 1776, the Lexington fell in with HMS Edward, a small 6-gun tender of HMS Liverpool. After a one hour naval battle, the captain of the HMS Edward surrendered after taking heavy losses and severe damage to his ship. Captain John Barry triumphantly brought his prize up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. This marked the first defeat inflicted on an enemy by the U.S. Navy. The boost in morale and prestige to the leaders of the American Revolution facing the world’s most powerful military and naval force was nothing short of spectacular.
Seamus Boyle and Joseph Roche, National PEC Chairman, approached Philadelphia native John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, for his support. Lehman provided a very strong letter to the Academy supporting the project. He wrote “It has always been an oddity that his [Barry’s] memory and example have been largely absent from the Naval Academy. … The time to rectify this absence is at hand.”
McInerney and O’Brien organized a national letter writing campaign to the Naval Academy’s Superintendent supporting the Barry Memorial Project. The result was that many other groups and individuals sent impassioned supporting letters to the Naval Academy.
Fran O’Brien, President of the Navy League of the United States – Philadelphia Council, sent a letter of support to the Academy’s Superintendent. The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick provided a letter expressing support for the Barry Memorial Project signed by President Edward Last, Vice President Todd Peterman, and Secretary Drew Monaghan.
It became clear that Congressional support was needed. So, McInerney, very familiar with Capitol Hill, walked the halls of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Visiting the offices of at least 33 senators and 160 offices of congressmen, he hand delivered personally signed letters and talked to Congressional staff about supporting the Barry Project. The end result of these efforts was that the letters signed by Senators and Congressmen proved to be successful.
In addition several cardinals, bishops and clergy enhanced the letter writing campaign. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese wrote “As a frequent visitor to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, I have often wondered at the absence of a memorial to Commodore Barry.”
The significant history of Commodore Barry’s contributions to the American Revolution and the American Navy, the monuments honoring his memory in the United States and Ireland, the numerous memorial ceremonies celebrating his accomplishments, and the groundswell of support for the approval of the Barry Memorial Project all seemed to represent a critical mass that would surely persuade the Naval Academy to approve a Barry memorial its Yard.
However, much work still lay ahead for O’Brien and McInerney and the ever-increasing group of supporters to convince the Academy to approve the project. The appeal filed on February 8, 2009 was answered in a letter dated June 16, 2009 from the Superintendent stating that he had referred the “proposal to the Executive Director of the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee.”
It would be a year later on May 21, 2010 that a delegation of six met with a subcommittee of three military officers representing the Academy’s Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee. McInerney chaired the meeting. Representing the AOH was DC State President Bob April, National Director Keith Carney, Past DC Barry Division president Frank Duggan, John McInerney and Jack O’Brien. Russ Wylie represented the Philadelphia Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. The delegation met with Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.), Admiral Robert Natter, USN, (Ret.), and General Michael Hagee, USMC (Ret.). Captain Robert Hofford, USN (Ret.), Director of Special Projects, and Sara Phillips, AIA, Executive Director of Academy Projects, were also present.
A detailed proposal citing the many contributions of Commodore John Barry and the planned design of the Barry Memorial was presented to each subcommittee member. The subcommittee members reviewed and conveyed the information to the main committee for evaluation.
On July 20, 2010, the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee sent a letter to Jack O’Brien informing him that the submitted plan was not approved. This was a discouraging second rejection but O’Brien and McInerney persevered and filed a second appeal with the Academy’s Superintendent.
Turning of the Tide
Ironically, while all of this was going on, the tide was already turning as a result of the intensity of the letter writing campaign to the Academy’s superintendent supporting the project. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley wrote a great letter of support. Numerous retired Admirals sent letters expressing their strong support. Congressional letters were having a major impact. Letters supporting the Barry Memorial from many members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives were inundating the Superintendent’s office. One month following the second rejection of the project by the U.S. Naval Academy, O’Brien and McInerney were contacted and offered a possible location for the memorial at the new pedestrian gate on Prince George Street.
On August 31, 2010, a delegation composed of National President Seamus Boyle, Keith Carney, Lt. Charles Cooper, USN, (Annapolis AOH Division), Jack O’Brien, John McInerney, and Russ Wylie met with Captain Hofford and Sarah Phillips at the Naval Academy. They reviewed and inspected the site of the proposed location of the memorial. The Academy’s offer was accepted.
“Throughout our efforts,” McInerney pointed out, “the Naval Academy worked with us in good faith.” Finally, it was a dream come true to be offered an ideal site for the Barry Memorial where the majority of visitors as well as the midshipmen and their families enter and leave the grounds of the Naval Academy.
Numerous meetings ensued reviewing the proposed plans for the Barry Memorial with Academy officials. Working closely with the Academy, O’Brien and McInerney were able to reach agreement on the final design of the Barry Memorial.
On January 11, 2011, the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee met and officially approved the Barry Memorial to be located inside the pedestrian gate. The project will be developed in two stages starting with the arched Barry sign over the Commodore John Barry Gate.
The Barry Memorial will be developed as the second stage. It will feature a 28-inch circular bronze relief of Commodore John Barry mounted on an 8-foot granite block. Below it is an enlarged copy in bronze of Barry’s Commission Number One signed by President George Washington. Below this will be a bronze plaque giving the naval career highlights of Commodore Barry. The area surrounding the memorial and gate will be named “Barry Plaza.”
“The Barry Memorial will bring to the forefront the decisive role Commodore Barry played in founding the American Navy under the Constitution at the direction of President Washington,” said Jack O’Brien. “With the Barry Gate and Memorial, future officers of the Navy will know the role Commodore Barry played in our nation’s great naval history,” McInerney pointed out. “This memorial will become the pride of the Navy and of Irish Americans,” McInerney concluded.
In the future, midshipmen, officers, and visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy will routinely say, “Let’s meet at Barry Gate” and in the process will learn about Commodore John Barry, a great Catholic Irish American Revolutionary War naval hero and the founder of the U.S. Navy under the Constitution.
The most important effort that AOH Members from around the country can do now is make donations to help build the gate and memorial. With over $200,000 needed it is incumbent upon every member, division, county and state to make donations to this important AOH project. In a recent letter President Boyle wrote: “Brothers, noble causes make for generous hearts. Let none of us lose this golden opportunity to educate future generations of naval and marine officers of the contributions of our noble Irish heritage in the foundation of our nation. Commodore Barry made great contributions to our freedom. Do not let this opportunity to pass us by due to lack of funds. Show your Irish pride and please contribute generously.”
Hibernian Charity is the AOH’s 501(c)3 organization and they are assuming the responsibility to receive the needed funds. All checks are to be made out to Hibernian Charity Barry Project. All donations are tax deductible.
Mail all donations to Hibernian Charity Barry Project, Post Office Box 391, Meriden, Connecticut 06450. On the check memo line please write “Barry Project.” If there are any questions, you may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call during the evenings after 6:30 PM. (203) 235-2746. If you need additional information about the Barry Project, please feel free to contact John McInerney at (202) 213 – 2055 or e-mail him at McInerneyVerret@aol.com. You may also reach Jack O’Brien at (301) 336 – 5167.