National President Seamus Boyle unveils Commodore John Barry Wayside Marker

National President Seamus Boyle was a featured speaker at the unveiling of a new wayside marker at the statue of Commodore John Barry in Franklin Park, Washington, DC, on May 4. Although the statue has been standing since its dedication by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, there has been no interpretive marker to explain to the public who Commodore John Barry was and why he is important today. The Naval Order of the United States embarked on an effort to have a ceramic information marker placed to the side of the statue. Leading the effort for the Naval Order was AOH Brother Captain John Rodgaard, USN, and a member of the Commodore John Barry Division in the District of Columbia.

President Boyle noted in his remarks that “Ninety Eight years ago, my predecessor, AOH President James Regan, stood here for the unveiling of this monument.”  The Ancient Order of Hibernians was the leading force in having the statue placed in Franklin Park. The statue was created by sculptor John J. Boyle on a commission from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other patriotic American groups of Irish descent.

The AOH president pointed out that “both Houses of Congress had a special adjournment for the occasion and gathered at this park were no less than 50,000 spectators. These included President Wilson, members of Congress, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels – who presided over the ceremony – along with hundreds of leading officials of the government and the diplomatic corps.” The AOH National newspaper, in June of 1914, described the dedication ceremony as follows: “Standing majestically on its beautiful site in Franklin Park, surrounded with trees, flowers, shrubs, and directly facing one of the most frequented thoroughfares of the national Capital, the monument to Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy, now forms one of the most attractive memorials of the many which adorn the public parks of the Capital City.” President Boyle closed with a quote from President Wilson’s speech during the dedication: “This man is not an Irish-American; he was an Irishman that became an American.”

Boyle acknowledged the presence of other Hibernians at the ceremony, including National Director Keith Carney, Brother Ralph Day (President of the DC State Board and the Commodore John Barry Division), Brothers Jack O’Brien and John McInerney (leaders of our efforts to erect the Barry memorial at the Naval Academy) and Brother Brian Curran (President of the John Carroll of Carrollton Division).  Following the ceremony there was a reception onboard the display ship (Former U.S. Destroyer) Barry (DD933) berthed at the Washington Navy Yard. During that reception the Gilbert Stewart painting of Commodore John Barry was on display. It is a truly remarkable painting.

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A Month For Bravery

On September 13, the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians celebrate one of the major holidays of their Order – Commodore John Barry Day. It is not a day unique to that Order, for it has been commemorated on the American national calendar more than once. There were even statues erected in his honor back in the days when Americans remembered with gratitude the contributions of this dedicated man. Today, few remember his deeds. The American Heritage dictionary doesn’t even list his name, and his statue in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, is just a platform for pigeons unnoticed by passers-by. It is truly unfortunate that so few remember because, during his lifetime, Barry gave so much to America at a time when she needed it most. It has even been said that had it not been for John Barry, the American Revolution would have been lost. Dr. Benjamin Rush said in his eulogy at Barry’s grave side, “He was born in Ireland, but America was the object of his devotion, and the theater of his usefulness.” A sea captain in colonial America, he seemed destined for a prosperous career in the colonies, but his integrity and sense of justice led him to risk all in the patriot cause. With nine years experience as a seagoing Captain, and five successful commands to his credit, the young Irishman was warmly welcomed, and given command of a ship under the authority of the Continental Congress. Eight months after the first shots were fired at Lexington, Captain John Barry took the helm of a new 14-gun vessel aptly named, Lexington. He quickly trained a crew, and began the task of supplying and supporting Washington’s ground forces.

He captured British ships and took their cargo for the patriots. He captured an armed British vessel when ammunition was scarce, and a supply ship when food was at a premium, he then came to Washington’s aid when the leader was planning to cross the Delaware. He organized seamen and joined the land forces which crossed the river in boats supplied by his friend, Patrick Colvin. Barry was held in such high esteem that Lord Howe made a flattering offer to Barry to desert the patriot cause. “Not the value or command of the whole British fleet,” Barry replied, “can lure me from the cause of my country which is liberty and freedom.” The last sea battle of the American Revolution took place as Barry was returning with a shipload of bullion from Havana, and was set upon by three British ships. He destroyed one and outdistanced the other two, returning with the precious cargo which was used to establish a National Bank for the new nation. Even after the war, this courageous seaman assisted America by transporting Virginia tobacco to Holland to repay America’s war debts.

In recognition of his experience and bravery, Washington asked the popular naval hero to form and train a class of midshipmen, who would form the nucleus of the new American Navy. Barry himself was named the ranking officer, and granted Commission number one making him Father of the American Navy. He died on Sept 13, 1803.
Years later, in 1920 to be exact, another Barry bravely fought the Brits. This time in Dublin during Ireland’s War of Independence. On Sept 21, a British lorry, heavily guarded by armed soldiers, was being loaded with supplies as a voice from the street called, “Drop your rifles and put up your hands.” It was a group of Irish Volunteers. Suddenly, one of the soldiers fired, then a fusillade erupted as Volunteers and soldiers dueled with revolvers and rifles. When it was over, one soldier was killed and four wounded, and the Volunteers fled. The British spotted one young man hiding under their lorry and pulled him out. They threw him into the back with their wounded and sped off. An official statement that day from British HQ stated that, “One of the aggressors had been arrested.”

The aggressor, as it turned out, was an 18-year old medical student named Kevin Barry. Kevin had joined the Irish Volunteers when he was only 15. His job was to cycle to various parts of the city delivering orders and correspondence between officers of the movement. In his position as courier, young Kevin knew all of the leading figures, and the British knew they had a prize catch in young Barry. Questioning and persuasion began in earnest: Kevin refused to betray the movement. He was offered amnesty and freedom, yet he refused. He was tortured for days on end, and still he refused. Finally, he was charged with murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Late at night, Kevin was taken to see the scaffold that would end his life the following morning. With incredible cruelty and mental coercion, he was again pressured to reveal the names of his officers and comrades. In return he was promised a full pardon, his tuition paid at any Medical school in the world, and a pension of 2,000 Pounds Sterling a year for life. Kevin, visibly shaken, listened to the officer in silence, then glanced up at the beam from which hung the noose. “Yes,” he said, “I think that should hold my weight.”

On November 1, at 8 AM, his hands tied behind him, a slender 18-year old boy was led to the gallows at Mountjoy Jail where his short life was ended. Later Father Albert, one of Kevin’s last visitors, reported that Kevin’s last words were, “Hold on to the Republic.”

In this month of September, as we are reminded of two Barrys and Bravery, we are also asked to remember the bravery of those whose stories – unlike the Barrys – may never be known. They lie forever in the rubble of the Twin Towers that were destroyed on September 11. We’ll never know how many Irish died in that horror, but we do know that in the rubble were found close to six hundred Claddagh Rings. Remember them all in your prayers.

Did You Know About The Mitchels of Dungiven?

John Mitchel was born to a radical Presbyterian minister, in Dungiven, Ireland, in 1815. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin and became a lawyer and journalist. An outspoken nationalist, his love for Ireland led him to establish the United Irishman newspaper in 1848, but his impassioned articles soon led to his arrest on a charge of treason. Found guilty, he was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania). In 1853 he escaped and made his way to the United States. He settled in the south where he published a newspaper, and gave three sons to the Confederate cause in the American Civil War. His eldest son, Captain John C. Mitchel, served in the South Carolina Regular Artillery, which opened the barrage on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 which started the war. Later on July 20, 1864, he was killed commanding a battery at Fort Sumter. As he lay dying, he uttered, in paraphrase the last words of Patrick Sarsfield, the Earl of Lucan (killed at Landen, Holland, 1693), I willingly give my life for South Carolina. Oh, that I could have died for Ireland! Those words are inscribed on his headstone in nearby Magnolia Cemetery, in a plot surrounded by a replica of Fort Sumter.

His youngest son, Willie, was killed in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. After the battle, members of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade, learned from Confederate Irish captives that John Mitchel’s son had fallen on the field. They left a detachment behind to locate the body. It was discovered in a shallow grave – one of the only ones to be buried during the fierce battle – wrapped in a blanket secured with three pins and a note attached that read, Willie Mitchel, son of an Irish patriot. Another son, James, survived the war but lost an arm in combat.

Old John himself returned to Ireland in 1874 and the following year was elected to the House of Commons from Tipperary. Denied his seat because he was considered a felon, he returned to his constituency and was overwhelmingly re-elected. However, he died before he could take his seat.

After the Civil War, John’s only surviving son, James, relocated to New York and settled in the Fordham section of the Bronx. There he had a son whom he named after his father. Somehow, the family had become Roman Catholic and young John Purroy Mitchel was raised with the same strong sense of patriotism and civic duty that marked his grandfather’s family. After graduating Law School, he became an incorruptible reformer fighting the graft of Tammany Hall. His successes led him to become the youngest man ever elected Mayor of New York City (1914-1917) at age 34.

While in office Mitchel cut waste, improved accounting practices, and professionalized the city’s civil service by standardizing salaries and work guidelines for municipal employees. Widely known as the “Boy Mayor,” he also fought police corruption, instituted the nation’s first zoning guidelines, and appointed the first woman to lead a major municipal agency in any U.S. city.

After his term as Mayor, World War I was raging and young John joined the new Army Aviation Service. Sadly, he was killed in an accident during a training flight in Louisiana; he was only 38 years old. New York and the nation responded with a flurry of eulogies and memorials, including a memorial at the entrance to New York’s Central Park on 5th Avenue at 90th Street. The next time you end the NY St. Patrick’s Parade at 86th and Fifth, walk up a few blocks and check it out. Also named in honor of this beloved public servant and American patriot was Mitchel Square, a small triangular park in Manhattan, at St. Nicholas Avenue and 166th Street; and Mitchel Field, a former Army Air Service airfield on Long Island from where Charles Lindbergh took off on the first trans Atlantic flight to Paris. As he flew over Ireland, I wonder if Lucky Lindy realized he was flying over the resting place of the grandfather of the man for whom his point of departure was named. Among the many eulogies given at Mitchel’s passing, President Theodore Roosevelt was moved to say,…”No stauncher American, no abler public servant, and no finer natural soldier than [John] Purroy Mitchel was to be found in all our country.”

John Purroy Mitchel’s patriotism for America was a reflection of his grandfather’s patriotism for Ireland. It seems that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.