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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Commodore Barry to be Honored

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.

Project’s Background

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.

 

AOH Proposal

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.”

 

Commodore Barry

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.

 

Public Support

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.”

 

Crucial Meeting

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.

 

Another Rejection

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.

 

Victory!

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.

 

Fundraising

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 fkearneyjr@cox.net 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.

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Barry Memorial Awaits Decision

Clay model of the Barry Memorial by the sculptor Ron Tunison.

At the past national convention in New Orleans, the AOH unanimously endorsed the effort to build a memorial to Irish-born, first Flag Officer of the United States Navy, Commodore John Barry.  In August of 2008, led by Washington DC State Historian Jack O’Brien, a proposal was submitted to erect a memorial to Commodore John Barry on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.  A significant amount of time and effort was put into preparing the proposal: numerous meetings with the Academy staff, research on other memorials for design ideas, discussions with artists and memorial building companies, plan writes and rewrites, and countless hours behind a table at Irish events throughout the mid-Atlantic area to obtain support for the proposal. Initially, the concept conceived by Jack O’Brien and very professionally proposed by him and his team was turned down by the Naval Academy.  In a letter from the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Admiral J.L. Fowler (stamped Jan 9, 2009), he informed Jack that the proposal would not be appropriate for the Academy grounds.  He did so without explanation.

Not deterred in the least and not willing to take “no” for an answer, Brother O’Brien got right back in the game and requested a way to appeal the decision.  Jack has spent the last year resubmitting the proposal to the Academy and at the same time soliciting support from many sources including numerous retired Admiralty and a list of senators and congressman that is growing so fast he might just get a congressional mandate directing the Academy to build it.  He has garnered support Governor O’Mally of Maryland, from the Philadelphia Council of the Navy League of the United States, The President of Fordham University, the Board of Erin and many others. Frank Duggan, a lobbyist for more than 30 years and a long time Commodore John Barry Division member in DC recently thanked and congratulated Jack, for all the support you have garnered for this memorial. I have watched your progress with admiration.  You and your team have touched all the bases that need to be approached for support and have made an incredibly strong case after being initially refused by the Naval Academy. We still have more to do, but you have done an outstanding job and we are all grateful.

The planned memorial will be fabricated in granite and will be eight feet high and ten feet in width. On the front of the memorial will be a thirty-inch circular bronze relief of Commodore John Barry.  Below it will be a forty by twenty-six inch enlarged duplicate copy (in bronze) of Barry’s naval commission “Number One”, adorned with the signature of George Washington.  This was the first naval commission of an officer in our nation’s history under the Constitution.  On the back of the memorial will be a circular relief of thirty inches of the Navy’s first seal.  Below it will be a bronze plaque, giving the naval career highlights of Commodore John Barry.  Codori Memorials of Gettysburg Pennsylvania is the general contractor and will use Vermont marble.  The sculptor is Ron Tunison of Cairo, New York.  Both of these contractors have worked together in the past to create the Irish Brigade Monument at Bloody Lane on Antietam National Battlefield.

In a recent showing of significant support from Members of Congress a letter was sent to Vice Admiral Folwer endorsing the AOH’s efforts to build the memorial.  The co-signers of the letter included the Co-Chairs of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs Elliot Engle (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY), Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) as well as the Chair of the Friends of Ireland Richard Neal (D-MA). The letter noted that they all had co-sponsored the legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush, hailing Barry’s invaluable naval contributions and recognizing Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.  The letter stated that they strongly support the efforts of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) to erect a memorial to Commodore John Barry on the public grounds of the United States Naval Academy.  We trust that their appeal will receive the favorable consideration it deserves.

One new factor in the decision process at the Academy is the fact that a new Superintendent was just appointed to replace Vice Admiral Fowler.  Rear Admiral Michael H. Miller is currently awaiting Senate confirmation before assuming the post.  Once a positive decision has been made by the Academy the process of raising significant donations will begin in earnest.  For more information please contact Jack O’Brien at 301-336-5167.

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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.