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.



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 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  You may also reach Jack O’Brien at (301) 336 – 5167.


John McCormack

In May 1903, a curly-headed 18-year-old from Athlone submitted a last minute entry in the tenor competition at the Dublin Feis Ceoil – an annual competition in music and song. He hadn’t the money to enter until a friend paid his entrance fee, another bought his music, and Dr. Vincent O’Brien, Choirmaster of the pro cathedral in Dublin, taught the young man the two competition pieces – Handel’s Tell Fair Irene and Thomas Moore’s the Snowy Breasted Pearl. Between these generous men, young John McCormack was literally pushed into a life of music. On the day of the Feis, the nervous young McCormack was the last of 14 tenors to perform. At the end of his performance, the audience rose with a thunderous ovation, despite the fact that applause was forbidden. It was a demonstration never before seen, and the judge said, `There is no need to tell you who the winner is, you have picked him’. The next day all of Dublin was buzzing about the young man from Athlone who had captured the coveted gold medal with his inspired singing.

Born to sing on June 14, 1884, John was one of six children. He loved music, but all his family had pleasing voices, so no special attention was paid to him at home. Naturally intelligent, he won a scholarship and graduated Sligo College. Through his years of education, John always found time for the school choir. After graduation, his father secured a clerical position for him in Dublin, but John was miserable doing clerical work. Two friends: Dudley Ford and Frank Manning took him to Dr. Vincent O’Brien who gave him a place in the pro cathedral Choir at 25 Pounds per year. That was all the encouragement he needed. Young McCormack walked out of his office job, and never returned.

It was these men who supported John’s entry into the Feis where he scored his first triumph. Among John’s admirers at that Feis was a young lady named Lily Foley, who won a medal herself for singing in Irish. After the Feis, 16-year-old Miss Foley and 18-year-old John McCormack found themselves engaged to sing at a number of concerts, and a lasting friendship developed between them. Then, Mr. James Riordan arrived in Dublin to engage artists to appear at the Irish Village at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Both John and Lily were selected to join the finest entertainers in Ireland who would represent their country’s musical heritage at that prestigious event. The journey to America, and the months spent amid the glamour and glitter of the St. Louis World’s Fair was like a trip to fantasy land. `An awesome spectacle’, Lily later wrote, `for our young Irish eyes.’ All went well at the Fair until the management decided to put a stage Irish comic on the bill. Young McCormack protested the addition as demeaning to the Irish and resigned. He returned to Ireland, and the pro cathedral where he was welcomed with open arms.

His golden voice remained the central attraction in the choir until John, again through the generosity of friends, went to Italy to study and improve his God-given talent. Miss Foley remained ever in touch, and eventually the talented young songstress became Mrs. John McCormack. Together they enjoyed a life that saw John McCormack become an international star. They owned a Hollywood mansion, a Park Avenue apartment, a castle, a stable of race horses, a roomful of Rembrandts, and 12 Rolls Royces. John received the title of Papal Count, yet remained as unspoiled as the day he first entered the Dublin Feis.

He was the highest paid classical musician in history receiving more than $2,500,000. a year in days when you could keep most of it. His more than 600 recordings sold into the hundreds of millions in his lifetime, and still sell to this day. He sold out the 7,000-seat Hippodrome 50 times, and brought SRO audiences to their feet with his solo recitals in the largest theaters and arenas across five continents. He was hailed by the Germans as a peerless Lieder singer, proclaimed a master of bel canto by the Italians, and made a Chevalier of France’s Legion of Honor for his interpretations of Debussy and Faure. He was also regarded as the greatest Mozart tenor of all time, his astonishing ability to sustain long phrases on a single breath astounded box holders from Covent Garden to the Metropolitan. Constantly teamed with top prima donnas, he sang with Melba, Tetrazzini, Destinn and Farrar. The press coverage he received was only matched by silver screen idols Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and his hold on the affections of a world beyond music surpassed even that of his good friend Enrico Caruso.

Through it all he remained a constant devotee of the music of his native Ireland, and was never reluctant to sing them whether requested or not. As one writeup noted, `through his ravishingly beautiful performances of the traditional ballads and folk songs of a nation struggling against poverty, famine, and oppression and striving for a place of its own in the world commonwealth, John McCormack achieved immortality as the voice of Ireland’s history and fate, the personification of Gaelic romance and fantasy, and the cherished idol of his people everywhere.’ Shortly after his death in September, 1945, his wife Lily found these words written in a memo book on John’s desk. ‘I live again the days and evenings of my long career. I dream at night of concerts in which I have had my share of success. Now, like the old Irish minstrels, I have hung up my harp because all my songs are sung. Thank God for recordings, for his voice is not lost forever.

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.


It Happened in June

In the early 1700s, Morris O’Brien, a native of Co. Cork, emigrated to America and settled in Kittery (near Ports-mouth), then Scarborough (near Portland), Maine. He was a volunteer in the expedition against Louisburg in 1745 which was considered one of the most extraordinary military achievements of the New England Colonies. Louisburg, on the Island of Cape Breton, belonged to the French who threatened the New England lumber industry and spent millions of dollars in erecting fortifications. The New Englanders attacked and won the fort.

In 1765, O’Brien moved to Machias, about 50 miles up the Maine coast from Bar Harbor, where he engaged in the lumber business with his six sons: Jeremiah, born in 1740, Gideon, John, William, Dennis and Joseph. When the Revolutionary War began and news came of the battle at Lexington, the people of Machias erected a liberty-pole in the town center. It was a tall pine tree with all but the very top branches stripped off, an increasingly common symbol of defiance in the colonies. Some time later, an armed BritIsh schooner, Margaretta, entered the harbor, escorting two sloops that were to retrieve lumber for British defensive works in Boston. The Captain of Margaretta threatened to fire on the town if the pole was not taken down. The citizens decided to capture the British officers while they were at a meeting on shore, but the Brits saw them coming and hastened aboard their ship and sailed down the river, firing shots over Machias as they fled. Some Machias men fired musket shots at the ship from small boats and canoes, as well as from shore. The firing lasted until Margaretta was out of range.

The next day, June 12th, 1775, 233 years ago, the men of Machias commandeered one of the lumber sloops, Unity, armed themselves with muskets, pitch-forks and axes and then set out after Margaretta. When the Brit Captain saw Unity coming, they weighed anchor and sailed off, but a brisk wind broke Margaretta’s main boom, crippling its navigability. As a result, O’Brien’s crew overtook the crippled ship. On the approach of Unity, Margaretta opened fire, but the Machias crew managed to avoid the fire and pulled alongside Margaretta and stormed aboard. Captain O’Brien’s brother John led the boarding party. In an exchange of shots, the Brit Captain fell with a musket ball to the chest. With their commanding officer down, the British quickly surrendered to Captain O’Brien. The surviving British crew were handed over to the Provincial Congress.

This was the first naval battle of the American Revolution. The armament of Margaretta was transferred to the sloop Unity, which was renamed Machias Liberty with O’Brien in command.

The Brits sent the ship, Diligence and a tender from Halifax to recapture Margaretta, but O’Brien captured them as well. This gave the Machias residents two armed ships of war.

Liberty, with Jeremiah O’Brien as captain and his brother William as lieutenant, and Diligence, on which his brother John was lieutenant, were commissioned by the provincial government and ordered to intercept supplies destined for the British troops.

The O’Briens cruised the coast for a year and a half, taking several prizes. In 1776 and 1777, different British officers received orders to go and destroy Machias, but the residents with-stood these efforts to such an extent that Machias became known as the “Hornet’s Nest” to the British admiralty. One British officer, presumed to be Sir George Collier, said “The damned rebels at Machias were a harder set than those at Bunker Hill.” Jeremiah’s brother, John, while in command of a privateer called Hibernia, also captured the Brit ship General Pattison, having on board a number of British officers returning to England. Jeremiah then assumed command of the privateer Hannibal that his brother John and others had built at Newburyport. However, while cruising off New York, his vessel was chased by two frigates and captured. He was confined for six months on the notorious prison ship Jersey in Brooklyn, and then sent to England’s Mill prison, from which, after a few months, he succeeded in escaping back to the war. In later years, he was appointed the federal customs collector for the port of Machias. A position he held until his death in October, 1818.

The capture of Margaretta is considered the first time British colors were struck to those of the United States. Even though Unity was not formally a member of the Continental Navy, the U.S. Merchant Marine claims Unity as its member and this incident as their beginning. Five U.S. Navy ships have been named USS O’Brien for Jeremiah O’Brien including the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a Liberty ship built during WWII and now a floating museum based in San Francisco.

It is the sole survivor of the 6,939-ship armada that stormed Normandy on D-Day, in June, 1944, and one of only two currently operational WWII Liberty ships afloat of the 2,751 built during the war. Appropriately built in South Portland, Maine, and launched on June 19, 1943, this class EC2-S-CI ship not only made four perilous round trip wartime crossings of the Atlantic and served on D-Day, but later saw sixteen months of service in both the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean calling at ports in Chile, Peru, New Guinea, the Philippines, India, China, and Australia, keeping the name of a proud and patriotic Irish American afloat.