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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John Philip Holland

His name was John Philip Holland and he was born in Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland, on February 24, 1841. He was only three when the potato failure devastated his country and though he survived, he suffered poor eyesight for the rest of his life. His father was a member of the Coast Guards and young John inherited a love of the sea. Although his poor eyesight prevented him from following in his father’s footsteps, he developed an interest in ship design.

John attended St. Macreehy’s School during his youth and later, perhaps, the Christian Brothers School in Ennistymon. His mother, Mary Scanlon, moved the family to Limerick in 1853 and here he came under the influence of Brother Burke, a science teacher, who greatly encouraged his interest in ships. By the end of the 1850’s, John had drawn his first plans for a submarine, which he never radically changed. When he left school, he joined the Christian Brothers as a school teacher.

His love of ships led him to study the unsuccessful attempts of Bourne, Bushnell, and Fulton at underwater sailing. At the end of 1862, he read an account of the first combat between armored ships: the historic confrontation of the Monitor and Virginia in the American Civil War. He noted at the time that the English were nervous because their country’s strength lay in their wooden ship Navy which was now vulnerable. In his spare time young John began to design an ironclad that would sail beneath the waves, undetected by surface ships.

Then, in another action, the Union ship Housatonic was sunk by the underwater craft Huntley. Though the Confederate sub was dangerously unstable, and eventually sank with its entire crew, it verified the importance of Holland’s ideas. Unable to promote interest in Ireland, he left the Christian Brothers, and came to America in 1872. After a short stay in Boston, he found employment in St. John’s School, Paterson, New Jersey. In 1875, he offered his plan for a submersible boat to the U.S. Navy, but it was rejected as a fantastic scheme. He was sure if he could raise the money for a prototype vessel, he could convince the skeptics, but money was hard to find.

In 1876, as his brother and other patriotic young Irishmen had done before him, Holland joined the Fenian Brotherhood, a rebel organization dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule. Here he found interest in his plans for a weapon that could sink the British Navy. Delighted with the prospect of striking a blow for Ireland, the Fenians financed Holland’s project. He constructed a prototype to demonstrate his theories, and in 1878 the 14-foot, one-man, Holland I slipped beneath the waves of the Passaic river in New Jersey. Impressed, the Fenians provided $23,000. for a full-sized version along with a mother vessel for launch and retrieval. In 1881, Holland completed a 31-foot, 3-man submarine of 20-tons displacement complete with a torpedo tube and fittings for armaments. Spectators stared as the sub went through its trials, and newsmen dubbed it the Fenian Ram in recognition of its origin and purpose. The British nervously watched the subs progress. Holland continued to test and refine his design when, in 1882, an impatient Fenian leader, John Breslin, stole the Ram and Holland’s third hull which was then under construction. They were taken to New Haven to be launched; unfortunately, with no knowledge of their operation, they sank and the project was abandoned.

Holland again tried the U.S. Government, and again was rejected. With his own limited assets and borrowed money, he continued his designs, trying to interest financiers in his invention. In 1895, he finally won a $150,000. U.S. Navy contract to build a submarine, but the Navy insisted on alterations which Holland said would make it a failure. So, while building a sub with their modifications, the headstrong inventor also built the 53-foot, 63-ton, Holland VI to his own specifications. After the predicted failure of the Navy design, Holland floated out his alternative vessel. The trials took place at New Suffolk on Long Island, NY and were a total success. In 1900, Holland VI became the U.S.S. Holland – the first American submarine, and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company received an order for six more.

Although the brainchild of the tenacious Irish immigrant became the prototype for the greatest submarine fleet in the world, success came too late. He was deeply in debt and couldn’t finance the order. Financier Isaac Rice and others backed Holland’s successful Company and it became the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and later a division of General Dynamics. Holland was moved ever lower in the company, ending up as only one of a staff of designers. In 1904, his financiers tried to retire him, but he refused. Instead, he tried to form a rival company, but litigation brought against him by the Electric Boat Company over patent rights, prevented him from raising capital. Rice and the others dealt with both the U.S. and British governments, selling them the original patents much to the chagrin of their inventor and the Fenian brotherhood.

Holland spent his remaining years in costly, but unsuccessful, litigation trying to reclaim his patents. On August 12, 1914, he died in obscure poverty in Newark, N.J., leaving his wife Margaret with five children. As he lay dying, the Germans and British were readying their respective Navies for war and the eyes of both fleets were submarines, built with Holland’s principles.

John P Holland was soon forgotten. For 61 years, he lay in an unmarked grave until public attention was focused on the historic oversight in 1975 and a memorial headstone was erected. Years later, another was erected in its place, and the original memorial stone was transferred to his home town of Liscannor in his native Co. Clare and rededicated by the U.S. Navy Submarine Force.

As for Holland’s first big sub, the lost Fenian Ram, it would have made Holland to learn that it did strike a blow against the Crown; it was salvaged in 1916, and used in a fund-raising campaign for Ireland’s Easter Rising. After that, it was placed on a concrete base as a monument to Holland in Westside Park in Paterson, NJ. When the Beatles recorded Yellow Submarine, vandals painted the sub a bright yellow; and it was moved to the protection of a shed at the rear of the Paterson Museum. In 1988, the office of National Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians learned of its location, and queried the museum regarding its intentions. The museum responded that a plan had been in the works, but a lack of funds kept them from creating a proper display for the Ram. The AOH Historian sponsored a nationwide fund-raiser, and in 1990, presented the museum with a check for $12,000.00. Today the Fenian Ram can be seen along with Holland I, salvaged in 1927, as the centerpiece of an elaborate exhibit to Holland in a special section of the Paterson Museum partially financed by the AOH.

Finally, a long overdue ceremony took place on April 8, 2000, when a monument was dedicated to the memory of Holland’s accomplishment, at what is now recognized as the first U.S. Submarine Base in New Suffolk, Long Island. Funding was organized by the U.S. Navy Submarine Veterans. Thankfully, John Holland’s memory has been resurrected, for he was truly one of Ireland’s sons who helped to make America great. Now if we can only get his name in our school’s history books!

Sean MacDairmada

One of the lesser known, but major figures, in the 1916 uprising is Sean McDermott. If you don’t know his story, don’t feel alone. He is so little known that you can’t even find him on the internet. You’ll find Sean McDermott the actor, Sean McDermott the singer, Sean McDermott the NFL star, Sean McDermott the missionary, and even Sean McDermott the U.S. Navy C2/E2 pilot of the year 2005. The only way to find our Sean McDermott is to look up his name the way he signed it on the proclamation of the Irish Republic – in the Irish language: Sean MacDiarmada – a name that was on British secret police files for years until his death.

Seán MacDiarmada was born on February 28, 1883 in small Co. Leitrim town near the Donegal border, where there now stands a monument to his memory. Sean was born there, but ran away at age 15 and went to Glasgow where his uncle was a gardener. He worked for a time with his uncle, but soon took a job as a conductor on the Glasgow trams. After 2 years, he went to Belfast and worked as a tram conductor, and later as a barman.

In Belfast, he joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians which was closely associated with the Irish Parliamentary Party. While the AOH were then considered to be the custodians of Irish nationalism, MacDiarmada looked for and joined other Irish nationalist organizations as well, including Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League. He gave a speech at a Sinn Féin convention in Dublin that made a deep impression on all who heard him. Described as “strikingly handsome and earnest, speaking with natural eloquence and a sincerity which held his audience”, he was also called lighthearted with a gift of telling a humorous story and a tongue that was witty without being malicious. Then, in 1906, MacDiarmada took the oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and it changed his life forever.

He moved to Dublin in 1908, and met the veteran Fenian Tom Clarke who had been sent back to Ireland from America to reorganize the IRB. MacDiarmada was tireless in his efforts to spread the IRB across the country. As a result Tom Clarke took the young dynamo under his wing, and made him a national organizer for the Brotherhood. A strong friendship developed and, over the years, MacDiarmada and Clarke became nearly inseparable. Then tragedy struck. MacDermott was afflicted with polio. After a long recuperation, however, he threw himself back into the nationalist movement. Though now forced use a cane just to walk about, his infirmity never slowed him down nor dampened his nationalist spirit.

In 1910 he became manager of the newspaper “Irish Freedom”, which he founded with Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. In November 1913 he was one of the original members of the Irish Volunteers formed at the Rotunda by Padraic Pearse, and worked tirelessly to bring that organization under IRB control. Sean became Secretary of the IRB and in May 1915 he was arrested in Tuam, County Galway, under the Defense of the Realm Act for giving a speech against enlisting in the British Army for WWI. Released in September, he was invited to join the IRB’s secret Military Committee, to plan a rising against the Crown. Indeed, it was he and Tom Clarke who were most responsible for planning the Easter Rising of 1916. And, in spite of his handicap, Sean MacDiarmada limped into that milestone of Irish history, carrying his cane not as a crutch of dependence, but as a scepter of authority, as part of the HQ staff of James Connolly. It was MacDiarmada who read Pearse’s letter of surrender to those in the G.P.O.

After the Rising was put down by the British, and the rebels taken captive, a sneering British officer remarked as MacDiarmada limped by, “No wonder the Sinn Feiners lost, with such cripples in their army.” MacDiarmada made no reply. In fact, he almost escaped execution by blending in with the crowd of prisoners until a British officer named Lee-Wilson, pointed him out saying “take the man with the stick, he’s the most dangerous man here after Tom Clarke.” Lee-Wilson was later killed during the Irish War of Independence on the orders of one of MacDiarmada’s closest friends – a big fella by the name of Michael Collins.

On May 12, 1916, Sean MacDiarmada was murdered by the Crown in the Stonebreaker’s Yard of Kilmainham Jail; the same day as his comrade James Connolly. They were the last two to face the firing squad. In 1922, poet Seamus O’Sullivan wrote:

They have slain you, Sean MacDermott; never more these eyes will greet
The eyes beloved by women and the smile that true men loved;
Never more I’ll hear the stick-tap, and the gay and limping feet,
They have slain you, Sean the Gentle, Sean the valiant, Sean the proved.