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Authors: Meda Ryan

Tags: #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History, #Biography & Autobiography, #Guerrillas, #Military, #Historical, #Nationalists

Tom Barry (5 page)

BOOK: Tom Barry
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Tom Barry didn't know then, nor was he ever to know, that the first re­action of Seán Buckley and other brigade officers was one of mistrust. Why was the son of an RIC man, who had spent four years in the British army and upheld their policy upon his return to Ire­land, seeking membership of the IRA? ‘Naturally we had to be cau­tious. Questions were asked: Could he be a spy? Was he genuine? They set traps for him. He was well tested before being accepted,' Tom Kel­leher commented.

Once he joined, he got caught up in the movement. He himself says that he had never read the programme of Sinn Féin. Nor was he concerned that three-fourths of the people of all Ireland had at the end of 1918 ‘declared in a British general election for a Sovereign In­de­pendent Irish Republic, nor that Dáil Éireann had accepted re­spon­sibility for the IRA'.

‘These things seemed to be of little matter then. But what did matter was that one had to decide whether to aid the occupying forces and be a traitor, sit on the ditch and be a cynic or join your own people and do the right thing.' However, as the struggle developed and many young men died by the bullet, ‘one soon learned that programmes that included political, social and econo­mic contexts were important,' he maintained. ‘Being the army of a democratically elected government, defending its people and its embryonic institu­tions changed the world-wide image of the IRA and en­hanced the morale of its Volunteers.
Tom felt ‘the outlawing – the banning of Dáil Éireann, the elected parliament of the people' should be chal­lenged.
In August Seán Buck­ley, Char­­­lie Hurley, Liam Deasy and other offi­cers knew that in the rapidly changing pattern of action by the ‘ruthlessness' of enemy ‘extremists in Ban­don and Ban­try,' morale had reached a low ebb. To counteract this a trained brigade column was required; consequently a suitable officer to train and lead the new force was considered. The name of Tom Barry was once more brought to the fore. Seán Buckley sent for him; he was no longer staying at home as he anti­cipated another swoop by the British forces.

The meeting between Tom Barry and the officers took place in Barrett's, Killeady, where the urgency of training men to fight and to defend themselves was discussed. Barry says he was reluctant to get involved at first as he wanted ‘to complete' his education in ‘college in Cork and get a job'.
A week later Tom, invited to attend a staff meeting at brigade headquarters in O'Mahony's of Belrose, was ques­tioned by Charlie Hurley and Ted O'Sullivan while other officers listened. Liam Deasy said, ‘I observed his reactions closely. His ans­wers were direct and clear. He was smart and military in his ap­pear­ance and gave the impression of being sharp, quick and dynamic. He presented himself to me as a very likeable person and won my com­plete confidence … we felt that he would have much to offer as a pro­fessional soldier who had seen active military service in the Middle East. His subsequent distinguished service in the national cause be­came an inspiration, and as a guerrilla fighter his name be­came a household word throughout the country.'
Initially Tom Barry was re­luctant to allow his name to go forward. However he consented, and having been proposed and seconded, his name was entered on the register and he was ap­pointed officer in charge of training. ‘I told them I knew damn all about it, but I'd do my best'.
‘Once he was told he was accepted he got going right away,' Danny Canty recalled. ‘He stood up and spoke. He talked of past his­tory and our obligation towards Ireland and why we should fight for this country of ours. He filled us with fire, telling us we needed to train. Any of us who liked could go home, but he'd prefer we'd stay, as he wanted to begin right away. That was a Saturday evening. He took us up the hills and we worked together that evening and all day Sun­day. We didn't go to Mass or meeting. I will always remember this good-looking young fel­low, full of life and ambi­tion, his hair blowing in the summer breeze.'

That Sunday afternoon was forever etched in Seán Mac­Cár­thaigh's mind. Tom's vitality impressed him as he pushed young lads like himself to act with soldiery precision. ‘On a few occasions sub­sequently on your way to Skerry's College, we travelled together ... on the morn­ing train'. Seán approached Charlie Hurley on his in­ten­tion to abandon his studies and join the fighting column. How­ever, Charlie ‘ordered' him back to the city to continue his work as the intelligence gatherer and co-ordinator of dispatches between the Cork brigades. It was ‘more important from their view point at this juncture as they could not arm all the men available locally.'

Personnel at this intense Belrose meeting outlined a system of training the brigade. Tom Kelleher observed that ‘Barry was bursting with constructive ideas that were debated fully. He was mature be­yond his years – a genius.'

A few weeks later Tom gave another preliminary talk at Coak­ley's near Begley's forge. Tom Kelleher was present. ‘I can almost memo­rise it to this day. It was all about Ireland, and how it was once a nation and will be again, that we were entitled to our freedom, but we'll have to fight for it he said, and we'll have to get it. It was pow­erful stuff. We were filled with enthusiasm. Then he said, “Training is important. We'll have to get going right away”.'

Brigid O'Mahony recognised him arriving at her aunt's house one day, sporting a beard and wearing a hat. ‘Be careful of him, he's a British spy,' she said to her uncle. ‘I know him; he was in the British army; his sisters are in our school.' Her uncle passed on the word, which was met with the rebuke, ‘Tell her [Brigid] to keep her mouth shut; we know he's Tom Barry, he's with us now,' was the reply.

The Third West Cork Brigade was one of the three Cork bri­gades formed on 5 January 1919. Its eastern boundary ex­tended west of the Old Head of Kin­sale, north to a point two miles south of Water­fall, west to one mile south of Cookstown skirting Kilmichael, to the southern end of the Pass of Keimineigh on the Kerry border, then west of Glen­garriff to the sea en­clos­ing all of the Castletown­bere peninsula. The drawbacks of the brigade were many: shortage of arms, machine-guns, bombs, explosives and engineering mate­rial; lack of transport, no barracks to retire to; and the hardship of ob­tain­ing food and cloth­­ing as they went from one area to another. Also, unlike the enemy, the Bri­tish troops, who had battle experience gained during the 1914–1918 War and were accustomed to fighting and blood­shed, the West Cork IRA had no ex­perience of war. Most of the members were un­trained in the use of arms, tac­tical manoeuv­ring and foot-drill, but under Tom Barry's leadership, armed with the willingness to learn, the brigade became highly efficient.

According to Barry, ‘This was the force which was to attempt to break by armed action the British domination of seven centuries' duration. Behind it was a tradition of failure … And sadly it must be recorded that when West Cork women and children died in 1846 and 1847 of hunger, and the British ascendancy seized their food, not a West Cork man drove a pike through any of the murderers of his family.'

In the brigade there were seven battalions, organised around the chief towns. Each battalion was divided into companies and these in turn were divided into sections. Unlike a regular army, numbers were flexible, de­pend­ing on population and activity in a locality.

Battalion staff and company officers were to be trained first. These in turn were to act as training officers to their home units. Barry sug­gested the setting up of five separate training camps so that the bri­gade would be able to call upon the services of a large body of men as the need arose. The locations chosen were in Kilbrittain, Bally­murphy, Dunmanway, Schull and Bantry. The camp houses were chosen for their isolation and for having a good range of outside buildings for the Volunteers to sleep in while scouts and sentries kept watch.

The first training camp commenced at the end of September in O'Brien's, Clounbuig, Kilbrittain – a house where the males and the females were all in­volved in the movement. All the men slept in the one barn. Training continued for about ten hours a day, generally extended to a week to inculcate military discipline and to teach ele­mentary tactics. ‘The men were told to act as if they were expec­ting an attack at any hour of the day or night … They practised occupy­ing their defence positions, aiming and trigger pressing and moving in extended order as directed. It was an unorthodox approach to train­ing, but the circumstances necessitated this departure,' he re­called. All that mattered he felt was that the men would obey orders, shoot straight and move in proper for­mation. ‘Their ability to salute or to form fours smartly wasn't in the circumstances, considered.'

The full military practice together with the lectures, written work and map-reading meant, according to Barry, ‘that the men's minds held nothing but thoughts of war.'

‘I stressed to the men that they would be called upon to under­take long marches, they would often go hungry and sleep rough – in a field or in a barn. “You may leave home one day and never return,” I told them.'
Charlie Hur­ley, brigade OC arrived one day; he obser­ved for a short while, had a few words with Barry, fell in with a sec­tion, joined the sharp, swift manoeuvring of side arms. John Fitz­gerald said ‘it was a moment I will not forget when Charlie an­noun­ced that from now on Tom Barry was brigade column commander. With­­out doubt he was as sharp and as fit a man as ever wore shoe leather!'
Barry embarked on organising a guerrilla force that would be one of the strongest in Ireland. His keen observation, strict disci­pline, good organisation and fearless, dynamic personality gave con­fi­dence and inspiration to those that fought and planned with him. ‘There is such a thing as a born sol­dier, and Tom Barry was one,' said Danny Canty. ‘Once he was in the move­ment he threw his heart into it. He was in it in spirit and in body. The soldier in him wanted to push the men forward.'
This lightly built twenty-three year old was winning the respect of the men he was to lead: he had to prove his worth more than any of his men. ‘You have to make sure that your troops are more afraid of you than they are of the enemy. I did that.'

‘The men had the courage, they had idealism in their souls, all they needed was the spark to ignite, and Barry provided that spark.'


Dr Thomas Dillon Memoir, 3738, TCAD. At the Volunteer and Sinn Féin con­ventions held in October 1917, structures were changed with the de­cided aim towards self-government.

See Brian Murphy,
Patrick Pearse and
the Lost Republican Ideal
, pp. 88–110; John A. Murphy,
Ireland in the Twentieth Century
, pp. 11, 12.

Guerilla Days
1; Tom Barry, personal records, TB (Tom Barry) private papers

Charlie O'Keeffe author interview 14/9/1974: Tom Barry interview; Sir Peter Strickland Papers, WO35/206, IWM.

Charlie O'Keeffe author interview 14/9/1974.

The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War 1920–21 In West Cork
, p. 8; Charlie O'Keeffe, author inter­view 6/11/1978; Kathy Hayes, author interview 16/4/1976.

Bill Hales, author interview 14/9/1974 ; Tom Barry, author interviews; also Tom Barry to Kate O'Callaghan, RTÉ Sound Archives, n.d.; Tom Barry – in wide-ranging interview with Nollaig Ó Gadhra, RTÉ Sound Archives, 1969.

So called because of the colour of their uniform.

Irish Bulletin
, 20 July 1920.

Kathleen Keyes McDonnell,
There is a Bridge at Bandon
, p. 147. Percival was on ‘a man hunt' for William Keyes McDonnell. He and his men raided and wrecked their home and their Corn Mills at Castlelack on numerous oc­casions.

Charlie O'Keeffe, author interview 7/12/1975; Tom Barry to Kate O'Cal­laghan, RTÉ Sound Archives, n.d.

, The Reality,
p. 8;Seán Buckley, Third Brigade I/O 25/1/1940, Tom Hales, Third Brigade O/C, n.d. Con Crowley, Brigade Staff Captain, 20/1/1940 and Mick Herlihy, Company Cap­tain, 23/1/1940 in Sworn Statements to the Mili­tary Service Registration, Board, dept. of De­fence, Sheila Barry Irlam Papers.

Butler, p. 39.

Charlie O'Keeffe, author interview 6/11/1978.

Tom Kelleher, author interview 13/6/1974.

Tom Barry to Raymond Smith,
Irish Independent
, 8 December 1970.

Tom Barry to Kate O'Callaghan, n.d.
RTÉ Sound Archives

Florence O'Donoghue Papers, , MS 31,320, NLI; Tom Barry's manuscript, TB private papers; Tom Barry to Griffith and O'Grady,
Curious Journey
, p. 143; See also Barry,
The Reality
, p. 8. Officers: Seán Buckley, Charlie Hurley, Liam Deasy.

Liam Deasy, note to author 9/1/1972; also Liam Deasy,
Towards Ireland Free
, p. 141.

Tom Barry, Kenneth Griffith interview, RTÉ Sound Archives, n.d.

Danny Canty, author interview 6/8/1979; also notebook, Florence O'Donog­hue Papers, MS 31,320, NLI; Kate O'Callaghan RTÉ Radio interview, n.d. RTÉ Sound Archives.

Seán MacCárthaigh in ‘Personal Recollections' to Tom Barry 16/8/1948, TB pri­vate papers.

BOOK: Tom Barry
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