Tom Barry was born in Killorglin, Co Kerry, the son of a former RIC officer who had become a shopkeeper. His family moved to Rosscarbery, Co Cork in his youth, and he was educated for a period at Mungret College, Co Limerick from 25 August 1911 to 12 September 1912. The reason for his short stay is indicated by a reference from the school register of the Apostolic School, Mungret College, ‘Went – Home (ran away) without knowledge of superiors – no vocation’.
The 3rd West Cork Brigade became famous for its discipline, efficiency and bravery, and Barry garnered a reputation as the most brilliant field commander of the war. Barry’s tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British authorities.
During the negotiations that preceded the Truce that ended the War of Independence, the British had demanded that Barry be handed over to them before progress could be made on other matters. Michael Collins refused, although he afterwards jokingly told his fellow Cork men that he had been sorely tempted. Barry opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty because, according to him, it betrayed the Irish Republic and partitioned Ireland.
He fought on the Republican side in the civil war (1922–1923) and was imprisoned by the Irish Free State after the Battle of Dublin in July 1922. Barry increasingly argued with Liam Lynch, the Republican commander-in-chief, that the civil war should be brought to an end, as there was no hope of victory. Liam Lynch refused.
In March, Barry proposed to the IRA Army executive that a ceasefire should be called, but he was defeated by 6 votes to 5. The anti-treaty campaign was belatedly called off by Frank Aiken in May, after Lynch had been killed in a skirmish with Free State troops, whereupon Aiken issued an order to ‘dump arms’. Barry tried to act as intermediary with the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Brotherhood to end the civil war and for a time had a letter from the Free State authorities granting him ‘immunity from arrest’. This caused him to fall out with other members of the IRA Army Council. Nevertheless, the Free State government never formally acknowledged the end of the civil war marked by the republicans’ ceasefire and dump arms order. Barry had to remain on the run until a general amnesty was declared in November 1924.
The 3rd West Cork Brigade, of which Barry commanded the Active Service Unit or flying column lost 34 men killed in the war against the British and another 21 anti-Treatyites killed in the civil war – a total of 55, excluding pro-Treaty Volunteers who died in the civil war whom Barry did not record in his memoir.
Photo: Commander of the 3rd West Cork Brigade; one of the greatest military tacticians ever to grace our shores; master of guerrilla warfare; IRA Chief-of-Staff—Tom Barry, colourised by 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour