#OTD in 1923 – Republican prisoner Denis Barry dies on hunger strike in Newbridge camp.

Denis ‘Dinny’ Barry (Donnchadh de Barra) was born into a farming family in Cullen, Riverstick, ten miles south of Cork city. Barry enjoyed Gaelic culture and sport, and was a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joined the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club where he won 4 senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.

In 1913, he joined the newly formed Irish Volunteers. Denis Barry was a member of the first Cork brigade and had been politically active in Sinn Féin. In 1915, he moved to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continued his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising, he was arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1917 he became election agent for W.T. Cosgrave in the Kilkenny by-election, one in which Cosgrave was successfully elected, but just six years later Barry would find himself imprisoned by the government Cosgrave was in charge of.

In 1922 Barry was imprisoned in Newbridge camp in Kildare and took part in the hunger strike of 1923. After 34 days protesting against the harsh regime and undignified conditions, Barry died but even in death he was still refused dignity.

The body of Denis Barry was not released to his family and was instead, on the orders of Minister of Defense, Richard Mulcahy, buried in the grounds of Newbridge prison camp. The Barry family took legal action against this and eventually received the body of Denis Barry, but this would not be the last of their troubles.

Upon their arrival in Cork with the body of the Denis Barry, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, instructed his priests not to allow Barry’s funeral in any church. Ironically just a few short years before, Bishop Cohalan had been a strong vocal supporter of Terrence MacSwiney, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton prison, but shortly after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan’s attitude towards the IRA changed.

Not long after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan issued a decree condemning the IRA in which he stated that: ‘Anyone who shall within the diocese of Cork organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.’

On 10 December 1922, the bishop had preached publicly his support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which set up the Irish Free State and he urged his flock to do the same. This led to an even greater wedge between the Catholic church and many IRA members, yet it would be the incident with Denis Barry that would seriously taint the Bishop of Cork and the Catholic church in republican eyes.

Because of Bishop Cohalan’s stern objection to Barry’s body being permitted into a Catholic church, Denis Barry’s body had to lay in state in the Cork Sinn Féin headquarters on the Grand Parade in Cork city. Barry was then taken in a funeral procession to St.Finbarr’s cemetery where he was buried in the Republican plot next to Terrence MacSwiney whose funeral Bishop Cohalan presided over three years previously.

In place of a priest was David Kent, Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (representative) for Cork and brother of Thomas Kent who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Kent gave an oration, recited the rosary and sprinkled holy water on the grave.

On 28th November 1923, the day Barry was buried, Cohalan sent an open letter to the Cork Examiner newspaper publicly denying a Christian burial for Denis Barry and urging all men of the cloth to stay away from any such attempts for such a funeral. Bishop Cohalan went so far as to write to the Bishop of Kildare, Dr. Patrick Foley to enquire about Barry getting the last sacraments. Denis Barry did indeed receive the last rites from a Fr. Doyle who was serving as prison chaplain and this did not impress the Bishop of Cork.

Barry’s funeral precession through Cork City drew massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man who had been at the heart of the revolution in Cork during the last decade of his life. The IRA, Cumann na mBan and na Fíanna Éireann marched in military formations with the funeral party and Máire MacSwiney gave the main oration.

Two days after Barry’s death another IRA prisoner, Andrew O’Sullivan, from Cork died, and the strike was called off the day after.

Photo: (L) Denis Barry (R) Monument erected in Barry’s honour in his hometown of Riverstick, Co Cork, 1966

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