Tom Barry - One Of Ireland's Greatest Army Commanders
General Tom Barry’s legacy will always be defined to the historic Co. Cork ambushes of Kilmichael and Crossbarry. Aged just eighteen he enlisted in the British Royal Field Artillery regiment during World War 1 and served at Mesopotamia, Iraq, and rose to the rank of sergeant.
Tom returned home to Ireland intent on taking up the struggle for Irish freedom and on the 28th November 1920 his Cork unit ambushed and annihilated almost a whole British army detachment at Kilmichael, Co. Cork.
On 21st March 1921, against almost insurmountable odds, Tom Barry’s small regiment of 104 troops took on the might of 1,200 British soldiers and Black and Tans in the Crossbarry ambush.
The British troops had encircled Barry’s men at Crossbarry, but he split his fighters into seven separate groups and they escaped capture to claim a historic conquest.
It was during his overseas army duties that Tom Barry first heard about the 1916 Easter Rising at Dublin and he immediately vowed to return home and fight for his own country. He joined the West Cork Brigade of the I.R.A. in 1920 and they were at that time fighting a fierce battle in the Irish War of Independence, which lasted from 1919 to 1923.
Barry’s ranking in the military organisation rose rapidly and he commanded huge respect from his peers and all associates of the I.R.A. hierarchy.
He commanded his own flying column in West Cork and the bravery, efficiency and discipline he implanted in his troops became legendary. He was known to be daring and ruthless in military exploits.
Tom Barry’s command of his troops made the expansive territory of West Cork ungovernable for the British authorities who feared him in open guerilla warfare in the hills and dales of the countryside. When a Truce was called in the War Of Independence, to allow negotiations take place, the British sought the seizure of Tom Barry before entering any talks. Michael Collins rejected such a tactic.
Following the signing of the Irish Treaty on the 6th December 1921, Barry opposed the agreement claiming partition of Ireland was not on his agenda.
He took up arms with opposition troops to the new Irish government and captured many southern towns during the Irish Civil War. Finally realising that it was futile to continue opposing the government, he sought an end to Civil War hostilities.
The ceasefire finally materialised in 1923 and Tom Barry, now in prison, was released in 1924. His life took on new challenges and by 1940 he had assumed responsibility for Intelligence in the Irish Army’s Southern Command.
Born at Killorglin, Co. Kerry, in 1897, his Cork born father was then a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The family later moved back to his father’s native Rosscarbery to commence a new business.
Young Tom’s education had a short journey in the classrooms, but he learned his crafts wisely through his military exploitations.
Tom Barry is still revered in Irish history as one of many famous Irishmen who guided Ireland to freedom after eight hundred years of British occupation. At the age of eighty three Tom Barry died in a Cork city hospital in 1980 and his wife Leslie de Barra, former President of The Irish Red Cross, died in 1984.