U.S. Naval Academy Approves Commodore John Barry Memorial

Full Speed Ahead…

By John E. McInerney and Russell W. Wylie

Commodore John Barry, the founder of the U.S. Navy under the Constitution, will soon be a person of prominence at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  In January it was announced that the Academy’s Memorials Oversight Committee approved the Commodore John Barry Memorial.  The Hibernians originally asked for a memorial; they received a Barry Memorial, a Barry Gate, and a Barry Plaza.

This good news to properly honor Commodore Barry is the accomplishment of many efforts of people in the Irish American community.  There is an interesting story to be told about the undaunted resolve of a core group of Irish Americans to gain approval to erect the memorial.

Spearheaded by two members of the District of Columbia State Board of the AOH, the Barry Memorial Project built increased momentum toward success with a particularly strong connection in many ways to the City of Philadelphia where Irish immigrant John Barry spent his life devoted to faithfully serving his adopted country.

For a period of over three years, Jack O’Brien and John McInerney, members of the District of Columbia State Board of the AOH, worked relentlessly 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 AOH in Washington, DC.

The team of O’Brien working as the Historian and Project Coordinator, and McInerney as the Writer and Public Relations Director had previously achieved success in a nationwide effort to erect the Irish Brigade Monument at the Antietam Civil War battlefield that was dedicated in October 1997.  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 establish a Barry Memorial on the grounds of the Naval Academy.

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 throughout his life faithfully dedicated to serving our nation and its navy.  The passage of Public Law 109-142 by Congress on December 22, 2005 recognizing Commodore John Barry as the first flag officer of the United States Navy was also cited in 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.”

In the course of discussions, the deteriorating condition of Barry’s original Commission Number One, signed by President Washington, was noted in its display case at the Naval Academy Museum.  McInerney remembered visiting the Academy’s museum as a college student in 1964.  “At that time Barry’s commission was in good condition and could be read,” McInerney pointed out.  “Today it is difficult to read in its deteriorated state.”   The DC Hibernians and the Academy agreed to send the document to a conservator.  In the presence of Academy officials as well as Seamus Boyle-President, AOH National Board; Keith Carney-Director, AOH National Board; Jack O’Brien, John McInerney, and Russ Wylie-Past President, The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the document was removed from its original frame and examined.  The DC Hibernians paid for the conservator’s expenses.  Today, Commission Number One is safely back at the Naval Academy preserved for future generations to view.

Seamus Boyle strongly supported the efforts of O’Brien and McInerney to erect the Barry Memorial at the Academy.  “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.”  Boyle has been involved in many projects related to Commodore John Barry in Philadelphia that he, like Barry, has called his home for his entire adult life.

The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, an Irish American fraternal organization founded in Philadelphia on March 17, 1771, has always be very proud that John Barry was an early member of the Society.  On March 18, 1895, the organization presented the City of Philadelphia a copy, by Colin Campbell Cooper, of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Commodore Barry to be placed in Independence Hall.

The Friendly Sons dedicated a statue of Commodore John Barry located directly in front of the formal entrance of Independence Hall on March 16, 1907, and donated it to the City of Philadelphia.  Some 15,000 spectators witnessed the proceedings with 350 sailors present from the ships USS Washington and USS Tennessee, and a detachment of Marines from League Island.  The principal speaker was Admiral George Melville, USN.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Captain John Barry offered his services to George Washington and Congress in the cause of American liberty and independence. In December of 1775, Captain Barry was given command of the Lexington, a small brig with 14 guns. 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 struck his colors after taking heavy losses and severe damage to his ship.

Captain John Barry triumphantly brought his prize up the Delaware River.  This marked the first defeat inflicted on an enemy by the United States 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.

In recognition of this first successful naval battle and numerous other achievements by John Barry in the service of America, the City of Philadelphia dedicated the first of the four toll bridges connecting the metro Philadelphia region with southern New Jersey encountered on the Delaware River leading into the Philadelphia waterfront as The Commodore Barry Bridge.  It is the longest cantilever bridge in the United States.

Barry Historical Documents Project

Seamus Boyle and Russ Wylie worked closely with the Independence Seaport Museum on a project to microfilm and digitize the Barry-Hayes Papers, an important collection of historical documents related to Barry and his family.  The sponsorship of the AOH National Board and a major gift from Ireland’s Wexford County Council allowed for the successful funding of this project.  A reception to celebrate this successful funding effort took place at the Independence Seaport Museum in January 2007 attended by representatives of the many sponsoring organizations from the Philadelphia region with special guests Anne Griffin, Executive Librarian the Wexford County Library Service, and Irish Consul General Timothy O’Connor.  Villanova University hosted a reception in May 2009 celebrating the digitization of the Barry-Hayes Papers Collection in the Falvey Memorial Library attended by representatives of the AOH, LAOH, Friendly Sons, Commodore Barry Club of Philadelphia, Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn, and American Catholic Historical Society.

Keynote speakers included Peter Byrne, Chairman of Wexford County Council; Irish Consul General Niall Burgess; Lori Dillard Rech, President of Independence Seaport Museum; and Rev. Peter Donohue, President of Villanova University.

At the event, Jack O’Brien and John McInerney manned a table at the reception distributing information on the Barry Memorial Project.  McInerney encouraged participants to write letters to the Naval Academy’s Superintendent supporting the Barry Memorial Project.

The Friendly Sons, the AOH, and many additional Irish American groups from the Philadelphia region participated in the Commodore Barry Statue Centennial event held on May 27, 2007.  The day began with a Memorial Mass at Old St. Mary’s Church where Commodore Barry is buried.  A wreath laying ceremony at Commodore Barry’s grave followed the Mass.  Participants recalled that it was here that Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, said in his eulogy at Barry’s graveside, “He was born in Ireland, but America was the object of his devotion and the theater of his usefulness.”

Afterwards, a procession to the Commodore Barry Statue was led by the Emerald Society Pipe Band.  Irish Deputy Consul General Breandan O Caollai and Lieutenant Commander Jennifer Ellinger, USN, Executive Officer of USS Barry (DDG 52), were keynote speakers.  It is also significant to note that the U.S. Navy has named four destroyers in honor of John Barry, including: USS Barry (Destroyer # 2), 1902-1920; USS Barry (DD-248, later APD-29), 1920-1945; USS Barry (DD-933), 1956-Present; and USS Barry (DDG-52), 1992-Present.

A special visit by the Irish Naval Flagship LÉ Eithne to Philadelphia on July 15, 2009, included wreath-laying ceremonies at the Irish Famine Memorial and the Commodore Barry Statue.  Keynote speakers at the Commodore Barry Statue event were Flagship Commander David Barry; Irish Deputy Consul General Breandan O Caollai; Cindy MacLeod, Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park; and Fran O’Brien, President of the Navy League of the United States – Philadelphia Council, who presented a bronze replica of the Commodore Barry Statue to Commander David Barry.

U.S. Presidents Honor Barry

President Dwight Eisenhower caused a statue of Commodore Barry to be presented on behalf of the people of the United States to the people of Ireland at Wexford Town, County Wexford, Ireland.  The statue of Commodore Barry, located proudly on Wexford’s Crescent Quay, was dedicated on 16 September 1956.

The Irish Government arranged for a pair of commemorative postage stamps to be issued to coincide with the unveiling of this monument.  And in 2003, another Irish commemorative stamp was issued to mark the 200th anniversary of Commodore Barry’s death.  So he is among a very small number of people who have had the distinction of having two separate commemorative stamps issued by Ireland.

Two American Presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy, have laid wreaths at the statue in Wexford Town.  President Kennedy, a World War II Navy veteran, was instrumental in the establishment of the U.S. Navy SEALS in 1962.  President Kenney gave special recognition to Commodore John Barry by displaying his sword in the White House Oval Office.  County Wexford is also the ancestral home of the Kennedy Family.  It is significant to note that Wexford, Ireland has a Sister City relationship with Annapolis, Maryland, that ties Commodore John Barry’s home town with the home of the Naval Academy, site of the proposed Barry Memorial, Gate and Plaza.

President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 4853 on August 20, 1981, designating “September 13, 1981 as ‘Commodore John Barry Day’, as a tribute to one of the earliest and greatest American Patriots.”

John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, was born in Philadelphia and received his B.S. from St. Joseph’s University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.  Seamus Boyle and Joseph Roche, Chairman of the AOH Political Education Committee, approached Former Secretary Lehman for his support of the Barry Memorial Project.  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 letters to the Naval Academy in support of the Barry Memorial Project.

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.  Rev. Msgr. Paul DiGirolamo, the Pastor at Old St. Mary’s Church in Philadelphia where Commodore Barry is buried, also sent a letter.

It became clear that Congressional support was needed if the Barry Project was to succeed.  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 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 U.S. 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 bring the U.S. Naval Academy to approve a memorial for Commodore Barry on its grounds.

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.”

It would be a year later on May 21, 2010 that a delegation of six [Bob April-President, District of Columbia AOH State Board; Keith Carney; Frank Duggan-Past President, Commodore John Barry AOH Division; John McInerney; Jack O’Brien; and, Russ Wylie] representing the Barry Memorial Project met with a subcommittee of three military officers [Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.); Admiral Robert Natter, USN, (Ret.); and, General Michael Hagee, USMC (Ret.)] representing the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee.  Captain Robert Hofford, USN (Ret.)-Director of Special Projects, and Sarah Phillips, AIA-Executive Director Academy Projects, were also present at the meeting.

A detailed proposal citing the many contributions made to our country and the U.S. Navy by Commodore John Barry and the planned design of the Barry Memorial was presented to each member of the subcommittee.  The subcommittee members reviewed the proposal and stated they would convey the information to the main committee for evaluation.

Keith Carney hosted lunch for the Barry Memorial Project delegation at the Officers’ and Faculty Club following the meeting.  Bob April offered a toast at the beginning of the meal saying, “The team of O’Brien and McInerney is working diligently to make all of this a reality.”  Everyone hoped that the meeting that had just concluded with the military subcommittee would result in the project’s approval.  Little did they know that it would continue to be an uphill fight before the light of success would finally shine on the Barry Memorial Project.

Second Rejection of Project

On July 20, 2010, the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee sent a letter to Jack O’Brien informing him that after giving the proposal serious consideration the submitted plan was not approved.  This was a discouraging second rejection of the proposal for the Barry Memorial by the U.S. Naval Academy, but O’Brien and McInerney persevered and filed a second appeal with the Academy’s Superintendent.

Ironically, while all of this was going on, the tide was already turning as a result of the intensity of the letter writing campaign requesting the U.S. Naval Academy to approve the Barry Memorial Project.  Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley wrote a letter of support.  Numerous retired Admirals sent letters expressing their strong support of the memorial.  Congressional letters were having an impact with letters supporting the Barry Memorial Project from many members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives 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 of six [Seamus Boyle; Keith Carney; Lt. Charles Cooper, USN, Annapolis Division 1 AOH; John McInerney; Jack O’Brien; and, Russ Wylie] representing the Barry Memorial Project met with Captain Robert Hofford, USN (Ret.) and Sarah Phillips, AIA representing the U.S. Naval Academy for a site inspection of the proposed location of the memorial.

“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 the grounds of the United States 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.

On January 11, 2011, the Memorials and Grounds Oversight Committee met and officially approved the Barry Memorial to be located inside the pedestrian gate at Prince George Street.  The project will be developed in two stages starting with the Commodore John Barry Gate as depicted below.

The Barry Memorial, also depicted below, will be developed as the second stage and will feature a 28 inch circular bronze relief of Commodore John Barry on its front.  Below it is an exact enlarged copy in bronze of Barry’s Commission Number One signed by President George Washington.  Below this is 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 who Commodore Barry was in our nation’s great naval history,” John 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 Irish American Revolutionary War naval hero and the founder of the U.S. Navy under the Constitution.


  1. My father John F Murphy (1921-1997) son of Captain George Murphy, The Faythe, Wexford town, Ireland had passionatedly worked on Commodore John Barry receiving credit where credit was due in the USA – paricularly NY and NJ. I have a picture of him standing with the SECNAV Lehman in Philadelphia for the long worked upon Commordore John Barry Day – September 13. Thank you for this article, my father would have been so proud of each of you.

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