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Comdt. Denis Barry in Newbridge and the Curragh

James Durney

Commandant Denis Barry, of Cork, died on 20 November 1923 in the Curragh Military Hospital while on hunger-strike. During the Irish Civil War hundreds of republican prisoners were interned in Newbridge Barracks and the Curragh Camp. Despite the ending of the Civil War in May by 1 July 1923 the number of republican prisoners in the Free State was officially estimated as 11,316.  On October 10 as a protest against conditions and the continued incarceration of the prisoners prisoners in Mountjoy Jail began a hunger-strike. An order of the day was issued by Frank Aiken, I.R.A. chief of staff, asking for support for the Mountjoy hunger-strikers, which was interpreted in the jails and internment camps throughout Ireland, as an invitation to support the Mountjoy prisoners by joining the hunger strike. As many as 8,000 prisoners decided to do so.
Denis Barry, a veteran of the War of Independence in Cork, was arrested on 6 October 1922 in Courtown Harbour, Co. Wexford, by National troops in a general round-up of republicans. He was brought to Newbridge Internment Camp where he was detained without charge or trial. Denis was first detained in L Block, in old army huts which had no beds or heating. He was later moved to K Block, where conditions were a little better. Denis joined the mass hunger-strike on 17 October 1923 in support of his protesting comrades. On 6 November he wrote his final letter to his brother Bartholomew or ‘Batt’ … ‘I hope there is nobody worrying over-much, as for the present, thank God, I am as strong as can be expected, not having eaten for 21 days, but otherwise can sit up in bed, and get out while it is being dressed. The general state of my health, now at any rate, is really very good. I need nothing for the moment as friends I have by the hundred who attend me so my advice to ye is to do everything with a light heart, trust God for His hand is greater than those who hold me here.’
However, the health of Denis Barry went into serious decline from 12 November and two days later, Rev. P. Doyle, Chaplain of Newbridge Barracks, gave him the last rites. On Saturday 17 November a telegram reached the Barry home in southeast Cork, which read: ‘Your brother is now seriously ill in Newbridge Internment Camp, Co. Kildare. Every facility will be given to his family to visit him on making a personal application to the Governor.’ Batt Barry left immediately to travel the 140 miles to Newbridge. On his arrival at the barracks Batt met the Military Governor, Seán Hayes, who escorted him to a hut where he saw his brother and three other men lying on stretcher beds on a dirty floor. Denis Barry was conscious but could not speak and when he made an effort went into convulsions. A doctor arrived and Batt had to leave. He returned the next day and after seeing Denis again asked the governor to move his brother to the hospital, but he was told that nothing could be done as long as he refused food. Batt then sent a telegram to the Minister of Defence, Richard Mulcahy, stating that Denis should be sent to a nursing home, but the reply was the same. Batt then signed a document stating that his brother receive food and treatment to save his life.
Denis Barry was brought by ambulance to the Curragh Military Hospital the next day, Monday 19 November, between 3 p.m and 4 p.m., but he died at 2.45 a.m. the following morning. Batt arrived Newbridge Barracks that morning to see Denis and was duly informed he had died in the Curragh Military Hospital. An inquest was held by Coroner Dr. F. Kenna, who attributed death to heart failure due to inanition caused by his refusal to take food. Dr. Kenna requested that the body be handed over to his relatives. When Batt and his brother-in-law, Walter Dain, arrived at the Curragh the authorities refused to hand over the remains. The family consulted a legal team in Dublin and instructed them to act on their behalf, but when Batt again arrived to claim the remains he was informed that Denis Barry had already been buried by the Military at a site near the 'Glasshouse' Military prison.  The family members went to the grave and recited the Rosary.
On November 26, following a High Court action, the remains of Denis Barry were exhumed from the site near the Glasshouse and handed over to his family. The remains were removed to a mortuary in Naas and then brought to Newbridge Town Hall where the body lay in state. The remains of Denis Barry arrived in Cork on the afternoon of 27 November. However, more controversy awaited.  Under the orders of Bishop Daniel Colohan, the remains were not permitted to enter any church in his diocese. The Bishop, a great supporter of a previous hunger-striker, Terence McSwiney, also forbid any of his priests to officiate at any religious ceremonies for the deceased. He wrote to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. Patrick Foley, in whose diocese Denis Barry had died, asking whether Denis had received the last sacraments. Fr. P. Doyle, who was prison chaplain for Newbridge Barracks, confirmed in writing on 27 November, that he had administered the last rites of the church prior to Denis Barry’s death.
Having been denied the benefit of a Christian burial, Barry’s remains were taken to the headquarters of Sinn Fein, at 56 Grand Parade, in Cork City. The funeral the next morning to the Republican Plot, in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, was one of the largest seen in Cork for some time. The prayers at the graveside were recited by David Kent, T.D., who also prior to the burial, sprinkled the grave with holy water. Denis Barry was forty when he died.

Comdt. Denis Barry, of Cork, was interned in Newbridge Barracks during the Civil War

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