Nov 5, 2015

Kevin Barry: UCD Student, Irish Republican Hero

The Library of University College Dublin

An exhibition showcasing two collections, held in UCD Archives, honouring one of Irish history's young heroes. Kevin Barry, a medical student at University College Dublin, was executed for his part in an ambush which resulted in the deaths of three British Army officers in 1920. He was hanged on the 1st of November 1920, despite numerous appeals for his life to be spared. He was 18 years old.

Childhood and Education
Kevin Barry was born on 20 January 1902 at Fleet Street, Dublin, the fourth of seven children and son of Thomas, a dairyman, and Mary Dowling, both originally from Carlow.Kevin was educated at several schools in Dublin and Carlow, including Belvedere College, after which he entered University College Dublin in 1919 to study medicine.

Copy of birth certificate of Kevin Gerard Barry, 8 Fleet Street, Dublin (born 20 January 1902), giving his parents’ names, Mary Barry, née Dowling, and Thomas Barry, dairy owner (died 1908).

An exercise copy book used by Barry covering a range of subjects, including English and History essays. Includes cartoon drawings of Barry’s sisters ‘Kathy when she’s 50’ and ‘Sheila when she’s 48’.

Kevin Barry’s blue and white athletic suit from Belvedere College.

Essay entitled "Leaders of men", by Kevin Barry.

Essay entitled “Revolutions”, by Kevin Barry.

Copy of the Belvederian annual with references to and photographs of Barry, then a senior student at the college. He is pictured here with the hurling team. © Keogh Brothers Limited

The Matriculation Certificate awarded to Barry for passing the prerequisite subjects of Latin, Irish, French, English and Mathematics. Dated 16th July 1919.

Certificate entering Barry's name in the Register of Medical students for Ireland, issued by the Medical Registration Office, Dawson Street, Dublin, signed by Richard J E Roe, Registrar.

Activities and Arrest
While still at Belvedere, Barry joined the Irish Volunteers, established in 1913, which evolved into the IRA after the commencement of the War of Independence in 1919.  Kevin was a member of the first battalion of the Dublin Brigade and took part in two successful raids for arms in Dublin and Wicklow in June and July 1920.

The third raid he was involved in occurred on 20 September 1920; it was an attack on British troops at Church Street in Dublin city, aimed at seizing arms. During this unsuccessful raid, firing broke out and three British soldiers of roughly the same age as Barry were killed or fatally wounded and Barry became the first Volunteer to be captured in an armed attack since 1916. Interrogated and mistreated while in custody, he subsequently refused to recognise the court martial that tried him.

Cover note on documents delivered to the court martial of Barry for the murder of Privates Whitehead, Washington, and Humphries at Church Street Dublin (15 October 1920)

Charge sheet delivered to the court martial of Barry for the murder of Privates Whitehead, Washington, and Humphries at Church Street Dublin (15 October 1920)

Photostat copy of sworn statement made by Barry at Mountjoy Prison, before Myles Keogh, a Justice of the Peace, outlining in detail alleged ill treatment during his initial interrogation after arrest.

A typescript copy of a letter from Barry sent to ‘A---’, a fellow student at UCD, from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, commenting on the progress of his friends in their studies and sending his regards “Sorry to learn you stuck your exam but cheer up. You are young yet. That’s the philosophical view I take of my case anyhow…”

Execution and Aftermath
He was condemned to death on 20 October and was hanged in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, on 1 November 1920. He was the first person to be tried and executed for a capital offence under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, passed 12 weeks before his death, and the first to be executed since May 1916, in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. 

The sentence attracted widespread attention because he was only 18. There were numerous appeals for his life to be spared, but the cabinet in London and officials in Dublin decided against a reprieve.

A letter from Canon John Waters, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin, to Mrs Mary Barry describing his administration of the final blessings to Barry, and the moments before he went to the scaffold

A letter of sympathy from Fr. John Doyle: "...But while your cross is a crushing one I cannot help feeling that it is a glorious one and I confess I felt proud of Kevin when I read the account of his quiet fearless bravery and sincere piety in facing death"

Impact and Legacy
As a republican martyr, Kevin Barry was subsequently celebrated in many ballads and verses; the best-known was recorded by the American singer Paul Robeson, among others.

The best known version of the ballad "Kevin Barry", recorded by Paul Robeson.

The Belvederean (Vol. VI No. 1 (Summer, 1921)). With a tribute to Barry in the obituary section by 'A fellow student'

Commemorative photographic print of Barry. © A.F. Levins with quote from John W. Goff. Poetry written in heroic form in honour of Kevin Barry by Teresa Brayton, autographed © Teresa Brayton

A poem entitled 'Kevin Barry' by Constance de Markievicz, published in the Wolfe Tone Annual, 1935

Kevin Barry Memorial Window
Following Barry’s death, the Students' Representative Council of University College Dublin agreed that a memorial should be erected in his honour. The University Governing Body proposed a motion in 1932 that would grant permission to erect a stained glass window in University College ­­Dublin.

The design by Richard King,principal designer of the Harry Clarke Studios, features eight scenes from Irish history and the struggle for independence. The window was unveiled in Earlsfort Terrace on 1/11/34, the 14th anniversity of Barry’s death. It became one of Earlsfort Terrace’s best loved features.

The window was re-located to UCD Belfield in 2011 after restoration.

Invitation to the unveiling of the Kevin Barry Memorial in the Council Chamber, Earlsfort Terrace, University College Dublin on 1 November 1934

Launching the Digital Collection
The Digital Kevin Barry Collection was launched at University College Dublin on November 5th 2015, with a large gathering of Kevin Barry’s relatives attending the occasion, as well as speeches by UCD president, Professor Andrew Deeks; University Librarian, Dr. John B. Howard; and noted UCD historian, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter. Picture: Jason Clarke

Items in this exhibition come from two collections held by UCD Archives: the Kevin Barry Papers and the Kevin Barry Memorial Committee Papers. Both have been digitised and the full collections can be viewed in the UCD Digital Library at

Biographical material in this exhibition is taken from a fuller account written by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History, University College Dublin. The full text can be viewed at

By UCD Library and UCD Archives
Credits: Story

Collection held by University College Dublin, UCD Archives. Images ©University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin.
Published by UCD Digital Library.
© All rights reserved. Material published here may not be reproduced in whole or in part for any purpose without the advance written permission of UCD.

Professor Diarmaid Ferriter
UCD Student Centre
Professor Eunan O'Halpin

UCD Archives: Seamus Helferty, Orna Somerville, Kate Manning, Sarah Poutch

UCD Digital Library: Dr John B. Howard, Julia Barrett, Audrey Drohan, Órna Roche, Dani Montes,
Peter Clarke

UCD Library Outreach: Josh Clark, Ros Pan

Credits: All media
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