Annual John Barry Commemoration Cresent Quay, Wexford

Speech by Mr Paul Kehoe, TD
Minister with Responsibility for Defence

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Mayor of Wexford councillor Jim Moore, Minister Michael D’Arcy, Mr John Fowler of O.N.E Wexford,  Mr Philip Dillon,   Members of Wexford county council, Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great privilege to be here with you today at this Annual Commemoration of Commodore John Barry.

This year, the United Nations celebrates the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping and, for most of those years, Ireland has been at the heart of UN service. 

Indeed, earlier today, I attended a very special and poignant ceremony wheere we, as a nation, marked the 60th anniversary of Irish participation in UN peacekeeping duties. 

The event at Dublin Castle was attended by the loved ones of the 87 members of the Defence Forces who sadly never came home.

Since 1958 members of the Irish Defence Forces have manned observation posts, stood guard or patrolled some of the world’s most difficult, hostile and volatile places.

Since taking up this challenge 60 years ago, not a day has passed when an Irish soldier was not on peacekeeping duty somewhere in the world.  I want to pay tribute to the men and women of the Defence Forces who have sacrificed so much, many have made the ultimate sacrifice in Ireland’s name. 

My message to them is simple: You will always hold a special place in our thoughts and prayers.

If you travel along the Wexford and Waterford coastline to County Cork you will reach the Irish naval base of Haulbowline.

It was there, just last week, that I hosted a historic visit by Prince Charles of Wales.

Prince Charles, a former admiral in the Royal Navy, expressed a deep interest in the contribution made in the Mediterranean by members of the Irish Defence Forces deployed to Operation Sophia.

While the relationship between the UK and Europe has changed as a result of Brexit, I think you will all agree that royal visits such as this can only lend to the building of bonds and friendship.

 

This evening, I would also like to recognise the Wexford Branch of the O.N.E which is named after Commodore John Barry, “Father of the American Navy”. The role that O.N.E plays representing ex-service men and women of all ranks, supporting the needs of your members and their families is inspiring and deeply important. I particularly look forward to the launch of O.N.E.’s annual Fuchsia appeal later this week at the National Memorial in Merrion Square in Dublin.

We are here to remember the father of the American Navy Commodore John Barry. Born in 1745, times were hard.

Like many of their peers, John Barry’s family were very poor tenant farmers.

Following an unfortunate eviction from their home, they were forced to relocate to Rosslare where John Barry as a young boy developed a keen interest and love for the sea. At a young age John Barry, still just a boy, left these shores going into the unknown in search of a new life and promise.

Often, from challenges and adversity, springs unexpected positive outcomes.

In John Barry’s case that is certainly true.

As John Barry honed his sea faring skills he quickly became recognised as an inspiration to those who knew him. Securing the confidence of America’s leaders, he contributed so much to his adopted homeland. In fact, he was willing to give his life if that was required to achieve the aims of his new home.

John Barry served his adopted country with distinction, bravely fighting the British. Despite being wounded when he was struck with shrapnel he refused to withdraw and insisted on continuing in the battle.

A battle he went on to win.

That was the final naval battle of the American Revolution.

When the time came to form the United States Navy, following the turbulent and difficult American Revolution, President George Washington gave John Barry the honour of being its first commissioned naval officer in recognition of his bravery. 

We are told that President Washington had a special trust and confidence in Barry’s ‘patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities’.

Indeed Barry - ‘the father of the American Navy’ - remained in such high esteem in his adopted homeland, that President Ronald Regan in 1981 issued a proclamation recognising Commodore John Barry as a hero who distinguished himself during the American Revolution and declared 13th September as Commodore John Barry Day.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was also an admirer of the Commodore. On the occasion of President Kennedy’s address to Dáil Éireann we learnt that he kept Barry's sword in his office – the Oval Office.

That sword and the life of John Barry must have been a source of great inspiration to President Kennedy whose own family left these shores under the duress of the potato famine, hoping to find a better life in the New World.

This fine memorial to Commodore John Barry here on the Quay was a “gift from his grateful countrymen to the people of the land from which he sprung”.

It is fitting that the Commodore stands bold, strong, sword in his hand facing out to sea.  

He remains an inspiration to everyone who hears his story.

Let me offer an extract from the Commodore’s epitaph:

‘COMMODORE JOHN BARRY
Father of the American Navy.
He was born in the County Wexford in Ireland
But America was the object of his patriotism
And the theatre of his usefulness.’

Before I conclude can I thank the organisers of today’s special event.

I also too want to recognise the presence of reserve members of the Defence Forces, the Catholic Boys scouts of Ireland, the 2nd Wexford (Port of Wexford) Sea Scouts, the Wexford Girl Guides, the Order of Malta, the Loch Garman Band, the Holy Family Confraternity Band and the St Patrick’s Fife & Drum Band.

Commodore John Barry, a hero in the New World, recognised by peers and Presidents.

There is no doubt that his influence and actions helped shape an emerging America of the day.

He fostered a sense of duty, commitment, sacrifice and a yearning to achieve a greater good. He was a visionary, very much ahead of his time. He truly deserves to be remembered both here in his native Ireland and in America, his adopted country, because he is the “Father of the American Navy.”  - Thank You.