The Harp Without the Crown – Kathleen Barry


“ We have been sent over here to ask your help in our struggle for the recognition of the Irish Republic….the Republic which was proclaimed in Easter Week,1916 and established by the will of the people in 1918.” Quotation from Kathleen Barry upon her arrival in Butte, Montana on May 1, 1922.

Hello this is John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF, and welcome to this edition of the Harp Without the Crown where I will be discussing Kathleen Barry’s visit to Butte, Montana in May 1922.

The execution of her brother, Kevin Barry, by the British government during the Irish War of Independence (1919 to 1921) increased Kathleen’s commitment to the cause of Irish independence. Her brother was sentenced to death for his part in the attack on a British army lorry that killed three British soldiers. Kevin Barry was the youngest person ever to be hanged by the British army and his execution was widely condemned throughout the world, especially in Irish American communities such as Butte.

In addition to advocating for Irish independence, Kathleen also became increasingly active in politics and labor issues. She was a member of the Sinn Fein Political Party, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army that favored a free and independent Irish Republic. Kathleen also belonged to the Gaelic League which was committed to promoting the study and practice of the Irish Language, Art, Culture and Sports. She also participated in the Irish Republican Prisioner’s Fund established to raise awareness and distribute relief funds to families of imprisoned (2,500) or dead Irish Volunteer fighters from the War of Independence. She joined the Cumann na mBan, a women’s organization committed to Irish independence, established in 1913. Many Irish historians now view this organization’s work for Irish independence as significant and equal to the work performed by the Irish Republican Army, Sinn Fein, and the Irish Volunteer Army during this important time period of Irish history.

As a Cumann na mBan member, her most dangerous work during the War of Independence involved carrying messages and guns to IRA members and destroying incriminating evidence from IRA safe houses and locations in danger of raids from British forces in Ireland. She was arrested in possession of papers relating to the Dependant’s Fund and imprisoned in a County Cork jail where she went on a hunger strike until she was transferred to a Cork City jail.

Kathleen Barry came to America as part of a seven person delegation dedicated to fundraising and raising awareness concerning the political situation in Ireland. She spoke at meetings from coast to coast and arrived in Butte on May 1,1922. She was met by a committee at Three Forks, Montana and accompanied to Butte. She stayed at the Thornton Hotel under the care of the local Butte Cumman na mBan. While in Montana she gave addresses in Anaconda and Butte,

Upon her arrival in Butte, Kathleen was recognized by the Butte Thomas Ashe Council of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic for her work in the cause of Irish independence. The Association noted that Kathleen’s “presence in this city will kindle anew the smoldering fires of freedom in the hearts of America and the speedy recognition of the Irish Republic.” Kathleen may have been overshadowed somewhat by Constance Markievicz, a highly respected member of her traveling delegation. Constance Markievicz, previously profiled in this series, had a well deserved place in the hearts of Irish America for her role as a military officer during the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising.

Markievicz was also an accomplished speaker which might have been intimidating for Kathleen Barry, who admitted she always carried a copy of her speech with her at all times.
“I had only begun to be a good speaker and I was always afraid of my mind and knees going so I always had a copy.” In fact, the Butte newspapers hardly reported on the contents of Kathleen’s speeches but quoted at length Markiewicz’s speeches. Fortunately, the University College Dublin Archives has a copy of Kathleen’s speech that she carried with her while in America, which most likely contains her remarks while in Butte.

As with many Irish activists profiled in this series, Kathleen Barry’s speeches were a critical analysis of the Irish Free State Treaty passed in 1922. The Treaty still required an oath of allegiance to the British crown and was generally accepted by the Irish population without much enthusiasm. However, a minority of the population which included Kathleen Barry, viewed the Treaty as allowing England to continue making foreign and domestic policy decisions concerning Ireland. Kathleen informed her Butte High School audience that we are ”asked to accept the Free State Treaty as a gift from the English….we still follow British laws…it gives away completely the right of the Irish to decide its own destiny and reduces Ireland to a British colony….it is a sacrifice of principle as well.”

Kathleen Barry had the ability to detail the failures of the Free State Treaty in a very factual manner. She was also very effective in making an emotional appeal to her audiences. “We shall work in Ireland by every means in our power to see that the dead who died for Ireland are not let down and that no future generation will be able to say we, who have been privileged to live under the Irish Republic, gave the game away.” Kathleen viewed the Treaty as not “a stepping stone” to independence but rather as disrespectful to those who fought for Irish independence. “No man who died for Ireland was justified in doing so if he was giving his life for a state of things which included an oath to the King of England …no man need have died from that.” She ended her speech with a plea for the support of Americans and declared “we are getting near our goal and one great effort can reach it.”

Butte welcomed many Irish activists and social reformers interested in obtaining a free and independent Irish Republic. Kathleen Barry was one of many well known Irish activists profiled in this series who contradicted the belief that the Irish Free State Treaty benefited the Irish population. Irish activists opposing the Free State Treaty hoped international opinion would force England to grant full independence. The Irish diaspora in America were presented with much pro-treaty information and Kathleen Barry offered an alternative view that was well received in Butte and Anaconda. Judging by the reception given to Kathleen, the Butte Irish community and specifically the Butte Robert Emmet Literary Association, generally accepted nothing less than a free and independent Irish Republic. Debate continued as to the way to achieve Irish independence. Later in life Kathleen was able to experience the birth of the Irish Republic in 1949. She died in 1969, twenty years after Ireland was declared an independent Republic.

This is John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown. .