Hibernians honor first flag officer in U.S. Navy


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Local Ancient Order of Hibernians leaders are celebrating the long overdue recognition finally bestowed on the Revolutionary War hero their club is named for.

Irish immigrant Commodore John Barry was named the U.S. Navy’s first flag officer by President George Washington and he was also the uniformed head of the Navy under Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson until his death in 1803.

However, there was no visible reminder at the U.S. Naval Academy of his service until recently, when a new monument and entrance gate were dedicated there during ceremonies this spring. Saratoga Hibernians President Dave Cummings and past President Greg Gallagher were on hand for the event.

"The significance for us is that we’re one of 50 or 60 Commmodore John Barry Hibernians divisions in the nation," Cummings said. "We’re the one closest to the Birthplace of the Navy, in Whitehall."

Cummings said the tribute to Barry is the result of a lengthy campaign Hibernians conducted nationally to give Barry his rightful place at the Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md.

"He and John Paul Jones were good buddies," Cummings said. "They were really the naval heroes of the American Revolution."

Congress passed a resolution in December 2005 officially recognizing Barry’s historic role as first flag officer of the Navy. But it took several years more for Hibernians to raise the money needed for the sculpture and handsome Naval Academy entrance gate.

The local Saratoga group donated $1,000, one of the first gifts from any Hibernians group in the state, Cummings said.

The Hibernians was first organized in Ireland in 1565 and was established in America in 1836. The organization is a social-fraternal group for people of Irish-Catholic descent, Cummings said.

Barry (1745-1803) came to America from County Wexford, Ireland, and was appointed the first captain in the Navy under the Continental Congress in 1775. In February 1797, President Washington presented him with Commission Number One, formally affirming his trust in Barry’s leadership to establish the Navy under the U.S. Constitution.

"The dedication of the Commodore John Barry Memorial is a truly special event at the United States Naval Academy, honoring one the great figures in our naval history," said Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, academy superintendent. "His outstanding leadership and influence also brought about significant improvements, including a ship to ship signaling system, a system of Navy shipyards owned and operated by the government and the eventual establishment of the Department of the Navy."

Four Navy ships have been named for Barry including the latest, the USS Barry, a guided missile destroyer, commissioned on Dec. 12, 1992.

National Hibernians President Brendan Moore and past President Seamus Boyle took part in the dedication. Author-historian Tim McGrath who wrote Barry’s biography, "An American Hero in the Age of Sail," was guest speaker.

The dedication ceremony program included a message from Anne Anderson, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States.

"Like so many Irish immigrants, Commodore John Barry came from humble origins in Ireland, but rose through the ranks to make his mark on the life of his new country, the United States of America," she said. "His example of service has been followed by so many Irish men and women ever since, and it is right that he is at last honored with the official opening of the Barry Memorial."

The Saratoga Hibernians division meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month at the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Club at 1 Elks Lane, off Route 9 in Saratoga Springs. For information contact Cummings at 518-366-4762 or email cummindm@aol.com.


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