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Barry was born into a farming family in Riverstick, in south County Cork, and learnt Irish from a young age. In 1903, he moved to Cork to work in a drapery, where he became involved in the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. A successful athlete, he also played hurling for Cork.
In 1913, he joined the newly formed Irish Volunteers. In 1915, he moved to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continued his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising, he was arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1919, he returned to Cork, where he was given command of the Irish Republican Police. In the Cork Number One brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), he helped with prisoner escapes and returning looted goods after the burning of Cork by Black and Tans. After the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the split that followed, Barry chose the anti-Treaty branch of the IRA; he was captured by Irish Free State troops and was sent to Newbridge internment camp on the 6 October 1922. Irish Republican prisoners in Mountjoy Prison went on hunger strike, protesting against poor prison conditions and their continued detention. The strike quickly spread to other camps and prisons, and Barry took part. He died after 35 days. After another man, Andrew O'Sullivan, died two days later in Mountjoy, the hunger strike was called off on 23 November. He was initially buried by the Free State army in the Curragh, but three days later, following a court order, his remains were disinterred.
There is a memorial to him in Riverstick which was unveiled in 1966.
- Provisional Irish Republicans By Robert William White - page 117 - ISBN 0-313-28564-0 
- "Dáil Éireann - Debate record - Volume 5 - 21 November, 1923 - BURIAL OF HUNGER STRIKER". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2008-08-29.