Barry Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Barry Surname Meaning

The most common origin of the Barry surname is probably the French Norman de Barri name which was derived from a small village in Normandy called La Barre. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, a Norman knight named Odo De Barri received lands in south Wales. Barry in Wales may also be a variant of Parry, from ap Harry or “son of Harry.

In Ireland Barry may be an anglicized form of the Gaelic Beargh (meaning plunderer) or Baire. In Scotland, where the spelling is usually Barrie, the surname derived from the place-name Barry, meaning a rough grassy hill, in Angus in eastern Scotland.

Barry Surname Resources on The Internet

Barry and Barrie Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales, Ireland (Cork) and England
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

Wales. The founder of the Barry family in Wales was a Norman knight, Odo de Barri, who was awarded lands in south Wales, including the island of Barry in the Severn estuary near Cardiff.

On the mainland in Pembrokeshire his son William built Manorbier castle which was to be the home of the family for the next two hundred years. Some of William’s sons departed for Ireland during the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.

Gerald de Barri who stayed is remembered in Wales as a medieval clergyman and chronicler of his times. There is a statue of him at Cardiff city hall and he was included in a vote on 100 Welsh heroes.

Ireland. The first bearer of the surname to arrive in Ireland was Robert de Barri, one of the original band of Norman knights who landed in county Wexford in 1169.

Robert was killed in battle in 1185. But his brother Philip had arrived by that time and was later granted large lands in east Cork by the English King Philip, who may have received these lands because of his mother’s influence, died in 1200 and he was succeeded by his son William.

Cork.  Barryscourt castle in Cork was to be the seat of the Barry family from the 12th to the 17th centuries. The nearby town of Buttevant is believed to have derived its name from the war cry of the de Barry family: boutez-en-avant, roughly translated as “kick your way through.” The Barry history in Cork was narrated in the Rev. E. Barry’s 1902 book Records of the Barrys of County Cork.

It was here that these de Barrys thrived, becoming one of that county’s major lineages – with three major branches and derivative names:

  • Barry and Barrymore (the Great Barry)
  • Barryroe (Barry the Red)
  • and O’Barry.

The heads of the Barryroe sept were lost at sea while on a pilgrimage to Spain. But the Barrymores flourished and intermarried with their powerful neighbors, the MacCarthy Reagh and the MacCarthys of Muskerry. By the 16th century they had become increasingly Gaelicized, even adopting a Gaelic lineage.

“At the outbreak of the Desmond rebellion, James de Barry supported the rebels and had his estates confiscated. But his son David sided with the new President of Munster in 1601 and was granted large estates forfeited by the MacCarthys.”

Garret Barry of this family served with the Irish regiment of the Spanish army for thirty years and then returned to Ireland to help lead the 1641 Irish Rebellion.

After the penal years for Catholics in the 18th century, Garrett Standish Barry of Leamlara – from an old Barry family in Cork – was to be the first Catholic MP after the Emancipation Act of 1829. And the Barry name has remained numerous in Cork and in surrounding counties. Barry’s Tea, sold from a store on Prince’s Street in Cork since 1901, is now under the third generation of Barrys. Barry’s Tea today accounts for 40 percent of all the tea sold in Ireland.

Elsewhere.  However, not all Irish Barrys have come from De Barri. Barrys were also to be found in county Fermanagh. Some Barrys got their name from the Gaelic Beargh (meaning plunderer) in Limerick or from the personal name Baire. And Barry in Ireland could also be Huguenot, from a French Protestant Barre family that came to Dublin in the 17th century.

England. One Barry family was recorded at Fordingbridge in Hampshire from the early 1500’s. They moved to London in the mid 1700’s and Walter Barry established himself there as a stationer and bookbinder. His son Charles become a well-known architect, responsible for the remodelling of the Houses of Parliament in 1836. Charles’s sons Charles and Edward were also noted architects. Another son Alfred Barry became Bishop of Sydney in Australia.

The main Barry numbers in England have been in London and Lancashire, as a result probably of Irish immigration. The actor Spranger Barry was an early arrival from Dublin, performing on Drury Lane for the first time in 1746. His second wife, Ann Street Barry, became more famous than him on the London stage. Considered by some to be superior to Sarah Siddons, she was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Scotland. Barrie has tended to be the surname spelling in Scotland. The main numbers have been in Angus on the east coast. The playwright J.M. Barrie – of Peter Pan fame – was born to a family of small-town weavers in Kirriemuir, Angus, just outside of Dundee, in 1860.

America. Most Barrys in America are of Irish origin.  Notable among them have been:

  • John Barry from county Wexford who arrived in 1761 and made his home in Philadelphia. A seafaring man, he was an officer in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War and later in the US Navy. He is commonly considered the father of the American navy.
  • an earlier John Barry from Ulster who was to be found in Lunenburg county, Virginia by the 1740’s. His grandson William moved with his parents to Kentucky in the 1790’s where he became active in state politics. He was uncle to later Kentucky Governor Luke Blackburn.
  • and a later John Barry from Wexford who came to Georgia in the 1820’s and served as the Catholic Bishop of Savannah.

The largest numbers of Barrys in America today are in Massachusetts, reflecting later Irish immigration:

  • John and Michael Barry were among many who left Cork for Massachusetts at the time of the potato famine.
  • while Edward Patrick Barry, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in the early 1900’s, came from a Fermanagh family.

Barry in America can be an adopted name. Examples include:

  • Jack Barry – born Jacob Belser – who sang on the radio in the 1930’s on his Jack Barry Show
  • Jack Barry – born Jack Barasch – a TV game show host of the 1950’s
  • and Len Barry – born Leonard Borisoff – a songwriter and record producer.

South Africa.  Joseph Barry (of probable Irish background) had been commissioned by a London wine house to act as their agent for the export of wine from the Cape Colony.  Soon after his arrival there in 1819, he was working with his two nephews to develop a transportation network to supply their newly established trading store at Swellendam.

His enterprise did not survive long after his death in 1865.  But his sons did well in other fields, one as a judge and the other three as members of the Cape parliament.

Australia. Redmond Barry came to Australia from Cork in 1839.

“He sailed from London in the Calcutta on April 27, 1839 and arrived in Sydney on September 1. For part of the voyage he was confined to his cabin by the captain because of an unconcealed love affair with a married woman passenger. The matter became known to influential people in Australia and did not help his reputation or his prospects of employment in Sydney.”

Redmond settled instead in Melbourne where he made his mark as a judge and became prominent in social and political life there. He was the founder of the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Public Library. In 1846 he made the acquaintance of Mrs Louisa Barrow. Although they never married, she bore him four children who all took the Barry  name.


Barry Surname Miscellany

Barry Island and the De Barris.  Sometime between 1070 and 1090 the coast of Glamorgan in south Wales was seized by Anglo-Norman invaders.  Barry island and the adjacent coastline was allotted to a Norman nobleman who took the name of de Barri.  The following was an early account of the name origin by Gerald de Barri, Archdeacon of Brecknock:

“Not far distant from Cardiff is a small island on the shore of the Severn, which island the neighbors call Barri from Saint Barroch, formerly an inhabitant of that place whose relics are contained in a chapel situated there.  Moreover, from the name of this island those noblemen are denominated, taking from Barri the name de Barri first as a surname and afterwards as a family name.”

Barry and Barrymore.  The name Barrymore as a term for the head of the de Barrys made its first appearance in 1420.  An entry in the Annals of the Four Masters at that time reported: “John Kittagh de Barry, Lord of Olethan, alias Barrymore appears to have died in the first quarter of 1420.”

The Barry alias Barrymore depiction (meaning Great Barry in Gaelic) continued with his descendant Sir John de Barry who was recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1486 as follows:

“John Barrymore (Sean An Barrack Mor), the choicest of the English youths of Ireland, was slain on Christmas Day by Donogh Oge MacCarthy after he had gone on a predatory excursion against him.”

Another slaying was recorded in 1500 when the Barrymore was slain by his brother, David Barry.

These Barrys became the Earls of Barrymore in 1628 and in that form lasted two centuries.

The latter Barrys were rather disreputable.  Richard Barry the 7th Earl, known as Hellgate, was a rake, gambler and womanizer.  He died in 1793 as carelessly as he had lived, shooting himself through the eye in an accident with a loaded gun.  He was just twenty four.  His brother Augustus, known as Newgate (because he had been inside every jail in England except that one), died in 1818 and the Barrymore line ended in 1823 with the death of his other brother Henry (known as Cripplegate because he limped).

The Barrys of Fordingbridge in Hampshire.  Sir John Wolfe Barry in his 1906 book The Barry Genealogy in England and Wales speculated that his ancestors in Fordingbridge might have come originally from Wales.

The first recorded Barry in Fordingbridge was William Barry, yeoman, who died there in 1545.  The churchyard of St. Mary there contains several Barry tombstones; while the parish registers, which started in 1642, has the Barry name continually appearing, although with different spellings.

Sir John’s line went from Walter, who had migrated from Fordingbridge to Salisbury, to his son Francis who matriculated from Oxford in 1713 and was vicar first in Hampshire and then at West Alvington in Devon.

Alfred Barry and the Sinking of the Simla.  On February 25, 1884 the Australian ship Simla – enroute from London to Sydney – was struck by the City of Lucknow off the Needles on the Isle of Wight and sank.  Twenty men died and the wreckage was spewed as far away as Rottingdean in Sussex.

On board the vessel, and lost, was the 2,000 volume library of Alfred Barry, the newly appointed Bishop of Sydney, which had been accumulated over an academic lifetime.  Fortunately Alfred Barry himself was to be travelling to Sydney on a later vessel.  The Dean of Westminster appealed in The Times for funds to help the Bishop recover his loss.  People responded most generously.  There was even a donation from Queen Victoria.

Alfred was the son of Charles Barry, the architect who had designed the remodeled Houses of Parliament in 1836.  His brothers Charles Jr (who completed mush of his father’s work), Edward (who designed the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden), and John (who designed Tower Bridge) followed in his father’s footsteps as architects.  Alfred, however, entered the church.  Two years earlier, in 1882, he had conducted the funeral of Charles Darwin.

Barry/Barrie in Scotland.  The surname is generally Barrie in Scotland but the name comes from the village of Barry in Angus, and means a rough, grassy hill.

Barry as a place-name dates from the 12th century.  Many of the people of the parish were linen hand loom weavers, a prospering industry in the latter half of the 18th century, but one which went into rapid decline soon after the beginning of the 19th century.

The playwright J.M. Barrie – of Peter Pan fame – was born to a family of small-town weavers in Kirriemuir, Angus in 1860.  The Scottish golf course of Carnoustie is located near Barry.

Commodore John Barry.  John Barry was born in county Wexford in 1745 and went to sea at a young age.  The colony of Pennsylvania soon became his adopted home.

When he was but twenty five he had risen to be the commander of the Black Prince, one of the finest traders between Philadelphia and London.  Early in the War of Independence, he was given a naval command by Congress and was one of the first to fly the US flag at sea.

He was publicly thanked by General Washington in 1777 for his services to the American cause.  It was said that Lord Howe vainly endeavored to tempt him from his allegiance by the offer of the command of a British ship-of-the-line.

In 1778 and 1779, he commanded the Relief and was accorded the rank of Commodore. From the conclusion of the War until his death, he was constantly occupied in superintending the progress of the United States Navy.  He has been called by many the father of the American Navy.

Barrys from Cork to Massachusetts.  With the potato famine rampant in Ireland, two young Barry boys left their home in Ireland for a hopeful new life in America.  John left in 1848 at the age of sixteen and his brother Michael departed two years later.  He was just fourteen at the time (his age was in fact listed as thirteen probably because on most vessels children under fourteen could receive a reduced rate).

“They probably followed the usual route.  Walk from their home town of Lisgoold which was about 15 miles outside of the city of Cork and sail to Liverpool to board one of the immigrant ships to New York. These ships were known as coffin ships due to the fact that so many Irish immigrants died on the voyage to America from disease and hunger and they had crowded as many passengers as they could in their holds.”

Both John and Michael ended up in Westfield, Massachusetts.  John’s first job upon arrival to the United States was drawing wood chips from Southwick to Westfield for a quarter a day.  By the time his brother Michael had joined him he was working for a local farmer.  Another brother William arrived with their widowed mother in 1854.  William died young.

John and Michael both worked for the local railroad company.  Their mother Ellen lived on to 1881, John to the early 1900’s, and Michael to 1911.  By that time the Barry family was well established in Westfield.


Barry Names

  • Odo de Barri, a Norman knight, was the forebear of the Barry families in Wales and Ireland.
  • Ann Street Barry was a much acclaimed English actress of the late 18th century.
  • John Barry was an American naval officer during the Revolutionary War later to be called “the father of the American navy.”
  • Sir Charles Barry was a Victorian architect known for his rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in 1836.
  • J.M. Barrie was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan.
  • John Barry has been one of the best-known composers of soundtrack music since the 1960’s, being known in particular for his work on the Bond films.
  • Rick Barry is considered one of the best small forwards to have played the game of basketball in America.

Barry Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Barry and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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