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Memorial Day
The official holiday falls on the 30th, but it’s not always celebrated on that day. Each year we like to remember one of our military heroes.
This year we will celebrate Commodore John Barry’s life.
I came across a rare book simply titled, Commodore John Barry, written by Martin J. Griffin in 1903, who was a member of the American Catholic Society of Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; The Buffalo Historical Society; the American Irish Historical Society, and the American Historical Society of the U.S..
He dedicated the book to his children, Reverend I.J. Griffin, and Sister M. Dorthea of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order.
It would be difficult to condense the content of this rare book so we will focus on some of the highlights.
Commodore John Barry was born in a modest thatched cottage in 1745 at Ballysampson on Our Lady’s Island, which is part of Tacumshin Parish in County Wexford, ireland. Wexford, at the  Southeastern most part of Ireland, has always had a strong maritime tradition. Yet Barry’s father was a poor tenant farmer who was evicted by his British landlord. The family was forced to relocate to the village of Rosslare.
War: When Barry arrived back in Philadelphia on the Black Prince he was greeted with the word that the Colonies and Great Britain were at war. At the outset of the Revolution, Barry was given the singularly important task of outfitting the first Continental Navy ships, and with a job well done he was promoted to Captain in the Continental Navy.
Late in 1776, Barry was given command of the 32-gun Effingham, one of 3 frigates then under construction in Philadelphia.
Barry was a commanding figure. He appeared on deck a burly 6’ 4”, well-built, ruddy-complexioned man of dignified carriage who spoke in a commanding tone. He had a wry sense of humor and had to control a sudden Irish temper on occasion.
On October 13, 1775 Congress resolved to fit out two cruisers, one 14 gun, and one 10 gun with authority to capture vessels bringing supplies to the British Army.
Barry was the first Catholic appointed, and received his commission, Dec., 7, 1775. William Penns’ legacy of religious freedom allowed this to happen.
He took command of the Lexington and captured a British ship. The Lexington was the first cruiser to fly the Stars and Stripes which was adopted in June, 1777.
The Lexington also made the first capture under the Continental flag.
At the end of the day, Barry’s advice to an Irish immigrant: “America, the best place to live in under the sun!” Anchors Away!
IAHC CHALLENGE
The Irish American Heritage Center is a major gathering place for our Irish community. Many of you helped to build it. It’s the heritage we will leave to the next generation.
Having served as President for  3 years and spending 17.5 years on the Board of Directors; chairing many committees, and making many many friends over the years, we all have made an investment in the Center.
With the advent of the COVID_19 pandemic the IAHC needs our support.
Two major fund-raisers have been canceled; both St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and our Summer Fest. These events are crucial to our financial health.
I’m donating $500 to the IAHC, and challenge you to match that amount if you can, or donate whatever you can spare.
Many people are now out of work and need their savings to make ends meet. We Irish have faced hardships many times, and bounced back. We can do it again! Erin Go Bragh!
Let’s remember the W. B. Yeats quote: “To make the green come out again . . . to be the garden’s pride. Yeats also said, “there is not strength until we work together.”
Cheap Shots
Covid 19 took everybody by surprise. With thousands of people coming down with the disease and thousands dying, basic supplies were not readily available.
To top it all off, many of the supplies we needed for personal protection and ventilators are made in China. Next time you see made in America products, buy them.
The door was open for partisan politics to enter in. Democrats, and particularly, Governor Pritzker, has been taking pot shots at President Trump and the federal government. With every state in the Union and foreign companies seeking the same supplies - personal protection equipment, what would you expect.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, also got in on the blame game. At the same time Governor Pritzkers’ heart is in the right place, and he is doing a good job.
Shelter in Place
Reminds me when we were quarantined as children throughout the 1940’s. With five sisters and a brother, it seems as though we got them all, mumps, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, and smallpox. The city nurse would hang a yellow quarantine sign of the front door of the house for everyone to see.
Then came polio and all the swimming pools closed. People were on iron lungs. It was a frightening time. Thank God Dr. Jonas Salk came up with a polio vaccine and life got back to normal. Hopefully medical science can develop a vaccine for Covid 19. Follow the rules, maintain six feet apart, where a face mask when needed, wash your hands, stay safe!
Tom Wolos
I mentioned in my April column that Tom was not Irish. I doubt if there were a lot of people that knew Tom was in fact, 75% Irish!
I got a lovely email from his sister, Susan, telling me the story that Tom was an adopted child. They ran an Ancestry DNA test that put him at close to 75% Irish.

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