The Barrett Family

Barrett family crest

(Crest No. 28. Plate 66.)

THE Barrett family is of Norman origin, and came to Ireland in the year 1170, settling in the present Counties of Limerick, Cork, and Dublin. The founder of the family came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, the name appearing in the original list of William’s Norman followers. After the advent of the family to Ireland they acquired a tract of territory in the County of Cork, known as “Barrett’s Country” and at present as the barony of Barretts, and comprising over 26,000 acres. When Hugh O’Neill was marching to the siege of Kinsale, in 1600, he asked, when passing Castlemore, who lived in the castle. He was told that it was “Barrett, a good Catholic, whose family had possessed the estate about four hundred years.” Tirawley, in the County of Mayo, also was as late as the middle of the sixteenth century the country of the Burkes and the Barretts.

Many of the latter were noted ecclesiastics, among them, the Most Rev. Richard Barrett, Bishop of Killala, 1536, and Thomas Barrett, of Elphin, who is described as “a noble prelate, full of good qualities,” who died A. D. 1404. Many of these Barretts, Lords of Tirawley, took the name of MacWattin.

During the Williamite and Jacobite wars of 1688-91, Colonel John Barrett, of the Cork Barretts, the chief representative of the family, raised a regiment of infantry, which he commanded in the cause of King James the Second during the contest. He also sat for the borough of Mallow in the Dublin Parliament of 1689. In 1690 he was military governor of Waterford in command of two regiments, but was compelled to surrender the city to the Williamites after the latter’s success at the Boyne. He surrendered only on the stipulation of being allowed to march away with his garrison, arms, baggage, and a military escort with all the honors of war. He also commanded his regiment in Cork when that city was reduced by Marlborough, and was a prisoner on the Breda when that vessel was blown up by the accidental ignition of its powder magazine. Having been blown into shallow water near the shore, he was one of the few who escaped.

After the surrender of Limerick in 1691, Colonel Barrett went to France, and was appointed to serve with his former rank in the Royal Regiment of Foot Guards. His estates in Ireland were confiscated by the Williamites. At the battle of Landen, in Flanders, July 29, 1693, fought between the Marshal Duke de Luxembourg and William the Third of England, where the Irish regiments so gloriously avenged the Boyne and Limerick, Colonel Barrett greatly signalized himself by his intrepidity, and contributed largely to the success of that closely contested engagement. Barrett’s command was the first corps to make a breach in King William’s intrenchments, through which the French troops followed. Barrett was slain after forcing the works. A contemporary report says: “It was the Irish Royal Regiment of Foot which first opened the enemy’s retrenchment, whereby the Gallic troops immediately reaped advantage, after suffering much for a while before in fighting against an intrenched army. In this action Colonel Barrett, of Cork, by his bold leading of the said Irish regiment, signalized himself, and slept on the bed of honour.” Marshal Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, also fell mortally wounded in this battle. The French loss on this day was eight thousand, and the loss of the English and their allies, according to their official report, 10,483, and according to the reports of several generals, several thousands more, besides eighty-four pieces of artillery and eighty-two stands of colors.

Stannard Eaton Barrett, another member of this family, was born in Cork about the end of the last century. He was admitted to the bar, but did not practice, having devoted his life to the pursuit of literature. He published several works, some of them of high merit. His brother, Richard Barrett, was the editor of the “Dublin Pilot,” and was prosecuted by the Government during the repeal agitation and imprisoned with O’Connell.

George Barrett, born in Dublin in 1730, was a famous landscape painter, and one of the originators of the Royal Academy. He was an intimate friend of Edmund Burke and other distinguished personages of the time.

John Barrett, a native of Drogheda, was a distinguished naval officer in the British service. While returning home in the Minotaur in 1810, in charge of a convoy of one hundred sail from the Baltic, his ship was wrecked by an ignorant pilot. He was drowned with four hundred and ninety out of a crew of six hundred. To an officer who evinced an eager desire to save himself, he said: “Sir, true courage is better shown by coolness and composure; we all owe nature a debt; let us pay it like men of honor.”

Another John Barrett was elected vice-provost of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1807, and was professor of Oriental languages in that institution for the greater part of his life. He was a man of great learning and gifted with a prodigious memory, but eccentric beyond description. For the last fifty years of his life he lived in a small dingy garret without light or fire, raggedly dressed, never leaving the college precincts, and intent only on study and hoarding money. In manners he was uncouth, and his massive head and shoulders, extremely small feet and low stature were said to make him look like an equilateral triangle standing on its vertex.

Among the many stories told of his eccentricities and absent-mindedness are those of his being found one day sitting by the fire in the college kitchen intently looking at an egg in his hand, while his watch was boiling in the saucepan; of his great astonishment on discovering that “mutton was made from sheep”; of his having made two holes in the bottom of his door, one large and the other small—the large one to let in his big cat and the small one to let in his little cat; and his surprise at seeing a crow one day in the park; and his greater surprise on discovering after much investigation of his classics, that the strange bird was really “a corvus, by Jove.” He was a man of the strictest probity and honorable in all his dealings, and ever ready to oblige and assist others, provided they did not ask him for money. Yet before his death he left all his money and property for charitable purposes.

There are many of this name in Ireland, and in the United States several descendants of this family fill honorable positions, among whom may be mentioned the Hon. Judge Barrett, of the Supreme Court of New York, and Mr. Thomas Barrett, merchant of New York City.