The Family of James Barrett of Dromultan, Scartaglen, Co Kerry[1]

In the wake of the executions of Sylvester Poff and James Barrett in Tralee prison on 23 January 1883 following their conviction for the murder of Thomas Browne, the families of all involved were left to deal with their grief.


I never saw before such a saddening spectacle and trust I never shall again
Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 27 January 1883


James Barrett’s father, mother, and sisters boarded the train at Tralee station for their sad journey home to Castleisland, and their ‘loud and bitter wails of grief excited deep compassion among the large crowd of persons present.’[2]


Dangerous Times in Ireland: (left) The cabin of Bridget Lenane of Scrahan, Listowel was broken into on 25 November 1882 by a gang with blackened faces; the attack was on suspicion of Bridget being an informer  Prevention of Crime (centre) Notice appeared in January 1883, the month in which Poff and Barrett were hanged Gates of Tralee Prison (right) Many lives ended in the Georgian gaol


They were accompanied by about one hundred inhabitants of the district of Castleisland who went to offer support and sympathy in their bereavement.  When they changed trains at Gortatlea junction for Castleisland, a further demonstration of sympathy took place there.[3]


The subsequent publication of the dying declarations of the men created ‘a most profound impression.’[4]  Remarkably, the handwritten declaration of James Barrett survives:[5]


I declare solemnly before God and my judge I did not murder Brown I had nothing to do with his murder and I don’t know who did it I never had anything to do with any murder or outrage I never ingered a hair in a man’s head God forgive those who swore away our lives and I forgive them and I hope God will forgive me my sins.  James Barrett, January the 22nd 1883.[6]


A few days before his execution, James sent a prayer book to his sister, on the fly leaf of which he had written:


Tralee Gaol, January 20 1883 My Dear Sister, I send you this present as a very small token of a brother’s love.  Pray for me. You were always kind to me and I was equally so to you.  I am in a few brief days going to that holy place of rest, where I hope to be with God, where no false witnesses will be brought up against me.  May God bless you all your life, as well as my other sister, and my poor father and mother.  Dear sister, do not grieve for me as I am dying innocent of the crime and hope to be with God, where I will pray for you all.  Goodbye – Your innocent brother, James[7]


Additional material relating to James Barrett also survives. [8]  It has been contributed to the O’Donohoe Collection by Pat Browne, whose great grandmother, Mary Barrett, was a sister of James Barrett.  It includes a letter James wrote to his mother from his cell:


From James Barrett to his dearly beloved mother.  He trusts she will bear up against this great affliction with courage and patience, as doing so would afford the greatest consolation to the sender.  I also hope that father, brothers and sisters will try and do likewise and not forget praying for me as I will pray for all of them continually.  Tralee 22 January 1883[9]


Margaret Barrett, sister of James, and the family homestead at Dromultan, from a painting by Marion Daly Sweeney.  Barrett’s declaration of innocence was sworn before God and the world from the scaffold.  Far right: James Barrett’s last letter to his mother


Barrett Genealogy


Over the years, descendants of James Barrett visited the family homestead to reminisce and to lament the events of 1882 and 1883.  Today, no Barrett descendants are to be found in Dromultan. The last of them, Paddy Daly, died unmarried in 1990 and the house was sold out of the family.


However, the name of James Barrett and of his cousin, Sylvester Poff, will be forever rooted in the soil of Dromultan, and the handsome memorial to Poff and Barrett, situated close to the old Barrett home, reminds all of the great pain inflicted upon the Barrett and Poff families at the hands of British ‘justice.’


James Barrett was a young, unmarried man when his life was taken from him in Tralee prison, his age invariably given as between 20-24.  As far as can be seen, James was the eldest son of the family of eight.  His father was Andrew, son of James Barrett and Kate Mahony, and his mother was Johanna, daughter of Helen Reidy Nolan.[10]


The sons of the family, besides James, were Lawrence, born c1860, who went to the States and there purchased a plot (known as the Cunningham Plot) in St John’s Cemetery, Worcester, Massachusetts, where his brother Andrew, born c1868, was buried after he died from the fever in 1893.[11]  Lawrence subsequently returned to Ireland where he died, unmarried.


James had five sisters, Ellen J, who emigrated to America and lived in Worcester, MA and married William Cunningham.[12]  Catherine (Kate), born c1856, married a man named Burke and moved to San Francisco.  Hannah, the seventh child, was known for her beauty, ‘people stopped on the streets of Castleisland to look at her as she went by.’  Hannah died young and unmarried.[13]  Margaret also emigrated to America (Worcester) and married Patrick Joseph O’Leary in 1893.  The couple had three children.[14]


Mary Barrett remained at home.   She married Daniel D Daly of Boolacullane, Currow, and had a family of nine.[15]  The Daly family, who lived at Dromultan, consisted of four sons – Patrick, Michael, James and Daniel, and five daughters – Bridget (Bridie), Johanna (otherwise Ann or Hannah), Elizabeth Mary (Lizzie), Catherine Mary (Kate) and Mary Agnes (May).


Patrick (Paddy), the eldest, never married.  On his death in 1990, the land passed out of the family.  His brothers Michael (Mick), James, and Daniel (Sonny) all married and had issue.[16]  Sonny, the last named, born in 1896, met Bridget Hickey of nearby Ballybeg, Co Kerry. Bridget went to the UK in 1921 where she worked for the Bramley family.  From there she went to her brother in America and later, Sonny went over too and in 1925, they were married.


Sonny’s visits to Dromultan are still recalled in Castleisland, and on two occasions in the 1960s, he protested about the unjust treatment of James Barrett during receptions held with President Éamon de Valera.  Sonny and Bridget had three children, Daniel J, Marion and Hannah.[17] Daniel ‘Sonny’ Daly, described as ‘an IRA man,’ died in 1977:


When Sonny died, his daughter Marion paid $100 for a big Irish flag and draped his coffin with it.  His tombstone in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Valhalla, is a beautiful Celtic Cross engraved with a shamrock, the inscription Co Kerry Eire, and the letters IRA above his name.[18]


The Barrett-Daly daughters also continued the family lines.  Elizabeth Daly married Ned Sheehan, with whom she had a son, Edward, born in 1928.[19]  Catherine Daly married Patrick John (P J) Browne, Listowel.  Descendants of Catherine and Patrick remain in county Kerry.[20]


Gregory Peck


According to the genealogy document donated by Pat Browne, the Barrett family intermarried with the Ashe family of Kinard, Dingle.  The late actor, Gregory Peck, traced his ancestry to the Kerry Ashe family.[21]


A copy of Ashe family genealogy shows that Gregory Peck (1916-2003) was the son of Gregory Pearl Peck (1886-1962) and his first wife, Bernice Mae Ayres (1894-1992).  Gregory Pearl Peck was the son of Samuel A Peck (1865-1887) and Catherine Ashe of Kerry (1865-1928).


Catherine Ashe Peck, who married in America, was widowed in 1887 and returned to Kinard with her son, Gregory Pearl Peck, where she remained for about eight years, eventually returning to the States.[22] Records indicate that Catherine was the daughter of John Ashe (1826-1892) and Catherine Mary Prendiville of Aglish (1844-1916).[23]


The Barrett connection is not clear from the information given, and may apply to an earlier generation.  However, in the same family tree, in the line of patriot, Thomas Ashe, is found a Barrett.


Gregory Peck (left) and kinsman, Thomas Ashe.  In the centre, the cottage at Kinard East where Ashe was born and reared


Thomas Ashe (1885-1917) descended from John Ashe and Hanora O’Connor.[24] John and Hanora had John (‘Jack’) Ashe, who married first to Johanna Kavanagh of Reenawhee and secondly to a Herlihy.  Among his issue was Gregory Ashe (1853-1927) who married Ellen Hannafin of Tubber, Lispole, daughter of Patrick Hannifin and Ellen Barrett.  Gregory and Ellen were the parents of Thomas Ashe.


This is as far as we can go with Ellen Barrett.  Family lore points to a connection with the Dromultan Barrett and Kerry Ashe families.  It presents as an interesting project for a family genealogist.


[1] Otherwise Dromolton, Drumolton, Drumulton, Dromultin, Dromoulton, etc.

[2] Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 27 January 1883. 

[3] ‘It would be impossible to describe the wild uncontrollable grief of these poor women’ (Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 27 January 1883).

[4] Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 27 January 1883. 

[5] The document is held in the National Archives of Ireland, ref: CRF 1883 P1.  A copy is held in the O’Donohoe archive (Dorothy Dowgray Collection, IE MOD/C69).  Poff’s original declaration does not appear to survive; see ‘Poff and Barrett: Global Search for Justice’ on the O’Donohoe website.

[6] Copy of declaration held in the O’Donohoe Collection reference IE MOD/C69.  A second version also appears: James Barrett of Dromulton may the lord have mercy on his sole for he is the inisent man and so is Poff.  God is good and he said he would James Barrett is my name and with the pens I wrote the same in Tralee gaol they know the same farewell farewell farewell farewell.

[7] Kerry Independent, 25 January 1883.

[8] IE MOD/C66.   Donation received courtesy Chalkboard TV.  Material includes genealogical research conducted by (second cousins) Marguerite (‘Rita’) Frances Mushinsky, a descendant of Margaret Barrett (a sister of James) and Dan Browne, son of P J Browne and Catherine Mary Daly, in the early 1980s.  My thanks also to Sean Browne (brother of Pat) of J Browne Family butchers, Ballybunion, for assistance with genealogy.  Thanks also extended to Marie Huxtable Wilson for genealogical research.

[9] Collection reference IE MOD/C66.

[10] Census records indicate that Andrew Barrett was born circa 1831 and Johanna Nolan circa 1836.

James Barrett (senior) was the son of Ellen O’Donoghue Barrett who it was said lived to be 111 and up until her last birthday still walked from her home to the village of Scartaglen.

[11] In 1888, Andrew Barrett was imprisoned after an altercation in Currans brought about by the death of his brother James.  Evidently he subsequently emigrated.  See

[12] William Cunningham worked for the City of Worcester.  The Cunninghams had four children, Charles, who ran a gas station on Long Island near Central Islip; William, a floorwalker at Bloomingdale’s in NYC; Margaret, who married a policeman named Tom O’Brien and had a daughter Peggy (Peppy); and Ellen Frances, who died in 1919 at age 20.

[13] Hannah’s date of death is given as 17 August 1928.

[14] The children were Lawrence A O’Leary (1894-1970), Margaret Mary (1897-1906) and Joseph P (1899-1955), who died unmarried.  The eldest, Lawrence, had two children, Lawrence B O’Leary, born in 1931, who married and had issue, and Marguerite Frances O’Leary, born in 1927, who married into the Mushinsky family and had issue.  Marguerite Frances Mushinsky was one of the compilers of the genealogical research document held in IE MOD/C66.  Margaret Barrett O’Leary, whose year of birth is unclear (1863 or 1866) died in 1910.

[15] Daniel Daly, born c1871, died on 27 February 1928.  Mary, born in 1871, died on 31 March 1953:  ‘The death last week of Mrs Daly (nee Barrett) relict of Daniel Daly at Dromulton at the age of 84 recalls a sad episode in the Land War.  Her brother, James Barrett, with his cousin, Sylvester Poff, were hanged in Tralee Jail for a crime they never committed.  There was a very large attendance at her funeral to Kilsarcon’ (Kerryman, 11 April 1953). 

[16] Michael Joseph (1905-1988) married Helen Marie Gilligan née Brosnan (1898-1978) of Annascaul in Malden, Middlesex, Massachusetts in 1935 and had two sons, Daniel J Daly, born in 1936, who married Maurine Claire Dami and had three children (Daniel M, Brian J, Christopher J) and Robert Howell Daly, born 1937, married Judy Chapoalane (?) and had two children (Tara and Brendon).

James, born in 1910, married Kathleen and had three sons, Ronnie, P J and Eric.

[17] The children of Daniel Barrett Daly (Sonny) and Bridget Hickey are Daniel J Daly, born in 1926, married Jean Cronz and had three children (Janine, Jennifer and Danny); Marion Daly, born in 1928, married John F Sweeney, first vice president of Vogue Bulleree Cotton Co, New York and had three children (Jack, Elizabeth Ann and Dan); Hannah (birth year unclear) married Robert Perutz and had two children (Susanne and Mark).

[18] Collection reference IE MOD/C66.

[19] Edward Sheehan married Anne Martin and had eight children (Stephen, Brianne, Karen, Elizabeth, Lesley, Patricia, Joseph, Anne Marie).

[20] P J and Catherine Daly Browne (1904-c1987) had four children, John, born 1936, who married into the Stack family and had a family of six (Maria, Louise, Pat, Miriam, Ann and Sean); Dan, born in 1942, who married into the Doherty family and had a family of four (Susannah, Fiona, Christina and Dan); Catherine, born in 1945, who married into the Boxall family and had a son, Kevin; and Marna, born in 1943.  Pat Browne, who assisted with family genealogy, numbers among the six children of John Browne. 

The other Daly daughters, Bridget, born 1916, and Mary Agnes, born c1909, died unmarried.  Johanna, born c1901, died in 1980.  It is not known if she married.

[21] ‘Gregory Peck’s [grand] mother was an Ashe and her mother was a Barrett from our Barrett family’ (IE MOD/C66). 

[22] Catherine Ashe Peck married secondly to James William Gilpin (1868-1949).

[23] John Ashe was the son of Gregory Ashe and Bridget Kennedy of Coole, Annascaul; Gregory was the son of James Ashe and Mary, daughter of John Griffin, who married c1790 and settled at Kinard, near Dingle.   See family tree of Thomas Ashe in IE MOD/C10.

[24] John Ashe was the son of James Ashe and Mary, daughter of John Griffin, who married c1790 and settled at Kinard, near Dingle.   See family tree of Thomas Ashe in IE MOD/C10.