Stephen J. Barrett (1867-1921) better known as Stiofáin Bairéad aka Stiophán Bairéad aka "An Bairéadach" was a founding member of the Irish language revivalist movement, Conradh na Gaeilge. Stephen made an important contribution to the history of Ireland. He was Treasurer of the Gaelic League for 30 years, wrote several interesting works in Irish, and assisted in the publishing of many more.
He was a great friend of Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) and of Dr. Douglas Hyde, (also a Roscommon man and the first President of Ireland). Patrick Pearse was godfather to Stiofán's eldest child and his sculptor father, James Pearse, crafted a Celtic Revivalist headstone for the grave of Stiofán Bairéad's father in 1900.
Stiophán Bairéad was born on the 22nd August 1867 to Stephen Barrett and Celia O'Beirne in Meelick House, Kilmore, Co. Roscommon. He is descended from a long line of substantial graziers in the parish of Killummod, near Croghan, Co Roscommon. His father, Stephen Barrett Esq. was a strong farmer, cess collector and barony constable for Co Leitrim. His uncles included Rev. Fr. Matthew J. Barrett PP Ballinameen, Patrick Barrett Esq. merchant (P. Barrett & Co.) Carrick-on-Shannon, Thomas Barrett Esq. (President of the Carrick Land League) and Michael Barrett Esq. of Finnor House.
Stiophán was the 7th of nine children who were all well-educated, the boys in the Grammer School in Athlone, and the girls in convents in Athlone and Sligo. Three of his sisters became nuns and two of his brothers became bankers.
When Stiophán was 11 years old he was in a bad accident from which left him with a permanent limp. He spent 16 weeks in St Vincent's Hospital Dublin, undergoing a leg operation, and it was during that time that a nun taught him his first words in the Irish language. It is said that he didn't know the language existed until that time. (Whereas roughly half the population of Ireland could speak Irish prior to 1845, only about 14% could by the turn of the century).
It took him three years to recover, so he was educated privately, at home. He developed a good head for figures and also read voraciously at this time. At seventeen was writing inspiring letters regarding the language to the Freeman's Journal, even though he could not speak it. In 1887 became interested in the Irish language movement and corresponded regularly with a number of people, including R J O'Mulrenin of the Gaelic Union. He was also a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language and the Irish National League.
IRISH LANGUAGE ACTIVIST
He moved to Dublin in 1890, working for the Dublin & Banagher Distillery. He took evening courses in Irish at the Irish Fireside Club in Clarendon Street under Risteard Ó Maoilbhréanainn, and soon began to give classes to the Celtic Literary Society.
Conradh na Gaeilge aka The Gaelic League
He happened to be away on holiday on the day Conradh na Gaeilge was founded (July 31, 1893) but most certainly wanted to be present. He was active in Connradh na Gaeilge from its foundation as Treasurer, and by the turn of the twentieth century he was working full-time for Connradh as well as organising the Oireachtas festival.
In 1903 Stephen Barrett married Siúbhan Ní Mhurchadha (Julia Naughton) from Ballymurphy in Claregalway parish. She was a native Irish speaker working in Dublin at the time. They may well have been the first couple in centuries to have raised an Irish-speaking family in Dublin's city centre. They had four children, to include Síghle Bairéad (b.1903) for whom Patrick Pearse was godfather.
FIRST TREASURER OF THE GAELIC LEAGUE
During the period when organisation was at its largest (with more than 50,000 dues-paying members, 700 domestic branches at one time, as well as thousands more in branches throughout the Irish diaspora) Bairéad had the reputation for never losing a penny. Douglas Hyde wrote of him in 'Mise agus an Chonradh' (Me and the League) "There was never a better officer than Stiophán Bairéad". He got to know many people through his work, including Padraig Pearse, whom he helped apply for an editing job at "An Claidheamh Solais".
In 1908 Stophnán Bairéad developed insomnia because of his constant concern that branches failed to remit their dues promptly enough to cover the day-to-day expenses of the organisation. It is said that Bairéad paid Conradh staff out of his own pocket at times. He said that he feared their best employees would leave if they knew how little funds were there. He also financially assisted Pádraig Pearse with the foundation of Scoil Éanna in Rathfarnham, and was a director of this school, with Pearse. Recently a major collection of Padriac Pearse was donated to the National Museum of Ireland. Included in the display are a chequebook and 27 cashed cheques signed by Padraic Pearse and Stiofán Bairéad in 1912.
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
From 1915 onwards, the situation for the Gaelic League was deteriorating. In spite of the trouble which occurred at the Dundalk Árd Fheis in 1915 when An Craoibhín resigned as President, Stiophán continued on, looking after financial matters and doing the work of officers such as Seán T Ó Ceallaigh when they were in prison. Very often, all of its officers would find themselves in prison at the same time, save for Bairéad, who had to carry the burden all alone.
The documentation of the period of the 1916 Rising and before does not fully set out the important contribution of Stiofán Bairéad to the Irish history of the period. Although treasurer of the Gaelic League he personally signed as guarantor for the finance which funded the schools established and run by Patrick Pearse, first at Cullenstown House on Oakley Road, Rathmines, and later at St. Enda’s in Rathfarnham, Dublin.
While Patrick Pearse was awaiting execution he made efforts to ensure that the monies provided by his friend Stephen Barrett would be made good by Clan na Gael, etc. However, after Patrick Pearse was shot in 1916, Stephen Barrett was called upon by the Hibernia Bank, on O’Connell Street, Dublin to pay up under his guarantee. His way of meeting this demand was to put up for sale one of two houses, which he owned at 55-56 Blessington Street, Dublin. In the end, he did not have to pay up under his guarantee as the money came from the USA to discharge the debts.
Patrick Pearse the “Triumph or Failure” by Ms. Ruth Dudley Edwards is worth reading for the references therein to Stephen Barrett’s work.
A TRAGIC END
By 1920, he was the only original member left standing in Conradh na Gaeilge. The new members had little sympathy for him and, even though he was only 53 years old, saw him as old blood. They tried to put him out on pension, at a time when he was worried about meeting the needs of his young family.
In November 1920, after a raid on Connradh offices in Parnell Square where the military seized a safe, Stiophán Bairéad was directed to bring the keys to Dublin Castle. There, he was arrested and transferred to Mountjoy Jail. He was detained in prison and tried later by court-martial on the charge of being in the possession of a shotgun stated to have been found on the Gaelic League premises. Bairéad was subsequently cleared of the charges brought against him and acquitted.
Suddenly on Good Friday 1921, while attending church with his daughter Sighle, Stiofán Bairéad suffered a heart attack. He was attended to by a Redemptorist Father following which he was taken around the corner to the Mater Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Family and friends believed he died from a broken heart.
Barrett, Stephen J. of 55 Blessington Street Dublin died 25 Mar 1921 at St Joseph’s Church Berkley Road.. Admin. to Julia Barrett, the widow. Effects of £326 19s in England. Sealed London 8 Dec.
For more on this family see:
"The Bairéad Collection" at the James Hardiman Library, N.U.I.Galway
The material in this collection relates to the work of three members of the Bairéad family, Stiophán Bairéad (1867-1921), his daughter Síghle Bairéad (1903-1985), and his son Ciarán Bairéad (1905-1976).
|Date of Birth||1st Aug 1867|
|Date of Death||2nd Mar 1921|
|Associated Building (s)||Finnor House|
|Townland born||Meelick, Kilmore, Ballintobber North, Co. Roscommon. https://www.logainm.ie/en/43033||VIEW SOURCE|
|Father (First Name/s and Surname)||Stephen Barrett Esq. (1828-1900) Meelick House, Kilmore (Barony Constable for Co. Leitrim & gentleman farmer) was born in Finnor (Killummod) 8th child of John Barrett (1790-1844) & Mary Hanly of Finnor House.||VIEW SOURCE|
|Mother (First Name/s and Maiden)||Cecilia Elizabeth O’Beirne (1824–1896) daughter of Thomas O’Beirne Esq. of Feeragh, married on 2 March 1857 in Dangan Chapel. (John Beirne Esq., who owned Milltown, had an interest in Meelick in 1829; a lease of one life – freehold value £10).||VIEW SOURCE|
|Names of Siblings||Mary Johanna 11/1/1858–1879 aka Sr. Mary Bridget John 21/5/1859 Patrick 23/4/1859 Thomas Joseph 1862–1932 Matthew James 1863–1935 Sarah 26/5/1864 Martin 14/11/1865–1930 Catherine 4/11/1868 Annie Mary Josephine 1869 –1891|
|Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname)||Siubhán Ní Mhurchadha (aka Julia Murphy) from Claregalway, daughter of Patrick Murphy, farmer.||VIEW SOURCE|
|Occupation||Treasurer of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League)|
|Number of Children||5|
|First Child||Their daughter Sighle was born in 1903, her god-parents were Máire Ní Thoghdha and Pádraig Mac Piarais. She did not start learning English until she was 7. Went to school in Eccles St. Worked as a teacher and secretary. Did a lot of research work.|
|Names of Children||Síghle Bairéad (b.1903) Ciarán Bairéad (1905 - 1976) a reknowned Irish folklorist, scribe and scholar; Dubhaltach (b. 1906) Siubhán (b.1910)|