Like always, we’ll be wearing our green, making a big pot of corned beef and cabbage, with some of that wonderful Irish soda bread on the side. I thought you might want to hear about the most famous Irishman in Oswego’s history - - Father Dean Michael Barry. - - and why, even today, tales and anecdotes about him are still told. His story begins many, many years ago - - - -
He was born Aug. 15, 1831 in the town of Castle Lyon, County Cork, Ireland. and was ordained a priest in June, 1861. After serving at parishes in Canada, and then in the U.S. at Saratoga Springs, and Carthage, he arrived here in Oswego in 1869 to become a pastor and spiritual leader of St. Paul’s church, until his death in 1914.
While here, he not only became Oswego's leading citizen, but a well-known figure in national and international circles, and he put Oswego and his parish on the map.
An imposing man, tall, good looking, broad shouldered - - - he carried an Irish walking stick made from the blackthorn bush, and he presented a picture of pure power, and self-confidence, as he walked through town - - the type of man who commanded respect, and received it.
Our water here in Oswego is born of a purifying process on the shores of Lake Ontario, whose idea and construction were mainly the work of Father Barry. Before that time, the drinking water for the city came from the Oswego River. He made strong appeals from the pulpit to vote in favor of a necessary legislation, which finally was passed in 1904, to begin piping in fresh water from the lake.
He was instrumental in the expansion of St. Paul’s Church, and also the development of schools, St. Francis Orphanage, and the hospital, among many others.
Back then, in the 19th century, Oswego was an important shipping point for trade between the United States and Canada, and Longshoremen and their families made up a big part of the population. Most of these workers were Irish immigrants, who, after the long days of demanding physical labor, a good majority of them could be seen in local taverns, drinking up their meager wages. Father Barry, an avid opponent of heavy drink, could see where the families of these Longshoremen were suffering, due to the drinking habits of the men. He was determined to put an end to it.
And so, on many a night, Oswego folks would see this tall, broad-shouldered hulk of a man, in his long black coat, his wild hair blowing in the wind, carrying his ever-present walking stick, striding, purposefully into the Oswego taverns to chastise the men of his congregation, and I imagine others as well, to get home immediately to their wives and children!
He would often make his raids on Joe Timmons’s “Elite” Bar and Grill, where a lot of St. Paul’s men used to congregate and overindulge. When someone yelled “He’s coming!!” the place cleared out in a hurry, with the drinkers jumping out of windows, diving into toilet stalls and under the pool table. Such was their fear, and respect for “The Dean”.
When he caught one of his parishioners, he would call out their name from the pulpit on Sunday, once describing his visit to a dance hall, he pointed out a man named Gallagher, who happened to have a wooden leg. “AND WHO DID I SEE THERE, BUT HIMSELF – PEG-LEG GALLAGHER!” he bellowed.
In 1872 he formed the Priory, a men’s service organization, opposed to all use of alcoholic drink, whose members became a strong and positive force in Oswego society. To keep the men so busy they wouldn't have time to drink, he declared they must build a fine parish hall, which, when finished, became Priory Hall, with a stage that would showcase entertainment, which would keep the children off the streets and the men out of the watering holes.
Father Barry also created many social parish groups, devoted to the aid of those less fortunate, such as the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the Rosary Society, the Young Woman’s Sodality and the Young Men’s Sodality. Besides spiritual guidance, they offered many social activities.
One of the first things he did in Oswego was to supervise the building of a new St.Paul’s Church, which was able to seat 2500 people, and arranged the installation of the magnificent pipe organ that had no peer in America, and cost nearly $50,000. He even arranged for an internationally renowned, world famous concert organist to come and perform on the organ.
He was unyielding in his support of Irish causes, even when criticized by the public, and even the Vatican. He worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Irish Catholics.
In October 1914, Father Barry died at age eighty-four. His funeral was attended by not just hundreds, but four to five thousand mourners, who filled the church, and also the streets outside. Schools were closed, businesses shut down, and flags flew at half mast. He is buried on a hill at St. Paul’s Cemetery, on a spot that he himself selected, telling his people: “Bury me where I can keep an eye on you.” The citizens of Oswego, to honor his memory, erected a towering Celtic granite & woven cross, with a huge brass plaque at the base, bearing his image. There has never been another like him.
(ED.NOTE. Facts resourced for this article can be found within a fine book by Reverend Patrick Callaghan, titled A LIFE OF SERVICE. I would recommend it to those who would like to learn more about this great man. And, from the What-A-Small-World-Department - - Rev. Callaghan is a relative of our own Ed and Noreen Callaghan of Oswego.
TRY THIS, THE BEST IRISH SODA BREAD EVER!
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour 2 eggs
2 teaspoon baking soda 1-pint sour cream
½ cup sugar ¾ cup raisins
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons caraway seeds (traditional, but optional)
Pre-heat oven to 350. Combine DRY ingredients in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, beat eggs and then stir in sour cream. Add the egg and sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. The batter will be very thick!
Add the raisins and caraway seeds and stir well with wooden spoon, or knead it with your hands. (I bet the best cooks use their hands). Place the batter in a GREASED 9-inch SPRINGFORM pan.
Dust the top with enough flour so that you can pat the batter like bread dough, evenly in the pan, without it sticking to your hands. With a knife, make the traditional shallow crisscross on the top.
Bake for 50 minutes in a pre-heated 350 oven.