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John Barry

John Barry
00:00 / 04:22

Temporary socially distanced recording

Kirkcaldy's reputation as 'the town that floored the world' was largely earned by the output of the Nairn family and their fellow linoleum giants.

Sited to the north of the railway station, Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd was internationally reknowned and John Barry a lively political figure.

When Barry died a century ago, still in situ as Chairman of the company, he left behind not only a great industrial powerhouse but also some family secrets.

 We are indebted to guest contributor, Margaret Watson, for sharing her diligent research and findings.

In depth written study

Marble Surface

One Family or Two

This month’s object is the work of guest author Margaret Watson.

John Barry was well known in Kirkcaldy in the late nineteenth century.  He was co-owner of the linoleum manufacturing company Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd.  As such he was a very wealthy man and contributed to the prosperity of the town, as was acknowledged in his obituary in the Fife Free Press on his death in 1921. 

John Barry was not a native of Kirkcaldy, but an Irishman, born in Wexford around 1845.  He came to England as a young child when his father, a coastguard/lighthouse keeper, was transferred to Northumberland.   He became an Irish Nationalist MP for South Wexford, serving from 1885 to 1893. He was a founding member of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain and was also a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. 

Whilst in Northumberland, John met Mary Dwyer and they were subsequently married in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1867.  The couple had four children; Thomas Ignatius who was born in 1870 but died of scarlet fever in 1876, Mary Frances who was born in 1871,  John, who was born and died in 1873, and another John who was born in 1876.  The couple moved around a lot as Thomas was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Mary Frances was born in Kinghorn, Fife, John was born and died in Chorlton, Lancashire and the surviving John was born in West Derby, Lancashire.

Thus far, one might think that John Barry was a fine upstanding family man and a pillar of the community.  But was he?

The curious fact is that John Barry’s wife, Mary, seems to vanish without trace after 1876.  She cannot be found in any census return for England or Scotland after that date.  Neither can she be found in Ireland, although few census returns remain in Ireland due to fire destroying many records.

However, she must have been alive when John died in 1921 because she inherited part of his not inconsiderable estate.  Two of John’s great grand-daughters were intrigued by the will, though, because a large part of the estate was bequeathed to Helen Macfarlane Wright and her five surviving children.   They had no knowledge of Helen Wright at all.  It was only when they read an article in the West Middlesex Family History Society magazine, written by a descendant of one of Helen’s cousins that they discovered who she was.  She apparently met John sometime in the early 1880’s, through her father, John Wright, who was the works manager at the linoleum factory.  She and John had seven children together.  At first Helen was secreted away in southern England, but after John retired from Parliament he and Helen lived together openly and appear in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses as husband and wife.  As a Catholic, there was no way that John could have divorced his ‘unwanted’ wife and married Helen.  

Together, the two great grand-daughters and the author of the article attempt to trace John Barry’s wife and his descendants on both the legitimate and illegitimate sides of his family. The full story and supporting information can be found at

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