Irish lives

 

KATTY BARRY:Cork character and restaurateur (1909-82)

Katty Barry, restaurateur and Cork character, was born on Dalton’s Avenue, off Coal Quay in Cork. She was the daughter of John Barry; her mother ran a provisions shop on the avenue, which Katty took over and turned into an eating house.

Beautiful, witty, earthy and wise, Katty made the establishment famous. The menu was robust peasant fare – the pigs’ trotters were legendary – and the atmosphere was raucous and convivial. The clientele was said to range from peers to paupers; all joined in the nightly stories and songs, and all were treated alike. Although people relied on getting a late-night drink at Katty’s, she had no licence, and was often charged for breaches of the licensing laws. On her frequent appearances in court she recognised many of her customers among the barristers and judges.

Described as the personification of “a people and a culture peculiar to a particularly colourful and indigenously Cork milieu” ( Cork Examiner, July 14th, 1981), she presided over bohemian Cork life for decades until her establishment was closed in the late 1960s and demolished by Cork Corporation.

The songwriter Jimmy Crowley lamented its demise in his Ballad of Katty Barry: “Bad luck you corporation boys you’re always in great haste / To knock each famous landmark and now our meeting place / Our haunt is but a memory of our merry days of yore / Three cheers for Katty Barry boys, may she open up once more.” She also inspired a new verse to the old ballad The Boys of Fairhill– “Katty Barry sells crubeens fairly bursting at the seams” – and her name is invoked in various local expletives and chants. It is occasionally still said of poorly performing sports teams in Cork that “they couldn’t bate Katty Barry”.

Barry spent her final years living across the road from her former establishment, at 6 Corporation Buildings, and visited Dennehy’s Bar three times a day for a small whiskey and a glass of stout.

To the end she remained “elegant, observant, highly intelligent, with a devilish twinkle in her eye and the ability to cut people down to size” (Irish Times, December 15th, 1987). She died on December 27th, 1982, in Cork and is buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery.


Adapted from the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography. See dib.ie