Barrett, Richard (c.1793/4–1854), journalist, was born possibly in Co. Cork, son of Richard Barrett, gentleman. His mother may have been Eleanor Stannard. Little is known of his early life but after working briefly as a brewer he became a journalist. A protestant, he was initially conservative in his politics and was editor of the pro-government Patriot. He was the probable author of several pamphlets criticising advocates of catholic emancipation: Prudence true patriotism or an exposure of the . . . catholic directory (1815); The tables turned: . . . the final defeat and discomfiture of the catholic misleaders (1816); and A letter to Rt Hon. Henry Grattan (1816). However, he had a volatile and unpredictable personality and in the 1820s he became an admirer of Daniel O'Connell (qv) and a supporter of emancipation. In 1827 he founded and edited the Pilot, an evening newspaper that appeared three times a week and became the main O'Connellite organ. It mostly contained O'Connell's speeches and public letters and, although it had a relatively low circulation, the authorities were anxious to silence its outspoken anti-government criticism. Barrett was arrested with O'Connell (January 1831), but remained unchastened and in November 1833 was imprisoned for six months and fined £100 for publishing a letter by O'Connell denouncing the coercion act. When the government suppressed the Pilot (February 1834) he renamed it the Morning Register and continued publication; after some months it reappeared as the Pilot. Barrett was a close confidant and loyal lieutenant of O'Connell, often taking it on himself to broach potentially dangerous ideas and schemes that originated with his leader, and it was generally believed that nothing appeared in the Pilot without O'Connell's approval. Barrett also took it upon himself to abuse O'Connell's opponents, an activity in which he excelled. According to Charles Gavan Duffy (qv), Barrett ‘had considerable ability and a store of inexact and undigested information. In private he was a genial companion and general “good fellow” but . . . his word carried no authority with friend or enemy’. His paper was described as ‘a torpid viper which only awoke to inflict a wound’ (Duffy, 178).
After the cancellation of the Clontarf monster meeting in October 1843, Barrett was again arrested for publishing an inflammatory article and imprisoned with O'Connell and several others in comfortable conditions in Richmond prison (10 February–13 September 1844). The prison regime was so lax that Barrett continued to edit the Pilot. His vulnerability to prosecution led him (and other newspaper editors) to resign from the Repeal Association in late 1844. After disagreement in the Repeal Association over university education, those in favour of denominational education founded in 1845 a new periodical, Old Ireland, edited by Barrett.
His reckless journalistic methods made him many enemies, and he carried on a long-running feud with F. W. Conway (qv), editor of the Dublin Evening Post. He was also deeply jealous of the much larger circulation of the Nation newspaper (it sold ten times as many copies as the Pilot) and attacked its cultural pretensions, its support for non-denominational education, and its alleged indifference to religion. In opposition to the Nation's pluralist nationalism the Pilot strongly identified Irishness with catholicism, and was at times openly disparaging of Irish protestants. The contest between the Nation and the Pilot was described by W. O'Neill Daunt (qv) as a ‘Damascus sword against a billhook’ (Davis, 29). Often Barrett went too far: he scandalised catholics by his claim that the catholic archbishop of Armagh, William Crolly (qv), was suffering from insanity when he supported Peel's colleges bill. Prominent Young Irelanders, particularly Duffy, were often subjected to stinging personal attacks, especially after their departure from the Repeal Association in July 1846, and Barrett strongly opposed any moves to heal the rift.
After O'Connell's death in 1847, he largely left public life, and the Pilot ceased publication in 1849. He wrote a History of the Irish Confederation (1849) which denounced the Young Irelanders as Orange allies who had hounded O'Connell to his death, and dismissed the 1848 rising as ‘a compound of boast and blunder – of folly and wickedness – of big words and petty deeds’ (Barrett, 3). In February 1850 he wrote to Dublin Castle warning that Duffy and others were setting up democratic secret societies with links to continental republicans and that they were contemplating another rising. Barrett died 17 October 1854 at his home in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, after a long illness and was buried at Glasnevin cemetery. He was married but had no children. His brother was the author, Eaton Stannard Barrett (qv).