Barry, Alice (1608–c. 1667), 1st countess of Barrymore, was born at College House in Youghal, Co. Cork, on Palm Sunday, 20 March 1608. Alice was the eldest daughter of the English Protestant planter, Sir Richard Boyle (qv), and his wife, Catherine Fenton (qv), later elevated to the peerage as 1st earl and countess of Cork.
As was often customary for children of aristocrats, Alice was fostered, at the age of seven, to live with Sir Randal and Lady Anne Clayton, neighbours and close associates of the Boyles. Apart from being schooled in religious doctrine, she was trained in preparation for her future role as a noblewoman: learning how to run a large household, how to entertain herself with needlework and how to write letters. Among her surviving writings is a letter of compliment, addressed to her father in the French language, which can be dated to the 1620s. By the age of nine, arrangements were already being put in place for Alice to marry her father’s ward, David Fitz-David Barry (qv), Viscount Buttevant. The creation of the Boyle/Barry alliance ensured that the heavily mortgaged Barry lands were retained, re-financed, and merged into the Boyle portfolio of properties. Additionally, the ancient Barry pedigree, with its deep-rooted local connections, was helpful in cementing the Boyle family’s powerful presence in that part of Munster. On the evening of 29 July 1621, the wedding ceremony was held at Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, and Viscount and Viscountess Buttevant went on to have four children: Katherine, born on 11 June 1628; Richard, on 15 October 1630; Eleanor (or Ellen), on 15 December 1631; and James on 27 April 1635. One of the other tangible effects of the partnership was the investment of Boyle money in the establishment of an earldom; in February 1628 David and Alice were further ennobled with the title of 1st earl and countess of Barrymore. As mistress of Barrymore Castle in Castlelyons and Barryscourt in Carrigtohill (both in Co. Cork), Alice styled her homes in the English manner, participating in masque-like entertainments and using her contacts in England to purchase food stuffs and furnishings, and to recruit a tutor for her eldest son. Local protestants were also able to attend twice-weekly sermons which were held at Barrymore Castle. Objects and practices associated with an English way of living were thus being procured, adapted and performed in a rural Irish context.
Travel was an important dimension of Alice’s annual routine, and it involved visiting the homes of her large family who were variously situated in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Kildare, Westmeath and Dublin, as well as shuttling back and forth across the Irish Sea. In England, Alice would stay at one of her father’s residences either in Dorset or London, while also making trips to the baths in the south for health and recreational reasons. Archival evidence reveals how Alice maintained some of the friendships which she made during those trips to England through subsequent correspondence, as was the case, for example, with the Verney family of Middle Claydon in Buckinghamshire. Alice’s surviving letters to Sir Ralph Verney MP illuminate how she led her life as mistress of Castlelyons, managing the ambitious renovation of the Castle during a time of peace and, later, describing the terrifying siege conditions of March 1642 during the Irish Rebellion.
One of the many losses which Alice sustained was the death of her husband from battle wounds on 29 September 1642 and, while other noblewomen fled to the safety of England, the extant letters indicate that Alice chose to stay in Cork with her household and four children. Indeed, correspondence for this period attests to Alice’s commitment and loyalty both to Castlelyons and her protestant neighbours. Several years later, around February 1648, Alice married Colonel John [Jack] Barry (qv), who was catholic and member of the Barry clan from Liscarroll, Co. Cork. Barry was also an experienced soldier and close associate of James Butler (qv), marquis of Ormond and the commander of royalist forces in Ireland. This second marriage was short-lived and without issue, but the match likely reflects Alice’s pragmatism in regard to her need for protection against local enemies. The overriding impression of Alice, which endures across all of the surviving papers, is her identification with the role of landowner and, right to the end of her life, her determination to assert her authority and entitlements in order to safeguard the Barrymore patrimony for the next generation. Epistolary evidence suggests that Alice died sometime in early 1667, and burial records confirm that her body was subsequently interred, alongside her mother and several of her sisters, in the Boyle tomb at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.