Barrett, John (‘Jacky’) (1753–1821), eccentric scholar, was born in Ballyroan, Queen's Co. (Laois), son of the Rev. Daniel Barrett, Church of Ireland clergyman, and his wife Rossamund Gofton. Educated by a Mr Sheils in Dublin, he entered TCD as a pensioner on 9 July 1770; he scarcely ever left it again. He won a scholarship in 1773, graduated BA in 1775, and became a fellow in 1778. He was college librarian (1791–1808), regius professor of Greek (1796–7), and professor of Hebrew and vice-provost (1806–21). He discovered in the library, and edited, an important palimpsest manuscript of St Matthew's Gospel from a very early date. His other published works, which included An inquiry into the origin of the constellations that compose the zodiac (1800), while displaying his erudition and knowledge of ancient languages, were not of general utility. He is mainly remembered for his eccentricities: generations of students laughed at ‘Jacky’ Barrett's meanness and love of food, the filthiness of his person and attire, the extreme frugality of his life in college, his mannerisms, the coarseness of his speech, and his lack of ordinary practical knowledge of the world. It was said that he failed to recognise a sheep, though he had eaten mutton at commons for forty years; and that after he appeared decently dressed on Trinity Mondays, he would comb the powder out of his hair for reuse the next year. Fellow students saved his life by administering hot punch when they found him near death from hypothermia in his college rooms. After a lifetime of hoarding money he died on 14 November 1821, worth about £80,000. Trustees of his will interpreted his legacies to ‘the hungry’ and ‘the naked’ to include near relations who had frequently and in vain implored his charity, and who had received only token bequests in the will.
Annual Reg., 1821, 247; Dublin University Magazine, Sept. 1841, 18, 350–58 (portr.); Kerry Magazine, May 1856, 77–83; W. R. Le Fanu, Seventy years of Irish life (1893), 76–81; Courtenay Moore, ‘“Jacky Barrett”’, Cork Hist. Soc. Jn., ii (1900), 47–54; Allibone; Alumni Dubl.; Trinity College record volume (1931); ODNB