He was born one of 11 children; his family had a small grocery business at Bridge Street in Cork. The firm specialised in teas and wines and later moved to Princes Street. It was awarded the Empire Cup for Tea Blending at the Grocers Exhibition London, 1934. He spent his working life at the firm which was later developed under the tutelage of his son Peter into a major company called Barry's Tea.
Barry acted as election agent for W. T. Cosgrave, the former President of the Executive Council who was a Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork Borough from 1932 to 1944. Barry was elected to Dáil Éireann as TD for Cork Borough at the 1954 general election, but lost his seat at the 1957 general election and was then elected to the 9th Seanad on the Cultural and Educational Panel. He was re-elected to the Dáil at the 1961 general election, and served until a further defeat at the 1965 general election. He was also Lord Mayor of Cork from 1961 to 1962.
His son Peter Barry, his daughter Theresa (Terry) Kelly, neé Barry, and granddaughter Deirdre Clune were also politicians.
He had an interest in photography from an early age and in his 50s his skill developed and apart from taking photographs he developed them at his home in York Terrace.