WJ Barre

Newry born architect of some of Belfast’s most distinctive buildings.

William J Barre was born in Newry, Co Down in 1830. As a youth he was apprenticed to a builder in the town and at the age of 17 to the well respected local architect Thomas Duff. He established his own architectural practice in Newry in 1850.
His first significant building, the 1852 Unitarian Church on Newry’s Dublin Road, reveals Barre’s interest in Gothic revival church architecture. He was to design many other Gothic churches, often for Presbyterian congregations who had previously mistrusted the elaborate medieval style.
Albert Memorial ClockIn 1856, Barre’s design won a competition to build a memorial to the late Lord Londonderry on Scrabo Hill near Newtownards. However, plans by Charles Lanyon and WH Lynn were preferred on the grounds of cost and the affair sparked controversy in the Belfast press. Barre’s biographer dismisses the Lanyon and Lynn tower as ‘pretentious mediocrity personified … a conspicuous deformity.’
Controversy did not slow Barre’s energetic work rate. In 1859, he was awarded the contract to build the Ulster Hall. In the following year he designed Belmont Presbyterian church. Then once again amid controversy, he won the competition to build the Albert Memorial in Belfast in 1865. This time, however, Barre won out over Lanyon.
Barre designed churches, houses and monumental structures across Ireland. His career was cut short by illness in September 1867 when he was only 37 years old.
Further Reading
A Memoir of the Professional Life of William J Barre (1868) by D Dunlop.
Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue