Skip to main content

Her Next Act

Actress Jennifer Barry became an instant star when she graced our screens as Siobhan in the beloved Irish sitcom The Young Offenders. As filming begins on season four of the show, the UCC student and Quercus Scholar reflects on her decision to return to education, her love of learning, and her drive to make her dreams a reality. In conversation with Jane Haynes

20 Mar 2023
'The dream, for me, is to tell as many stories as I can, and to do a good job with it.'

Jennifer Barry was born to act. I can write this with confidence, not just because I’ve seen her in action as the gutsy Siobhan in the universally beloved The Young Offenders, or because she tells me from the off that she will stop at nothing to achieve her dreams; it’s also in how her face lights up when she speaks about her craft. She says she’s ‘caught the bug’, but it’s clear that performing is in her DNA.

Jennifer, 22, became a household name back in 2018 when she took up the role of Siobhan in the award-winning series, which tells the story of lovable Corkonian rogues Conor and Jock. While Jennifer describes her casting as a ‘one in a million chance’, she was primed for a career in the performing arts from a young age.

Born in Dublin, her family moved to Cork when Jennifer was one (meaning we can confidently claim her as a Rebel). It was while in primary school in Kilbrittain that she discovered a love of performing, recalling the joy of Christmas concerts and drama classes, and reserving special praise for drama teacher Pam Golden, with whom she still works.

‘I was always trying to make people laugh, always trying to just entertain,’ she recalls.

Having graced the stages of Feis Maitiú, and with a Speech and Drama diploma under her belt, Jennifer’s big break came when she saw a social media post inviting auditions for The Young Offenders. Jennifer seized the moment, writing a script of her own and uploading it to YouTube. She received a call from the show’s casting director (‘while I was in SuperValu, of all places!’), was called in to audition and, shortly thereafter, was cast as Siobhan. What followed, Jennifer says, was ‘a crazy six years’.

Quercus Scholar Jennifer plays the role of Siobhan in the much-loved sitcom, The Young Offenders

While the experience will always hold a special place in Jennifer’s heart, she is also touched by the show’s impact and legacy for Irish people at home and abroad:

‘It’s unbelievable how much people can relate to the show … Seeing the worldwide response we’ve gotten – people in Canada, America, Australia … Everywhere Irish people have gone, there’s a discussion around The Young Offenders. And it’s so nice to give that bit of home to people, to remind them that we’re still here and we miss them too, and to bring them that bit of joy and laughter.’

The Young Offenders is most likely where you left off with Jennifer’s story and, boy, has she been busy ever since. Today, she is balancing her acting career with student life in UCC, studying Geography and Theatre as a Quercus Performing Arts Scholar*. Jennifer has fully embraced student life, currently acting as Interim Manager of the storied campus radio station, 98.3FM.

So, why UCC? Why now? For Jennifer, who took a much-needed year out after an intense filming period during her Leaving Cert year, the answer is rooted in the conclusions she drew from bursting onto the acting scene at such a young age and her experience during the pandemic lockdown.

Reflecting on the uncertainty of her industry, Jennifer explains: ‘I didn’t realise it wouldn’t constantly be work. There’s a lot of time, as an actor, when you’re not working and, for me, it was in that time that I really sunk down into it. I was weighed down by the fact that I wasn’t working.

‘I was always trying to make people laugh, always trying to just entertain.’

‘I was left alone, and I thought, “Is there something else I could be doing here? There are no jobs that I can do to keep myself occupied; I’m stuck in lockdown – what can I do for myself?”’

This prompted Jennifer to enrol on a personal training course, which led to a discovery that has since shaped her approach to life and her career: she absolutely loves learning. Fast-forward to today, and Jennifer is now in the second year of her Bachelor of Arts degree, and is soaking up every second of the journey.

‘I’m making the most of the experience,’ she says, ‘and I’m really lucky to be a Quercus Scholar as well, because that allows me to leave for work and come back, and that’s an opportunity that not many people have. It’s the only chance I really have to allow myself to pursue my dreams whilst also getting a third-level degree.’

Jennifer’s work ethic is remarkable; as well as keeping up with her studies and managing the campus radio station, she is constantly adding strings to her bow as a performer. From reading to undertaking online courses presented by industry experts, she is always priming herself for the next role so that, when opportunity knocks, she’s ready to answer.

‘There is always something you can be doing,’ she says, ‘and when you’re stuck in that rut it’s really important to remember that, as an actor, you’re never not learning.’

Her dedication is certainly paying off. Jennifer beams as she mentions an upcoming – and, at the time of interview, top-secret (I later find out it’s none other than the fourth and final series of The Young Offenders!) – acting project that starts shooting in March. Jennifer will be on-location for two months, quite literally living her dream. And that dream is far from glitzy award shows and red-carpet events – for Jennifer, a true artist, her passion and drive come back to something refreshingly pure: a love of storytelling.

‘The dream, for me, is to tell as many stories as I can, and to do a good job with it,’ she says.

‘I don’t think I would be fulfilled in life unless I was an actor. No matter what I was doing, whether it was working with drama groups in West Cork or writing my own material, I wouldn’t feel full in my soul without it.’

*The Quercus Talented Students’ Programme is supported by Bank of Ireland. 

Photography: Diane Cusack

Previous Issues

Office of Marketing and Brand Impact

Margaíocht agus Tionchar Branda

East Wing, Main Quadrangle, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland