Tony Barry grew up in Cork city in the 1930s and 40s, where he family ran a grocery and tea wholesaling business at No. 7 Princes Street. He recalls his education in the city and his graduation in 1956 with an honours degree in Civil Engineering.
His initial employment was with Malachy Burke & Co. on a hydro-electric scheme for the ESB in Co. Donegal, and in 1967 he joined Cementation Co. Ltd., a firm in London specialising in ground civil engineering works. This involved various projects in West Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand. Most of the projects were dams (Freetown Africa, Mangla dam (Pakistan), Catagunya (Tasmania), Mahinerangi (New Zealand) and other minor projects. His positions were that of site agent and site engineer.
In 1963 he returned to London and joined Binnie & Partners Civil Engineers in the role of civil design engineer. He was elected M.I.C.E. the same year. He returned to Ireland in 1964 and worked with CIE and Cavan Co. Council.
In mid 1964 he joined John A. Wood Ltd in Cork. The firm was a manufacturer of building materials from raw material extraction to finished products in heavyside building materials. The firm was acquired by the publicly quoted Roadstone Group (1965) and merged with Irish Cement Ltd in 1970 to form the present CRHplc.