Peter Barry was born on 10 August 1928 in Cork City. He was the son of Anthony Barry, a Fine Gael TD and well-known businessman. Barry was educated in Cork and then became the major shareholder in the family company - Barry's Tea. Peter Barry was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD in 1969. When Fine Gael came to power in 1973 he was appointed MInister for Transport and Power. In 1976 he became Minister for Education. In 1979 he was elected deputy leader of the Fine Gael party. From 1981 to March 1982 he served as Minister for the Environment.
Between December 1982 and 1987 he was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In his capacity as Foreign Minister he was heavily involved in the negotiations which resulted in the 1985 Anglo-Iish Agreement. He also became the first joint chairman of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference which was established by the Irish and British governments. Following the Labour Party's withdrawl from the coalition government in 1987 Barry became Tánaiste for a brief period. In that year Barry, along with Alan Dukes and John Bruton contested the leadership of Fine Gael. Dukes was the eventual victor, however many believe that Barry would have been a much more successful leader.