Ryan / Mulryan

Malo mori quam foedari

Ryan is amongst the ten most numerous surnames in Ireland with an estimated population of twenty-seven thousand five hundred. Only a very small proportion of these use the prefix O. Subject to one exception, to be noticed later in this section, it is safe to say that the great majority of the twenty-seven thousand five hundred Ryans are really O'Mulryans - this earlier form of the name is, however, now almost obsolete: even in the census of 1659 in Co. Limerick Ryan outnumbers Mulryan by about four to one, and today there is not one O'Mulryan or Mulryan in the Telephone Directory.

The sept of O Maolriain was located in Owney, formerly called Owney O'Mulryan, which forms two modern baronies on the borders of Limerick and Tipperary, in which counties the Ryans are particularly numerous today. They do not appear in the records of this territory (formerly belonging to the O'Heffernans) until the fourteenth century, but after they settled there, they became very powerful.

The Ryans of Co. Carlow and other counties in that part of Leinster, are distinct from those dealt with above, though both are of the race of Cathaoir Mor, King of Leinster in the second century. These are O Riain, not O Maoilriain: the chief of this sept was lord of Ui Drone (whence the name of the barony of Idrone in Co. Carlow).

The Ryans are not much recorded until the seventeenth century, when Cornelius O Mulryan, a brother of the Chief of Owney, was a Franciscan friar. For forty one years, until his death, he was Bishop of Killala and also of Cloyne and Ross. He took scant care of his bishoprics, spending most of his time in Europe seeking help for the FitzGeralds of Desmond. He died in Spain in 1617.
It is not only in the distant past that the Ryans held high rank in the Church. Two O Ryan abbes were guillotined during the French Revolution. Finbar Ryan was Archbishop of Port of Spain in the West Indies. Edward Ryan (died 1819) was prebendary of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. Vincent William Ryan (1816-88) of Cork was the first Anglican Bishop of Mauritius. Abram Ryan was chaplain to the American Confederate army and also wrote rousing songs. Stephen Ryan (1826-96) was Bishop of Buffalo and Patrick Ryan (1831-1911) was Archbishop of Philadelphia. Of him it is recorded

"The Most Rev. Doctor Ryan, Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, was born in Thurles, in the county Tipperary, on the 20th February, 1831. According to the Catholic Fireside for March, 1888, his Grace made his elementary and classical studies in Dublin, and afterwards proceeded to the well-known college of Carlow to pursue his philosophy and theology. He received Holy Orders in the year 1852, and in that year proceeded to America. It is related that shortly after his arrival in the city of St. Louis, he was invited to dine with some priests of the city, when after dinner he recited in such earnest and pathetic strains the "Exile of Erin .....

There came to the beach a poor Exile of Erin, The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill,
 For his country he sighed, when at twilight repairin'
 He wandered alone by the wind-beaten hill.
 But the day-star attracted his eye's sad devotion,
 For it rose o'er his own native Isle of the ocean,
 Where once, in the fire of his youthful emotion,
 He sang the bold anthem of "Erin-go-Bragh,"

..... that every eye around the table was in tears, and the young Levite and exile was enshrined in the love of their hearts. His merit and gifted powers were soon recognised, and he was at once made Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the Theological Seminary of Corondelet, a few miles out of the city. In 1854, he was ordained Priest, and soon distinguished himself as a hard-working missionary, and a powerful preacher. He built the Church of the Annunciation, of which he was pastor for many years. At the Second Council of Baltimore he was present as theologian to Archbishop Kendrick, of St. Louis; where he was specially invited to preach. After years of hard practical missionary work, as the pastor of a large congregation, he was consecrated titular Bishop of Tritcomia, and Coadjutor to the Archbishop of St. Louis. He then removed to the Cathedral, and acted as Vicar-General to the diocese. After some years he was promoted to the titular Archbishopric of Salamis, and was transferred to the See of Philadelphia, on the 11th November, 1884. He is now in his 57th year. He is a sound scholar, has the advantage of a commanding appearance, cultivated manners, with a strong forcible voice of singular musical and pathetic power. As an orator he has the irresistible fire of earnestness, his natural gesture and keen penetrating eye rivet and control the attention of his hearers. His imagery from nature, and facts from daily life, are sketched by a mind refined by the fire of God's love, and by one who has a practical knowledge of the wounds of humanity.
The important part which his Grace has recently taken in the solemnity of laying the foundation-stone of the National Church of St. Patrick, in Rome, and the world-wide esteem in which he is held among English-speaking people, induce us to present to our readers this brief sketch of his life. In America, the scene of his apostolic labours, for a period of over 35 years, he stands in the front rank of the Catholic Hierarchy. His learning, his eloquence, and his long and successful missionary life, have won for him the universal honour and respect of all classes and creeds in the United States. Whenever he preaches or lectures, Protestants as well as Catholics flock to hear him, so that the largest building is unable to hold the audience that seeks to listen to the irresistible charm of his eloquence. What is a matter of more than ordinary occurrence was recently witnessed in Rome, in the great Church of St. Andrĉ delle Valle, when one of the most varied and critical audiences in Europe sat around the platform during the Octave of the Epiphany. English, Irish, Scotch, Americans, and men from afar, all speaking the English tongue, were there - Bishops, priests, students and laymen - with such different ideas of what ought to be the style and manner of pulpit eloquence: some with the remembrance of Wiseman, Manning, Spalding, and Ventura, standing on that self-same platform, in days gone by; yet, all agreed that the Most Rev. Dr. Ryan was a great and polished preacher, and that his discourse, in matter and manner, was an oration well worthy to rank amongst the most notable triumphs of sacred eloquence.
Would, that, in the Irish Hierarchy, Ireland, his dear native land, had the benefit of that eloquence!"

During the Second World War, John Ryan, a Jesuit priest, helped Allied prisoners in Rome to escape. Hugh Edward Ryan was Bishop of Townsville, Australia, in the 1940s. Dermot Ryan (1924-84) was Bishop of Dublin until his transfer to Rome, where he died shortly afterwards.

The celebrated Ryan poet, Eamon O Riain (1680-1724), a former gentleman whose lands were confiscated, was a Jacobite soldier. His life was constantly at risk and he became an outlaw, leading a band of robbers. In his Irish love song, "Eamon an Chnuic" (Edward of the Hill), he symbolized his love of Ireland. The treachery of one of his friends led to his murder.

Daniel Frederick Ryan (1762-98) was a blot on the Ryan escutcheon. Son of a Wexford doctor, he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, and became a British army surgeon. He was one of those who went with Major Sirr to arrest the United Irishman, Lord Edward FitzGeraid. In the struggle, FitzGeraid stabbed Ryan, who died shortly afterwards.

The insurrection of 1641, followed by the violated Treaty of Limerick in 1691, forced many of the Irish aristocracy and their followers to go abroad. The Ryans found a haven in Europe for their military and administrative genius. Captain Luke Ryan (1790), once of Dillon's Regiment, commanded French privateers during the American War of Independence, destroying many British vessels and taking hundreds of prisoners. When he was captured and imprisoned by the British, the French ship owner would not pay his ransom. The bank in Brittany where he had lodged his private fortune failed and he is said to have died in prison. A French version has it that when the war ended he was released from prison and became a French citizen with the title Captain de navires par le roi.

Early in the nineteenth century, Juan Francesco O Ryan, of Irish parentage, went to Chile, where he served for thirty eight years in the Chilean navy, reaching the rank of vice-admiral and later holding the posts of Minister for Defence and Minister of the Interior.

Captain Denis Ryan of Inch House, County Tipperary, lost an arm serving in the Austrian army during the Napoleonic wars. He died a prisoner of war in Hamburg in 1804.

Sir Edward Michael Ryan of the 4th Dragoon Guards in Austria fought bravely during the siege of Cambrai and was given an Act of Nobility and the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. He died in 1812 on a ship carrying dispatches from Java to India.

As soldiers and statesmen the Ryans in Spain have been outstanding. The Spanish records have innumerable accounts of their deeds and pedigrees under the different versions of their name. The family of Lieutenant-General Tomás O Ryan Y Vayquez (1821-1902) has been in Spain since the eighteenth century. Specializing in engineering and administration, Tomás was given many responsible appointments in Spain's overseas military establishments, often being sent abroad by the Minister of State for War, General O Donnell. He was in France when Queen Isobel II was exiled. She entrusted the care of her thirteen-year-old son, who later became King Alfonso XII, to him. With the restoration of the monarchy, O Ryan was summoned to Madrid to be made Field Marshal and aide to the King. His wife, Sofia O Ryan of Seville, was of a different Ryan sept. They had three children and his descendants are still in Spain, although the O Ryan surname died out there in 1946.

Inevitably, the Irish were to be found on both sides in every battle, at home and abroad. William Abbot Charles Ryan (1843-73) was one of four children born in Canada, where his parents had emigrated. He came from a long line of soldiers who had fought all over Europe in the Napoleonic and Peninsular wars. He himself fought in the Civil War and afterwards he had some success mining quartz in Montana. In 1868, during a business trip to Washington, he met the leader of the Cuban insurgents who were planning to overthrow their Spanish rulers. Ryan sold his business and went off to fight for Cuba. His task was to ferry men and military supplies between New York and Cuba. After completing many successful expeditions, the Spaniards captured his corvette, Tornado, and Ryan and his men were executed and their heads paraded through Santiago. There was an outcry in New York and much embarrassment in Madrid. He was only thirty when he died.

His brother, John George Ryan, had fought on the opposite side in the Civil War, but they had remained loyal friends and W. A. C. left him a generous legacy.

In Ireland, Frank Ryan (1902-44) of Limerick represented a new type of Republican Socialism. He fought on the Republican side in the Irish Civil War and afterwards graduated in Celtic studies from University College, Dublin. He turned against the IRA, seeing it as Fascist. He went to Spain to fight with the International Brigade. He was imprisoned and later released and allowed to go to Germany, where he died in a sanatorium in Dresden. In 1979, his body was re-interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

A remarkable family of twelve children from Tomcoole in County Wexford was known as "The Ryan dynasty". Dr James Ryan (1891-1970) was a Senator and also held a number of ministerial positions in de Valera's Fianna Fail government, including Minister for Finance from 1957 to 1965. There were farmers, priests and a reverend mother in the family. May Ryan, a sister of James, was Professor of Romance Languages at University College, Cork. Several of the women of the family married into medicine or politics. Josephine married General Richard Mulcahy, leader of the opposition Fine Gael party. Kate married Sean T. O Kelly and Phyllis became his second wife after Kate's death and First Lady when Sean T. O Kelly became President of Ireland. Phyllis (died 1983) was also Dublin's first city analyst.

The Ryans of Knocklong, County Limerick, have records going back to the seventeenth century, when Thaddeus Ryan fought at the battle of Aughrim and the Siege of Limerick. Today's Thady Ryan is Master of the Scarteen Hounds, the noble black and tan foxhounds which his family has bred for over 300 years. He was chef d'equipe of the Irish Olympic team at Tokyo and Mexico, and asserts that the great hunting country at the foot of the Galtees is the nursery of all good Irish horses. The Knocklong point-to-point, which has been meeting for the past seventy years, attracts participants from all over Europe and America. Point-to-point, which originated in Ireland, involves horses racing in a direct line across open country and jumping all the natural hazards they meet on the way.

The premier Ryan in athletics was Patrick J. Ryan (1883-1964) of Limerick, an Olympic hammer-throwing champion who rarely threw less than 175 feet. In 1901 he emigrated to America to join the New York police force. His world record throw of over 189 feet, set in 1913, was not surpassed until 1937. He won the US championship every year until 1917, when he went to France with the US forces. He won a gold medal for the United States at the Antwerp Olympics of 1920. He retired to Limerick to farm.

If in earlier centuries the dominant Ryan occupation was fighting, in the twentieth century it has to be writing. Few families have produced such a wide range of journalists. William Patrick Ryan (1868-1942) of Templemore, County Tipperary, learned his trade in London. He returned to found the Irish Peasant, which was disapproved of by the clergy. He changed its name to the Nation and it prospered. Later he returned to London where he involved himself in journalism, as well as in writing fiction, poetry and plays in Irish and English, all with a Gaelic theme. He was editor of the Daily Herald, the radical English newspaper. His son, Desmond Ryan (1893-1964), although London-born, was educated at Dublin in Patrick Pearse's School. He took part in the 1916 Easter rising. He followed his father into journalism and wrote many biographies and novels.

Another Ryan, A. P. Ryan (born 1900), was literary editor of the London Times. During the Second World War he edited the BBC News.

Cornelius Ryan (1920-74), who was born in Dublin, also went to London and was twenty three when he covered the D-Day landings in Normandy for the Daily Telegraph. He set up its Tokyo office and reported on the War in the Far East. He moved to New York, where he worked for Time, Newsweek and Collier's Magazine before joining the Reader's Digest as their roving correspondent. At the same time he produced an astonishing variety of books on subjects as diverse as General MacArthur and space. In 1959 he published The Longest Day, an account of the Normandy landings. It was an instant best seller and a great financial success. Ten years of intense research, and grinding work to keep his family, went into it. He was greatly encouraged and supported by his wife, a magazine editor. He became an American citizen and wrote two more best-selling war books before he was stricken by cancer. Some of his books have been filmed.

Judge George Edward Ryan (1810-80) of County Meath was an astute lawyer who practised at the Bar in Wisconsin. He took care of the legal business of the railways and various other commercial enterprises.

New York's floodlighting and its high-intensity street lighting were developed by Walter D'Arey Ryan (1870-1904), an engineer of Irish stock.

Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851-1928) was born to Irish parents on a farm in Virginia. Despite being left a penniless orphan at thirteen, he saw the opportunities offered by the burgeoning commercial world of New York. It was not long before he was able to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and he joined Tamany Hall. He made money on the New York railways until the subways replaced them. Undeterred, he branched into banking and public utilities. King Leopold of the Belgians invited him to the Congo to set up commercial enterprises. It was estimated that he was the wealthiest man in New York. His home at 858 Fifth Avenue encompassed one-third of a block and included gardens, an art collection and a spacious church. He was described by his colleagues as "the most adroit, suave and noiseless man of American finance".

The Spirit of St Louis, which Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1927, was built in the USA by Ryan Aviation.

Many Ryans emigrated to Australia and New Zealand. Thomas Joseph Ryan (1876-1921), a classics master at the High School, Melbourne, and a lawyer, became leader of the Labour Party in 1912. He was Prime Minister of Queensland, and a statue in Brisbane commemorates him.


Arms: Gules three griffins' heads erased Or.

Crest: A griffin segreant Azure holding a sword erect proper.

Motto: Malo mori quam foedari [death before dishonour].