Select Ryan Surname Genealogy

Ryan is the 8th most common surname in Ireland.  The name has also spread across the English-speaking world (as well as becoming a popular choice as first name).

The main source of this name was the old Gaelic O'Maoilriain (descendant of Maoilriain), the name of a Munster sept in Tipperary and Limerick.  O'Maoilriain abbreviated and anglicized over time to Mulryan and then to Ryan.  A smaller and separate Leinster sept in county Carlow, O'Riain, also became Ryans.  

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Select Ryan Ancestry

Ireland.  The first record of O'Maoilriain as a sept name occurred in Tipperary sometime in the 14th century, the time they settled in Owney, the mountainous land along the borders of Tipperary and Limerick.  Their family influence grew rapidly as did their numbers, so that it became a common saying in Tipperary:

"One could hardly throw a stone down a street in Tipperary without hitting a Ryan."

In the 1640's, the Ryans joined in the rebellion of the Catholic Confederacy, but were defeated by Cromwell.  Old clans such as the Ryans of Solohead were attainted, forfeiting their hereditary lands and receiving in return poor lands west of the Shannon.  Eamon Ryan (Eamon an Chnoic), the poet and outlaw, was captured and killed. 

A number of Ryans, driven into exile during the 18th century, found service in the armies of France, Spain and Austria.  Many joined the Church, in Ireland or being posted abroad.  Others simply emigrated in search of a better life.  British rule was resented in Ireland, a sentiment expressed in Darby Ryan's ditty, The Peeler and the Goat.

Tipperary.  The name Ryan is still very common in Tipperary.  Among the Ryans born there in the 19th and 20th century have been:
  • Darby Ryan, the songwriter and patriot (born in Bansha)                                                            
  • Patrick Ryan, Archbiishop of Philadelphia (born in Thurles)
  • William P. Ryan, journalist and founder of The Nation (born in Templemore)
  • Tony Ryan, co-founder of Ryanair (born in Thurles)
  • and Matty Ryan, jeweller and racing enthusiast (born in Thurles).
Elsewhere.  The name has also spread across Ireland, to Dublin and elsewhere.  One family history tells of Ryans who had settled in Clare after the siege of Limerick in 1690.  Then there was the remarkable 20th century Ryan family of twelve children from Tomcoole in county Wexford who were known as "the Ryan dynasty."  They included politicians, farmers and priests, whilst many of the women married into medicine or politics.

  Many Ryans crossed the Irish Sea to London and industrial Lancashire in search of work during the 19th century.  Some made it in the professions, notably journalism -  such as William P. Ryan, editor of the Daily Herald and A.P. Ryan, literary editor of The Times

Others struggled to make a living, as this Victorian account of a family reveals:

"The Ryan family settled in an area around Blackfriars.  After he married, Michael Ryan at different times ran a fish shop, a greengrocers, and a laundry.  Everything was washed by hand, in big tubs in a washhouse at the back of the house and then ironed with old flat irons heated on a stove.  There was always a smell of wet washing everywhere."
The travails of a fictional Ryan family in Liverpool were described in Lyn Andrew's 2001 novel  My Sister's Child.

  Revolutionary War records reveal many Ryans who fought on the American side.  Among early Ryan settlers were:                                                        
  • William Ryan (son of John Ryan), born in Amherst county Virginia in 1755.
  • a Ryan family of Westmoreland county Virginia, who later moved to West Virginia and Kentucky.
  • John Ryan, who was in New Jersey in the 1770's and whose family then settled in Crawford county, Pennsylvania.
  • another John Ryan, of Barbour county West Virginia in the 1780's.  Two of his sons migrated to Ohio.
19th Century Arrivals.  There was a much larger Ryan influx during the 19th century.  William and Nancy Ryan arrived in 1839 and settled in Rockford, Illinois (their story is recounted in Martha Ryan's 1992 book A Long Way from Tipperary).  Another Ryan family, who came to America at the time of the potato famine, ended up in California in 1851 during the Gold Rush boom.  Michael and Catherine Ryan owned the Ryan House Hotel as a stripping-off place for miners. 

Among the many Ryans in New York City was first generation John F. O'Ryan, who rose to be a US army general during World War One.  Ryan's Hope was a TV soap of the 1980's which revolved around the trials and tribulations of a large Irish-American family in New York City. 

A real "rags-to- riches" story was that of Thomas Fortune Ryan, the Wall Street financier who died in 1928 as the 12th richest man in America.  Despite certain myths regarding his background, he was neither orphaned nor penniless as a child in Virginia's Piedmont district and his ancestry has been traced back to Protestant Anglo-Irish settlers in the 1600's.

Better known today perhaps is the fictional Jack Ryan of Tom Clancy's novels, as portrayed by Harrison Ford  in films such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger

Canada.  Ryans have made their presence felt in Canada most noriceably in the Maritime Provinces.  John Ryan, a Loyalist from New England, started the first newspaper in New Brunswick in 1784.  There were Ryans from Ireland in Pouch Cove and Calvert, Newfoundland by 1800; and Ryans from Ireland in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the 1830's. 

In the 1850's James Ryan, the son of an Irish immigrant, started a fishery and shipping business in Bonavista, Newfoundland.  It grew into a large mercantile empire, making him one of the wealthiest people in Newfoundland.  James died in 1917, but his family carried on the fish trade until 1952.  The Divine Ryans was a 1999 film based around a Ryan family who ran a funeral parlor in St. John's, Newfoundland.

  The first Ryans in Australia were undoubtedly convicts.  John Ryan, a silkweaver convicted of theft, was onboard the First Fleet convict ship to Australia in 1788.  Many left no trace.  Two who did leave family were Ned Ryan, the so-called King of Galong Castle who was transported in 1816, and Catherine Ryan, who was transported for manslaughter in 1829.

Many Ryans later came as settlers, including the following from Tipperary: 
  • Daniel and Mary Ryan on the Glenswilly in 1840.  They were pioneers of the Monaro region of NSW.
  • David and Honora Ryan on the Argyle in 1852.
  • Michael and Johanna Ryan on the Raja Gopaul to Queensland in 1852.  They settled in Rockhampton.
  • Henry and Catherine Ryan on the Rodney to South Australia in 1854.
  • while Thomas and Brigid Ryan came to New Zealand on the Fernglen in 1876.  They settled in Petone.
There were also a number of Ryan arrivals from Limerick.

Among the first generation Ryans was Thomas Ryan, the son of an illiterate laborer, who educated himself as a lawyer and rose to become Prime Minister of Queensland.  A statue in Brisbane commemorates him. 

Select Ryan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Ryan Names

Eamon O'Riain was a famous poet/outlaw of Tipperary in the early 18th century.
Patrick Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia in the late 19th century, was renowned for his oratory.
Patrick Ryan from Limerick won the Olympic gold medal for hammer-throwing in 1920 and held the world record in this event from 1913 to 1937.
Cornelius Ryan was an Irish-American writer best known for his World War 2 books, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far.
Meg Ryan is a popular Hollywood actress.

Select Ryans Today
  • 45,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 126,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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