Born: 19 February 1894, Castleconnell, County Limerick
Entered: 07 September 1911, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1926
Final vows: 02 February 1968
Died: 17 December 1973, St Ignatius, Leeson Street, Dublin
Editor of An Timire, 1929-30.
Studied for MA at UCD
by 1920 at Drongen, Belgium (BELG) studying
by 1921 at Valkenburg, Netherlands (GER) studying
by 1922 at Sacred Heart Bonn, Germany (GER I) studying
by 1924 at Oña, Burgos, Castile y León, Spain (CAST) studying
by 1930 at Münster, Germany (GER I) making Tertianship
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 16th Year No 1 1941
Leeson St :
Fr. John Ryan has been nominated by the Government a Trustee of the National Library and a member of the Governing Board of Celtic Studies in the new Institute for Advanced
Irish Province News 40th Year No 2 1965
Rev. Professor John Ryan, S.J., M.A., D.Litt.
Rev Professor John Ryan, S.J., had his secondary education at the Crescent College, Limerick, and thence entered the Jesuit Order. His Arts course in University College led to the B.A. degree with the highest Honours in Celtic Studies, 1917, the Travelling Studentship, 1918, and the M.A. degree, 1919. There after he spent a good many years abroad, acquiring incidentally, a remarkable equipment in modern languages; his philosophical studies were made at Louvain and Valkenburg, his theological partly at Oña, Burgos. The postponed Travelling Studentship years were spent at Bonn, 1921-23, where the illustrious Thurneysen found in him a pupil to whom, he declared, he had little new to offer. In 1931 Fr. Ryan presented his magnus opus, the volume on Irish Monasticism, for the D.Litt. degree, and became Lecturer in Early Irish History in the college. In 1942 he succeeded Professor Eoin MacNeill in the Chair of Early (including Medieval) Irish History, from which he retired in July 1964.
Among Fr. Ryan's many books and articles may be mentioned The Cain Adomnain (in Studies in Early Irish Law, 1936), The Battle of Clontarf (J.R.S.A.I., 1938), The Abbatial Succession at Clonmacnoise (in Feil-Sgribhinn Eoin Mhic Neill, which was edited by Fr. Ryan, 1940). Many other articles will be collected in a volume to mark the occasion of Fr. Ryan's retirement.
Fr. Ryan's knowledge of early Ireland can only be described as prodigious, his rich and exact information on one aspect being always available to illustrate another. As one of his colleagues puts it, "In answer to a question about an event in a particular century, the whole Ireland of the time would come to life-the political boundaries, the movement of peoples, the interplay of dynasties, the relation of Church and State, the tapestry of genealogies, and as well, for full measure, the impact of the outside world." A wonderful teacher, his rich and humane learning has been available to any enquirer just as readily as to his own students. To travel with him in any part of Ireland is, I am told and can readily believe, a fascinating experience. His familiarity with the genealogies in the Book of Ballymote is not greater than his acquaintance with the names over the shops in the modern towns and villages, and he would delight his travelling companion in tracing the links between the two.
Though Fr. Ryan's classes were never large, and though he was not much involved in the busy concerns of the college, we think of him as a great college man. Perhaps it is because his devotion to the Ireland of the past, which for him survives in the Ireland of the present, gives him a special attachment to the college and sense of its true function. His colleagues hope for a long continuation of his health and his studies, his friendly society and quiet enthusiasm.
Irish Province News 49th Year No 1 1974
35 Lower Leeson Street
The death of Fr John Ryan on Monday, December 17th, was a source of much grief to all at Leeson St. He was an exemplary religious and a great community man. We shall miss him. This issue carried an obituary. The Papal Nuncio presided at the Concelebrated Requiem Mass at Gardiner St. and messages of sympathy were received from the Archbishop of Dublin, the Archbishop of Cashel, Mgr Hamell of Birr, the President of UCD on behalf of the University and from many others too numerous to be mentioned here.
Fr John Ryan (1894-1973)
By the death of Fr John Ryan, the Province has lost one of its most distinguished and well-loved members. Fr Ryan had such a full life that it is difficult in a short space to do justice to it. However, for a start, the mere outline of his career will give some idea of the extent and high standard of his many activities.
He was born at Derreen, Castleconnell, Co. Limerick in 1894, was educated at the Crescent College, and entered the novitiate in 1911. He was one of the first band of Juniors in Rathfarnham in 1913, and was directed to take up Celtic studies in University College, Dublin. It is generally acknowledged that the selection of young men for special studies is not an easy matter, since so many extraneous factors may later frustrate the original plan. However, in the case of Fr Ryan, everything concurred to confirm the far seeing decision of his superiors. He proved himself to be a student of outstanding ability and unflagging industry, took his BA with high honours in 1917, the travelling studentship in 1918 and MA in 1919. He was fortunate in having as his professor such an eminent scholar as Eoin MacNeill, and this early association laid the foundations of a lifelong friendship. Fr Ryan had the happiness, a quarter of a century later, of being invited to edit the volume Féilsgríbhinn Eoin Mhic Néill, presented to his old professor on his retirement.
He then completed his philosophy at Louvain and Valkenburg, and took up his postponed studentship in 1921-23, when he resumed his Celtic studies at the university of Bonn, under the renowned Swiss scholar Rudolf Thurneysen. Here again a close friendship sprang up between professor and student. On the death of Thurneysen in 1940, Fr Ryan paid a worthy tribute to him in the pages of Studies, and recalled the happy hours he had spent in the Professor’s house, and how “when the coffee-cups had been cleared away, the talk would begin in earnest”. In 1923 Fr Ryan went to Oña, Burgos, for theology, and was ordained in 1926 at Milltown Park, After some more studies in Germany and Dublin, he was, in 1930, appointed lecturer in Early Irish History at University College, Dublin. He joined the Leeson St community, living at first in University Hall, where he was a popular figure among the students. A year later, he published his most important book, Irish Monasticism: Origins and Development, and was awarded the D Litt In 1942 he succeeded Eoin MacNeill in the chair of Early (including Medieval) Irish History, which he held until his retirement in 1964, when he was appointed Professor Emeritus.
For some years after his retirement, he led a comparatively active life, producing articles of a high standard from time to time. Later, his sight became impaired and his general health declined. He was, however, mentally alert and in his usual good spirits up to the day of his death, On December 17th he had a severe stroke. He rallied for a while and was anointed, but shortly afterwards became unconscious and died peacefully that evening.
As has been said, this bare outline alone reveals the quality of Fr Ryan's professional career. But to fully appreciate its greatness, it must be recorded that every stage of it was packed with activity. To begin with, from the start and to the end, he devoted himself most conscientiously to his main work, the teaching of his classes. His lectures were prepared with the utmost care, in fact, if they had a defect, it was that of being too meticulous. He was deeply interested in his students and most self-sacrificing in the help he gave them. In addition, he fulfilled with energy that other function of a professor, the promotion of his subject by research and writing. One sometimes heard the regret voiced that Fr Ryan had not written more. There was a grain of truth in this complaint, but only a grain. Fr Ryan began his career as a writer with his Irish Monasticism a large book which is still today a standard work. It has recently been twice republished, by the Irish University Press and by Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He never again produced a full sized book. One can only guess at the reason for this. It may have been that his conscientious desire for complete accuracy of scholarship caused him to restrict himself to work in more limited areas, where he could be satisfied that he had mastered his subject completely. But in these lesser fields he was a prolific writer. I have before me a list-probably not exhaustive - of some sixty of his published articles, most of which are lengthy and scholarly monographs on every phase of Irish history. These appeared not only in Irish learned journals, Studies, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, The North Munster Antiquarian Journal, Repertorium Novum, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, but also in publications outside of Ireland, Religionswissen schaftliches Wörterbuch, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Encyclopedia Britannica, New Catholic Encyclopedia, Acta Congressus Historiae Slavicae Salisburgensis, Annen Viking Kongree, Bergen; Die Religionen der Erde (ed. Cardinal König), Le Miracle Irelandais (ed. Daniel Rops), Actes du Congrés Internationale de Luxeuil. It was a source of satisfaction to Fr John that he had recently, in spite of failing health, been able to complete a valuable work, a history of the monastery of Clonmacnois, its bishops and abbots. This has been gladly accepted for publication by Bórd Fáilte, the Irish Tourist Board, and should appear shortly.
Apart from his routine lecturing, Fr Ryan was constantly invited to address learned societies on historical topics. Special mention must be made of the series of lectures on Irish Ecclesiastical History which, thanks to the generosity of the late Most Rev Dr John Charles McQuaid, he delivered yearly at the Gregorian University, Rome, between 1951 and 1961. Fr Ryan was at various times president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, president of the North Munster Archaeological Society, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, of the Board of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and of the Council of Trustees of the National Library. On several occasions he was invited by Radio Eireann to participate in the annual Thomas Davis memorial lectures on Irish history.
There was one department of his academic work that was particularly dear to Fr Ryan, which, indeed, could be described as being a personal hobby as well as a professional discipline. This was the history of Irish families. Allusion to this special interest was aptly made by Dr Michael Tierney in the presidential report of University College, 1963-64, in a tribute to Fr Ryan who had just retired : “To travel with him in any part of Ireland is, I am told, and can readily believe, a fascinating experience. His familiarity with the genealogies in the Book of Ballymote is not greater than his acquaintance with the names over the shops in the modern towns and villages, and he would delight his travelling companion in tracing the links between the two”. The report goes on to say: “We think of him as a great College man. Perhaps it is because his devotion to the Ireland of the past, which for him survives in the Ireland of the present, gives him a special attachment to the College and sense of its true function!”
Fr Ryan's interests were not confined to the academic world. His family had for generations been connected with the land, and he was keenly alive to the many problems which confront the farming community today. It was fitting that one of his great friendships - and he had many - was with another great Limerick man, Fr John Hayes founder of Muintir na Tíre. On the death of Fr Hayes in 1957, Fr Ryan paid to him in the pages of Studies a most moving tribute beginning aptly with a line from Goldsmith : “A man he was to all the country dear”.
What has been said so far concerns Fr John Ryan mainly as a scholar and teacher. But the picture would be incomplete were nothing to be said about him as a priest. He was a man of deep and solid piety, and strong loyalty to the Church, the Holy See and the Society. Though his natural bent of mind was conservative, he kept himself fully informed on modern problems, both religious and secular. His advice was constantly sought by clergy, religious and laity from all over the country. He would go to endless trouble to obtain the information sought by his correspondents, or to help them by his personal advice or the use of his influence on their behalf. In his younger days, he found time amidst all his other occupations to give a great many retreats both to priests and nuns, and even when he had to desist from this work, numerous religious communities continued to call on him as spiritual counsellor.
His religious brothers will remember him as a splendid community man, whose naturally unassuming character had not been in the least altered by his academic successes. He had the great gift of being genuinely interested in the work of others, and it was noticeable that when one discussed any topic with him, not only were his own views highly stimulating, but he seemed to make one's own views take on an added value.
Fr Ryan always gave the impression of being a happy man. Like all of us, he had his trials, disappointments, bereavements, ill-health at times, but to the end of his life he preserved a certain good humoured serenity, He had quite strong, sometimes almost impassioned views on various subjects, but he was devoid of all bitterness, and one felt that he preferred to agree with others rather than to differ from them. This happiness of mind sprang, no doubt, largely from his qualities of humility and selflessness, but also from the consciousness of the very full and satisfying life granted to him, spent according to the motto of the ancient writers with whom he was so familiar, dochum glóire Dé agus onóra na h-Éireann.