Irish Surname - Ryan
Ryan is today one of the ten commonest surnames in Ireland. It is an anglicised form of the old Gaelic O'Maoilriaghain / O'Maoilriain, meaning 'descendant of a devotee of St Riaghan'. The first recorded spelling of the name, which was dated c14th century, is shown to be that of O'Maoilriain, in "Medieval Records of County Tipperary", during the reign of Gerald, Earl of Desmond, 1369 - 1374. The O'Maoilriain sept was very powerful in Owney (formerly called Owney O'Mulryan), which forms two modern baronies on the borders of Counties Limerick and Tipperary. Even today the surname is highly concentrated in this area.
The anglicisation ‘Mulryan’ began to fade as early as the 17th century, and is today virtually unknown, apart from a few pockets in counties Galway and Leitrim, possibly derived from a different family.
The Ryans of County Carlow and other parts of Leinster, are distinct from those mentioned above. These were O'Riain, not O'Maoliriain: their chief was Lord of Ui Drone (from whom came the name of the barony of Idrone in County Carlow).
In the 1850s Griffiths Valuation, 8871 Ryan households were recorded, nearly half of which were in Tipperary. Limerick had 1263 followed by Kilkenny (616) and Cork (409).
Edmund O'Ryan (c1680-1724), was the romantic character known as Eamonn a 'Chnuic, (Ned of the Hill). He was a Gaelic poet, gentleman, soldier and defender of the poor. He earned his nickname after defending a woman who was forced to sacrifice her last possession, a cow, in order to pay her taxes. Horrified at the tax collector's cruelty, O'Ryan slew him, returned the cow to its owner, and spread the tax money among the villagers. After this, O'Ryan was forced to take refuge in the nearby hills, returning intermittently for food and shelter, which the grateful villagers were happy to provide. He eventually met his death when one cruel villager refused him refuge, turning him onto the streets, where he was soon captured by the authorities.
Luke Ryan (c1750-1789) first an officer in the Irish Brigade in France, made a huge fortune as a privateer, was condemned to death and reprieved four times, but having been cheated out of his money died in a debtor's prison.
Many Ryans distinguished themselves in the United States. Father Abram Joseph Ryan (1838-1886) of a Clonmel family, was poet of the Confederates in the Civil War. He was the author of the Requiem of the Lost Cause and The Conquered Banner, written soon after the surrender at the Battle of Appomattox.
Patrick John Ryan (1831-1911), another Tipperary man, was a Roman Catholic priest, bishop and archbishop in America in very turbulent and challenging times. He experienced the mass influx of European immigrants, anti-foreigner and anti-Catholic prejudice, the American Civil War and efforts to serve the needs of African Americans and Native Americans. Influenced by the accomplishments of Daniel O'Connell, he developed his skills as an orator for which he was to gain a world-wide reputation. Patrick John Ryan made a major contribution to the development of the Catholic Church in America, and also to inter-church and church-state relations.
Stephen Vincent Ryan (1826-1896) from Clare, was Bishop of Buffalo from 1868 until his death in 1896. Ryan unified the Catholic school system and established a commission to supervise the work of parochial schools. He also founded the diocesan newspaper 'The Catholic Union'. His tenure as Bishop spanned 28 years, the longest in the history of the Buffalo Diocese.
Dublin born Gerry Ryan (1957 - 2010) was a broadcaster and RTÉ presenter. He joined RTÉ in 1979 after a stint as a rock and pop music DJ on pirate radio in Dublin. He was appointed to present the immensely popular Gerry Ryan Show on 2fm in 1988, which built up to a daily audience of some 300,000 listeners. As well as his radio work, he presented a host of television programmes, including Ryan Confidential, Gerry Ryan Tonight, Ryantown, Gerry Ryan's Hitlist and Operation Transformation. In 1994 Gerry co-presented the Eurovision Song Contest from Dublin’s Point Theatre and replaced Pat Kenny for an edition of The Late Late Show in 2008. He published his autobiography 'Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up' in 2008.
Coat of Arms
The Ryan (O'Mulryan) Coat of Arms is a red shield with three silver griffins' heads erased.
The Ryan family motto is 'Malo More Quam Foedari', which means 'I would Rather Die than be Disgraced'.
Alternate Surname Spellings
Researching Irish Surnames
We have researched many sources for the origins of Irish surnames and extracted a fair representation of the origins of each. As there are many variations we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection.
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