The Thomas Mc Donald
It is written in the Kilmuckridge/Litter Catholic register that Thomas Ryan, son of James Ryan and Margaret Murphy was born on February 4th 1873; John Connors and Catherine Miller (?) were given as witnesses to his baptism. On his application, made on July 28th 1915, for a temporary commission in the regular British army for the period of World War I, Thomas Ryan gave his birth as the 4th of February 1873. There is a note appended to his baptismal entry in the Litter Register stating that Thomas Ryan married Anne Kavanagh on the 12th of June 1910. His father James Ryan was born in circa 1845 and died on July 14th 1920, aged 75. His mother Margaret Murphy was born in 1846 and died on the 21st of December 1888, aged 42 years.
In the 1901 Census James Ryan is given as living at Ballyadam in a mud walled house with a thatched roof; a third class home with four rooms; and leased from John Doran. He was aged 56 and a widower, and a boot-maker. His daughter Julia was aged 28 years and a dressmaker. His son James, aged 15, was a boot-maker.
Lt-Colonel Ryan even in old age was crafted at making shoes, according to one who knew him.
James Ryan died at his home at Ballymacsimon, Kilmuckridge on July 15th 1920, aged 75 years; his wife Margaret Murphy died on December 21st 1888. In a short obituary, he was described as the father of Colonel Thomas Ryan, New Street, Enniscorthy. There were fifteen priests in the Choir at the High Mass and Office in Litter Chapel for his funeral and the obituary added:--"The funeral cortege was of very large dimensions, a tribute to the great popularity that deceased enjoyed as well as that of his son, Colonel Ryan, with whom the greatest sympathy is felt in his bereavement." In twentieth century Ireland there were many intractable divisions but they have not been along the most explosive linguistic, religious and racial fault lines, apart from the unhappy Northern conflict now hopefully at a termination. We have, essentially, lived in a homogenous society and lines of demarcation between rival political philosophies are blurred and indistinct in the generality of ordinary life. Lt.-Col. Tom Ryan was highly regarded as a man who from a humble background had achieved eminent status-in a sense a local boy had made good. Another puzzle about the veterans of World War I-and indeed the men who fought in the Irish War of Independence- is that they showed no signs of war trauma but integrated without fuss into ordinary life. Maybe they had no other choice.
I am unable to verify that Martin Murphy a farmer aged 68 years as given on the 1901 Census and resident in Ballymacsimon would have been an uncle of Lt Col. Tom Ryan? In one of his poems he referred to the Murphys of the Hollow, near Killnew. I am unable to verify if these are his mother's people
It is believed that Tom Ryan went to England at the age of sixteen, probably to Liverpool where he had two uncles. He stated in his application form for a temporary commission (referred to above) that he joined the Second North Staffordshire Regiment on the 12th of January 1893 and retired from it on the 12th of January 1914, with the rank of Corporal Sergeant. On the basis of those figures he was a few days short of his 20th birthday when he joined the army. He may have been compelled by financial pressures to join; besides in his time many young Irishmen joined the British army.
On the 10th of June 1930 Lt-Col. Ryan wrote to the War Office (medical) as follows:--
"I served with the North Staffordshire Regiment in the South African War and in February 1900 I was severely wounded in the jaw at Waterval Drift on the Red River.
I underwent an operation for this wound in the military hospital Lichfield in 1900 by Capt. Callridy, Roberts Dental Surgeon and later by Mr Gray, Dental Surgeon and on each occasion I was given a dental place at the expense of the public.
Some time ago I applied to the Ministry of Pensions for further treatment for this wound but was informed that the Ministry only dealt with wounds caused in the Great War.
I have already spent about £50 of my own money on this wound and at present I find it necessary to receive treatment for it.
Am I entitled to treatment at public expense, please?"
A memo of the Ministry of Pensions instructed:--
"Letter from Lt-Col T. Ryan
Lt-Col Ryan applies for treatment in respect of a wound which he received during the South African War which he received when he was serving as a regular soldier. He is not receiving a disability pension for this wound. Although this wound was incurred in S. Africa Col. Ryan remained in the Army until the beginning of 1914 when his service expired.
He is not eligible to receive medical or dental treatment either from the M. of P. or at the expense of Army funds.
Write Col. Ryan as directed.
Dated: 21st of June 1930."
This letter was sent to Lt -Col. Ryan of Merton, Macmine etc on 28th June 1930:--
"Sir-In reply to your letter of the 10th instant regarding treatment for the would which you received in South Africa, I regret to inform you that you are not eligible to receive medical or dental treatment for this disability at the expense of Army funds"
Lt Col. Ryan furnished these biographical details to the Ministry:
"The following are briefly, particulars of my service-
Pre War} Joined 2nd N. Stafford Rgt, 12. 1. 93.Discharged T. X. (21 years) 11. 1. 14.
War Service} Joined Yorkshire Rgt 14. 8. 15. Demobilised 5. 12. 19.
France-From 3. 6. 16. to 1. 6. 17.
Palestine-From 16. 9. 17 to 4. 12. 19.
Retired with the rank of Lt.-Col.
Age: 57. dated 4. 2. 1930.
I am in poor circumstances and cannot afford treatment at my own expense
I do not believe that Lt-Col. Ryan was in poor circumstances but the burden of paying for ongoing professional treatment for a wound incurred in the Boer War was most unfair to him; a wound incurred in World War I would entitle the victim of the wound to free, or subsided, medical and surgical treatment.
The Irish nationalists, especially the separatist or extreme ones, fought on the Boer side in the South African war; the Boers were the Dutch or Afrikaner settlers in South Africa but they were most oppressive of the native Black and Coloured populations. The English settlers were much more liberal in regard to the rights and traditions of the native populations.
Tom Ryan retired as Corporal Sergeant from the British army on the 12th of January 1914 and would have remained in civilian life if the World War I had not begun in August 1914. On the 28th of July 1915 Tom Ryan applied to "be appointed to a temporary commission in the regular army for the period of the war." He gave his address as 7 Main Street, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford and his full name as Thomas Ryan.
This would seem to imply that Tom Ryan sought an appointment as an officer for which considerable education would obviously be required. H. E. Falls, Commanding 18th Sherwood Foresters, certified that Thomas Ryan had attained a good level of education but educational qualifications were not specified. On July 30th 1915 Commander Falls certified that Thomas Ryan had shown good moral character for the ten years that he was under his command. Tom Ryan was desirous of joining the infantry in the 18th Notts and Derby Rgt. Family sources speak of him going to a college in Liverpool but when? Maybe he went during the break in his military exploits from January 1914 to July 1915?
On July 30th 1915 H. E. Falls, Major, commanding the 18th Sherwood Foresters certified:-- "I certify that I have seen Thomas Ryan and can recommend him as a suitable candidate for appointment to a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the period of the war." If the World War I had started in August 1914 had Tom Ryan enlisted at the outset of the war? One answer is that Tom Ryan gave 7 Main Street, Enniscorthy as both his permanent address and present address for correspondence; in reply to a query about whether he was serving in any Government Department he responded merely that he had served in the North Stafford for 21 years. The application form used by him was designed for any candidate "who is serving in the ranks of the New Armies, Special Reserve or Territorial Force and for any other candidates who is neither a cadet or ex-cadet of the Senior Division, Officers Training Corps (Senior Division)." It was specified that accepted candidates would be gazetted to a general list; does that imply that a temporary commission might not be given for some time?
Lt-Col. Ryan in his brief account of his career wrote that he "Joined York Rgt 14. 8. 15". That seems to indicate that Lt Col. Ryan did not re-join the British Army until August 1915. He stated that he was in France from the 3rd of June 1916 to the 1st of June 1917.
An Arrival Report signed by T. Ryan Major is instructive as to his leaving France. He describes himself as of the 13th Yorkshire Reg. 121 Brigade 40th Division and with as his address in the United Kingdom 61 New Street Enniscorthy. He left his unit in France on the 4th of March 1917 and on the 25th of April 1917 embarked to England from Le Harve and disembarked at Southampton on the 26th of April 1917. The cause of his return was bronchitis. This malady affected him all his life. It is significant that in 1917 he was described as Major T. Ryan. The title Major is vague and I am not sure what it signifies but it is a position of serious command. I make the reasoned conjecture that this was the temporary commission given to him in August 1915.
Major Ryan wrote that he served in Palestine-from 16. 9. 17 to 4. 12. 19. This means that he would have missed some of the appalling battles in the European theatre of war in 1916, 1917 and 1918. The longevity of soldiers in some of these battles was usually measured in terms of weeks and days. I presume that the battles in the Egyptian theatre of war were, also, terrifying.
According to an Army or Defence Department document Temporary Major Thomas Ryan of the Yorkshire Regiment was to be required to relinquish his temporary commission on the 5th of December 1919 under Army Order 9 of 1919; he was to be granted the rank of Lt Colonel. It was noted in handwriting: "Held rank of Lt-Col in the 4th Br (?) Northamptonshire Regiment from the 4. 10. 18. to 5/12/19"
The Protection Certificate (Officer) 107491/17 as applying to Temporary Officers to be Gazetted out of the Service indicates that Thomas Ryan's service ended on the 5th of December 1919. He was not after that date entitled to draw pay but was entitled to wear uniform for one week after that date and upon occasions authorised by regulations. His theatre of war was given as Egypt; his regiment as 13th Yorkshire Regiment and last unit he served with 14 Northampton's Regiment. [Very difficult to decipher the writing on these documents]. His permanent address on this document dated 8th of December 1919 was-New Street, Enniscorthy and his occupation given as Pensioner.
A letter from the Agricultural Credit Corporation dated 3rd of June 1938 asserted that Lt Col. Ryan was "in receipt of a pension in respect of services with Her Majesty's forces." I simply don't know if his pension was the outcome of his service in World War I or for his service from 1893 to 1914 or an aggregate of both terms of service. Family sources indicate that three pensions were paid to him, two from the British Army and one from the Irish Army. The obituaries that appeared in the Echo and the People newspapers on Lt Col. Ryan's death seem to be at a slight variance, at least, with the details in the official documents of his military service. The Echo stated:--"At the end of the war he returned to his native land and took up farming at Merton, Macmine." The puzzle with this information is that one has to acquire a farm to take up farming and presumably buy it, which requires money. A family source suggests that the British army set him up on part of the slob land on the Wexford/Waterford coastline or provided money for him to do so. Aggregated arrears of his salary as officer may have been paid to him when he retired from service in December 1919. The rates of pay for officers were at that time comparatively high. The Clonroche notes in The Echo on May 18th 1968 in a report of the death of Mrs Ann Ryan, the widow of Lt Col. Ryan, stated that she was a member of an extensive farming family, presumably in Ballygarret. She may have had experience of farming and may have inherited money from her family but that is at best reasoned conjecture.
In the letter of the 3rd of June 1938, already cited, the Agricultural Credit Corporation stated that it held a policy of Assurance on his life: the likelihood is that, therefore, he had obtained a mortgage from the Agricultural Credit Corporation to buy either the land at Wexford or Merton.
The implication of the opening paragraph and general tenor of Billy Quire's article on Jim, the son of Lt Col. Ryan, in the Echo on 26th of August 1988 is that the Ryans lived at Merton for the entirety or near entirety of the 1920s. Lt Col. Ryan certainly lived at Merton in 1923 and possibly earlier. Billy Quirke did a delightful series of interviews with long retired hurlers and footballers who had been most prominent in their playing careers. The article describes the atmosphere in the Bree parish at the time of the famous Ballyhogue/Starlights senior county football final replay at Wexford Park in 1929:--
"Because the game was in Wexford Park and because there was an old bike available, he (Jim) made the journey from Merton. There was nothing else spoken of in the parish for weeks-and the draw result increased the interest. Col. Ryan decided to go and have a look at the replay. He took Jim with him and they travelled from Macmine by train. Starlight won easily-and the Colonel was not impressed" The Col. never was a spectator at football matches again.
Macmine station adjoined the Merton lands. There are recollections of the Colonel, when living at Castleboro, travelling by horse and a float and also of going by pony and trap. I am told that he never drove a motor car.
I cannot locate my source for this but I did read previously that Thomas F. O'Higgins-the later prominent Fine Gael politician and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court-as child went on holidays to Col. Ryan's of Merton. Lt. Colonel Ryan favoured Fine Gael in politics and was appointed a Peace Commissioner but I have not the date of the appointment. His connection with the O'Higgins family may have begun during his service in the Civil War.
Although Jim played football at junior and senior levels for Wexford the Colonel never watched him play but he was interested as this vignette from Billy Quirke's article shows:--
"There was an occasion when Jim lined out with Wexford against Dublin at Aughrim. It was a very wet day and the corner back suffered grave difficulties with his wet glasses. The famous Mick Cummins of Ballymurn at that time wrote reports for "The Free Press" and that week he commented that the conditions did not favour the Ballyhogue man. At dinner next Friday the Colonel advised Jim never again to play football on a wet day.
"I was delighted to learn that he even knew that I was playing, not to talk of having the interest to read the match reports" said Jim. "I knew then he was interested enough in my playing career although he did not have the inclination to see the games." Lt Colonel Ryan signed many of his poems with the nome-de-plume "Fear Gan Ainm" and at least one of his poems begins with an allusion to the myths and traditions of 1798 and Oulart Hill. Jim Ryan in that article defined his father's sporting interests as horses, Bree Hunt and Bree Point to Point racing. In his application of July 28th 1915 for a temporary commission Tom Ryan answered yes to the query "Whether able to ride [horses]." If he left Tinnebarna at circa 16 then he must have learned very early in life to do so. I am told that Jim, the brother of Col. Ryan, managed horses on the Bolton estate in Kilmuckridge area.
Jim's brother Tom was, like his father, only really interested in horses. He was a prodigy at horses; as the Echo on March 22nd 1930 related in its account of the Point to Point at Boolabawn:
"A feature of the day's racing was the victory, in the cobs second class, of Master Thomas Ryan, a youngster of only twelve years and son of the secretary Lt Col. Ryan, Merton. The crowd was roused to enthusiasm by what was, perhaps, the best riding effort of the day. War Baby would be a fistful for a man and it was surprising to watch the clever way in which young Ryan handled her." Master Thomas Ryan was out on the Bree Hunt on Saturday November 7th 1931.
My former academic mentor Ronan Fanning told us back in late 1970 that history is essentially about interpretation. I will now endeavour to describe in broad terms the divide in the Bree hunt in 1930/31 but I am less sure about my capacity, at this remove, to properly interpret it. There developed in 1930 a momentum to replace Mr Jackson as Master of the Bree Hunt with Larry Sweetman, the Veterinary Surgeon from Ballymackessy, plus a related controversy about the rules by which the Bree Hunt was regulated.
A letter written by Lt Col. Ryan to Larry Sweetman and dated the 18th of July indicates that moves were afoot in the summer of 1830 to effect an acceptable compromise-but Col. Ryan, (as befitted a military man) was wary, as this extract shows:--
"Re-the suggestion that yourself and Jackson resign and not seek election-I advise you to stand fast and not submit to it-at least for the present." The qualification "at least for the present" implies that Col. Ryan was not dogmatically rejecting the compromise road. At the meeting on October 17th 1931 when Mr Sweetman was finally elected Master it was John Doran he defeated: so the offer of Mr Jackson standing down in the summer of 1930 may not have been totally bogus.
The mindset of Lt Col. Ryan was ever that of driving on, of following action with more action, of unrelenting intervention to create the desired result. This mindset is constantly revealed in his poetry with its images of rapid action and fast moving diction. It is, also, revealed in this extract from his letter to Larry Sweetman:--
"John Mullet and John Mernagh came to me outside and they both suggested going on at once with collecting funds-Mullet said that he could get plenty of money for us in Davidstown-I gave them both collecting cards. I think that it is our best move at present-to collect at once and work quietely and firmly in the "carry on" lines."
Various kinds of manoeuvres were resorted to, all aimed at finding a resolution of the impasse; inevitably mediation and outside personalities were tried. On Friday night October 3rd 1930 at the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy a meeting was held of the supporters of the Bree Hunt, "in accordance with the recommendations of the Irish Association of Masters of Foxhounds [I. M. F. A.]". Tom Mc Carthy, Chairman of the Enniscorthy Urban Council, presided. He had been agreed on by Harold A. Lett and Col. Ryan in accordance with the instructions of the I. M. F. A. All land owners, farmers and covert owners in the Hunt district were entitled to vote plus those who had paid a subscription for the 1929-30 season to the Bree Hunt but not to the Point to Point races. Colonel Ryan said that there were people present who were not entitled to vote "and he would ask them that they kindly leave the hall." The I. M. F. A. in their memorandum, as read by Mr Mc Carthy, insisted that there was great irregularity in the Constitution of the Bree Hunt.
According to the I. M. F. A. memorandum the names of John W. E. Jackson and Laurence Sweetman were put to the meeting in an election for master and the result was-Mr Jackson, 172; Mr Sweetman, 153 with one spoiled vote. Mr Mc Carthy suggested that each side have 7 members on the new committee but allowing the winning side the Chairman and Secretary. Mr Lett and Col. Ryan agreed on behalf of their respective sides. Only eight were nominated and three of these declined to act but Col. Ryan went on the committee. The election of chairman and secretary was then left to the committee.
The memorandum of the I. M. F. A. had invited a resolution of the issue of "whether the hounds are the property of the Master or the country?" Col. Ryan told the meeting that the hounds were the property of the hunt country and that "he considered the ownership of them should be carried out in accordance with the rules and trustees appointed at the meeting." He claimed that Mr Jackson wrote to the Press stating that he owned the hounds himself. Mr Lett disagreed but Mr Jackson declared that he would hand over twelve couple or more to the committee and that he would never leave the country without hounds. Mr Mc Carthy seized on this offer as the basis of a compromise agreement. It all seemed settled and agreed. Mr Jackson hoped that little differences that arose in the heat of the moment would become things of the past.
The catch-22 of the meeting at the Athenaeum in October 1930 is that both sides had conflicting interpretations of what the meeting meant. Mr Jackson and his supporters insisted that the result had made him the permanent Master of the Bree Hunt. A meeting of the supporters of Laurence Sweetman at Bree on October 13th 1831 resulted in a lengthy statement to the Press. This insisted that the October 1930 meeting was provisional and that the I. M. F. A. recommendations obliged the new committee to hold a general meeting before February 1st 1931 both to elect a permanent Master and resolve the issue of the ownership of the hounds. It is clear that Mr Jackson's side were loath to co-operate with the calling of such a meeting. Lt Col. Ryan, in a letter to Mr W. E. Grogan, the secretary of the I. M. F. A. effectively indicated that Mr Sweetman's side-despairing of Mr Jackson ever calling this general meeting-arranged for a meeting on January 31st 1931. Mr Jackson and John Doran, who acted as secretary of this group, eventually had a meeting on February 25th 1931 but Lt Col. Ryan alleged in his letter in May 1931 to Mr Grogan, secretary of the I. M. F. A.-"No meeting was called by them until February 25th when a notice was given by letter to attend a general hunt meeting on that date was received by me on the previous day (February 24th). No agenda was given. The only other member of Mr Sweetman's supporters invited to attend was Mr Brendan Murphy, "Beaufield". We both attended the meeting, the others present being: Mr H. A. Lett, Mrs Lett, Mr John Doran, Mr W. Furlong, Mr S. Deacon, Mr T. Jacob, Mr T. Deacon, Mr R. Jacob and Mr T. Stafford." The Press were refused permission. This meeting would not seem to comply with the requirement by the I. M. F. A. of a general meeting.
Mr Grogan the secretary of the I. M. F. A. in his reply told Col. Ryan:--
"Mr Doyne, and myself, interviewed Mr Colfer (the hon. Sec. Wexford Hunt) with regard to the dispute last Sunday. We pointed out to him, as I have already done to both you and Mr Jackson, the dispute must be settled locally and that our Association cannot recognise either side until a renewal of the loan of country from the Wexford and Bree Hunt, a copy of which agreement I hold. I am therefore forwarding your letter to Mr Colfer, as I cannot deal with the mater until a renewal of the loan of country is obtained."
The actual outcome was that two versions emerged of the Bree Hunt. The Echo reported that on April 9th 1931 Bree Hunt Club under the master-ship of Mr J. W. E. Jackson held their annual point-to-point meeting in genial weather at Killanne. An alternative Bree Hunt, under the master-ship of Mr Laurence Sweetman, had a meeting at Bree on Tuesday November 19th 1930 and a report issued from it referred to "the hounds which having been purchased by funds subscribed by the country, are now the property of the country." It concluded with a rhetorical flourish about following "the traditions of that true sport which prompted the late Mr John O'Neill and the sporting farmers associated with him to start this hunt over fifty years ago." Col. Ryan was at this meeting and he served as secretary to this Hunt in this tumultuous time. This Bree Hunt had a dance at Clonroche Hall on April 5th 1931, "almost 200 couples participating." There were 100 motor cars parked along the sides of the street.
The key to the eventual resolution of this interminable and tedious dispute rested with the Wexford Hunt Club Committee: the hunting ground of the Bree Hunt-that between the Slaney and the mountains-was loaned by them to the Bree Hunt. All the hunting grounds of the Co. Wexford belonged to the Wexford Hunt Committee. T. A. Colfer, the secretary, wrote to John Doran and Col. Tom Ryan, the honorary secretaries of the packs controlled by Mr Jackson and Mr Sweetman as follows in May 1931 and had his missive published in the newspapers:--
"Dear Sir-I brought your application for a renewal of the loan of the northern portion of the Wexford country before my committee today. Having regard to the unfortunate situation whereby two packs of hounds claimed and exercised the right to hunt the country last season my committee have come to the conclusion that they cannot ignore the ill-feeling which this state of affairs must inevitably cause in the Bree country and the consequent danger to the sport which it involves. They have therefore decided that the obvious course is to withhold a renewal of the loan until the dispute is amicably settled and one pack will hunt the country." It was a statement of the blazingly obvious, but as we saw above the I. M. F. A. had put pressure on Mr Colfer to intervene.
On October 17th 1931 tenant farmers, land owners, covert owners and subscribers to the Bree Hunt for the season 1929-30 from over a wide area met at the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy to answer the query: which of the rival Hunt's operating in the Bree country last season shall hunt the country for the coming season? T. A. Colfer, solicitor New Ross and secretary of the Wexford Hunt, after arduous negotiations, and at the behest of the I. M. F. A., organised the meeting. Mr Jackson's side and its leading representative at this stage, Mr John Doran, declared that they while they loathed this development they were going along with it. The Echo captured the excitement of the scene:-- "By the time the ballot began Castle Street and the Market Square throbbed with excited interest, groups of rivals filling the streets discussing the chances of the sides. Thought rivalry has been intense since the dispute arose two years ago, the proceedings at the ballot were of a pleasant and friendly character, the utmost good humour prevailing. Women were prominent in the throng." The result was decisive: Mr Laurence Sweetman secured 239 votes and John Doran, 178. My impression is that an increased (from the October 1930 meeting) number of farmers and covert owners swung the election in Mr Sweetman's favour-there was massive excitement outside as he came out. The Bree Hunt under his master-ship became the official Bree Hunt recognised by the I. M. F. A. and with the privilege of the renewal of the loan of the northern portion of the Wexford Hunt Club's country.
Lt Col Tom Ryan was quoted at length in the newspapers: his focus was on the good of Bree Hunt-"the election itself and the number of people who attended to record their votes proves that the future of the Hunt was the predominant idea in the people's minds. They were all interested in one idea only-sport and the future success of the Bree Hounds." He reiterated his conviction that the future of Bree Hunt could be secured only by the adoption of the I. M. F. A. rules in their entirety to the elimination of all local rules. There was this enigmatic final sentence:--
"Col. Ryan added that his connection with the Hunt ceased from that date; he was taking no further part in it." He certainly did not stay on as Secretary as John Mernagh of Coolamurray was the secretary during the 1930s and long afterwards. Lt Col. Tom Ryan was out with Mr Sweetman's pack at Davidstown on November 13th 1930 but this is the only report that I have of Lt Col. Ryan participating in an actual hunt. He had a health problem with asthma and health considerations may have induced him not to continue as Secretary. The main service by him to the Bree Hunt was that of serving as steward at the Point to Point at Boolabawn and later at Templescoby and on occasions as secretary or assistant secretary to the Bree Hunt Point to Point. The veneration of Col. Tom Ryan in the Bree Hunt arose from his masterly handling of the dispute of 1930-31. The correspondence and public statements by him, carried in the public press, indicate a very logical mind, a sharp grasp of procedure, emotional resilience and elegant diction and self-expression. The principles enunciated by him at the outset eventually prevailed.
I don't have reports of Lt Col. Ryan participating or officiating at other Hunts apart from a report of the "Wexford Hunt Trials" in The Echo on April 22nd 1939 where it is stated that he was a judge and honourary secretary to the event.
I don't really understand the precise import of this quotation from the account of the Committee Meeting of November 19th 1931 in the Bree Hunt Register but it does clearly indicate that his colleagues had a very high opinion of Lt Col. Ryan's ability:--
"Proposed by J. Brennan, seconded by J. Farrell, that the members who were present at Mr Sweetman's election in Bree wait on Col. Ryan to discuss the law and pledge him the Committee's support."
The Bree Point to Point races at Boolabawn would be authorised, each year by a meeting of the Bree Hunt Committee; a committee would be elected by this meeting of the Bree hunt to organise the Point to Point at Boolabawn and later at Templescoby. This organising committee would have its own secretary and usually this was a different person from the secretary of the Bree Hunt. At a committee meeting of the Bree Hunt on November 10th 1931 Mr B. Murphy was elected as assistant to Lt Col. Ryan as secretary of the Point to Point committee. Lt Col. Ryan chaired some of the committee meetings of the Bree Hunt. The A. G. M. of January 19th, 1932 adopted "the rules which were to govern the Bree Hunt." Lt Col. Ryan and Mr B. Murphy were elected as joint secretaries to the Bree Point to Point committee. John Mernagh of Coolamurray was the secretary of the Bree Hunt.
A Committee meeting of the Bree Hunt on November 25th 1931, at which he was not present, authorised Col. Ryan and others to wait on Mr Larry Sweetman "and make the presentation of a saddle on the occasion of his marriage."
I do not know why the Bree Hunt in 1938 decided to plan a presentation to Lt Colonel Ryan but my reasoned conjecture is that Lt Col. Ryan was by then gone from Merton and they have anticipated that his connections with the Hunt would be henceforth tenuous. The only evidence I have of this project is in the register of the Bree Hunt and that is nebulous; I will simply quote it in its entirety.
At a General Meeting on September 26th 1938 at which he was not present-"The presentation to Col. Ryan was discussed and Mr Laurence Sweetman proposed that a levy of, at least, ten shillings be made on each committee member." At a committee meeting on January 10th 1939, with Col. Ryan again absent, it was agreed:--
"Those present with the Master R. A. Dier were appointed on the proposition of Mr Furlong and seconded by Mr Laurence Sweetman to form a committee to deal with the presentation to Col Thomas Ryan and to make all arrangements as to form and date. It was decided to circularise the members of the Committee re subscription."
At a General Meeting on October 30th 1940 it was resolved to go ahead with the presentation to Lt Col. Ryan. At a Committee Meeting on February 25th 1941, "It was decided to have a presentation and dinner for Col. Ryan on 16th of April 1941."
According to my notes, at the A. G. M. of the Bree Hunt on December 17th 1941 Mr J. Furlong proposed that a presentation be given to Col. Thomas Ryan on the 22nd of January." Badly taken notes on my part seem to indicate that at a meeting of the 28th of January 1942 it was resolved that Dr Murphy, Laurence Sweetman and John Mernagh make arrangements. The impression is of an impediment, presumably reluctance on Col. Ryan to accept a presentation.
The story of the genesis of the Colonel Tom Ryan Cup is in this letter written at Castleboro on February 7th 1942 and addressed to the Bree Hunt:--
I regret being unable to attend the re-union on the 11th instant.
It would have given me great pleasure to meet again the sportsmen of the Bree Hunt area, convivial hours in the midst of the old familiar faces-alight with the old enthusiasm for the Hunt-would have been a good tonic for me. I would, also, like to have met the new members of whom I hear good things.
The Bree Hunt is held in greater regard and has been better served by the people in the Hunting area, than any other Hunt in Ireland. The fine old tradition that came down to them from 1888 when the late John O'Neill and the sportsmen of his day established their Harriers until the lapse during the First World War has been nobly upheld by you all. Not only did you succeed against all opposition in reviving the Hunt but you raised the Brees from an unwanted, unrecognised and outlawed Pack "Scratch Pack" of Harriers to a recognised Pack of Foxhounds owning their own country and, of course, their own Point to Point races and carrying the goodwill and respect of sportsmen from outside their own area.
No one man did that, the credit goes to all of you, the sporting instincts of the whole country was aroused, everyone anxious to work for the Hunt. The Ladies Committee raised much money-the Hunt Committee and officials did their duty; it was their responsibility and they should expect "no kudos", that is as it should be. The granting of presentations to one person where so many deserved them is a bad precedent to start. I must, therefore, while thanking the subscribers to the presentation, ask them to permit the money to be used, instead, to purchase a Cup for the Heavy Weight Race at our Point to Point in order to replace the one withdrawn without giving the previous winners the chance of winning it outright in accordance with the conditions of the race. The Cup was run for in 1929-30-31 and when withdrawn the Committee assured the winner that they would do their best to see that justice was done later. I suggest that the matter be put right now. It should be a point of honour with the Brees to do so and who can say you are not the lads to put matters right?"
The Cup referred to in Lt Col. Ryan's letter is the Harold Lett Cup for the Open Heavy Weight Class at the Boolabawn Point to Point, valued at £25. When he wrote that letter in 1942 Lt Col. Ryan was 69 and in a sense he may have perceived himself as writing his epitaph, an enduring statement of his passion for Bree Hunt. The failure to recover the Lett Cup in the early 1930s was possibly an unfinished business in his mind and now resolvable by the donation of a new Cup.
Liam and Mary Sweetman invited me to look at the Colonel Tom Ryan Cup at Ballymackessy House. The inscription reads:--"The Colonel Tom Ryan Cup. Presented by Colonel Tom Ryan." The motif of Water House Dublin, the makers of it, is in front of the inscription.
Due to fears of spreading foot and mouth disease there were no sporting events in the spring of 1941 and no Point to Point was held by Bree Hunt. The first account of the Ryan cup is in The Enniscorthy Guardian on April 11th 1942 as presented for the Open Heavyweight Race at the Bree Hunt Point to Point at Boolabawn. It was won by Two Drops owned by Mrs Naughton-this is also the first winner engraved on the Ryan Cup.
This is extracted from the Echo on May 1st, 1943:--"Open Heavy-Weight Race; Ryan Challenge Cup, value 20 guineas, presented by Col. T. Ryan with £10 for winner, etc" If a guinea equals one pound and one shilling then the Ryan Cup was worth £21.
The Echo reported on August 14th 1943 that about 500 people visited the strand at Tinnaberna last Sunday, the second annual "big day". Dancing continued until a late hour on a dance board which was kindly given by Lt-Col. Ryan&ldots;.On behalf of Tinnaberna Development Association, Mr Aidan O'Connor thanked Col. Ryan for providing the dance board used on Sunday afternoons at Tinnaberna strand." In his poetry, Lt Col. Ryan celebrated the olden customs of the May bush, the colleens dancing en masse in the open air, playing football in one's bare feet, Bonfire Night, the Patron in Killincooley and he was intensely nostalgic, nigh reverential, about his native Tinnaberna. That in itself would induce him to provide the dance board but there is another consideration: Lt Col. Ryan was perceived to be a man of high prestige and he may have felt an obligation, on that basis, to support good social projects. On December 21st 1940 The Echo carried his poem "Poul Alley" surrounded by decorations and with his full military title-"Lieut-Col. T. Ryan P. C.". It is clear that Col. Ryan was proud of his military career and did not face any sharp opposition from the society in which he lived and moved as a result of that. "Poul Alley" was a special feature of that issue of The Echo, a newspaper with a Republican background going back to Easter 1916. In a wider context the active and positive role of Lt Col. Ryan after he returned to Ireland in 1919 is intriguing and of historiographical enigma. I believe that he made the presentation of the Cup to the Bree Hunt on the basis of sheer altruism-that is a genuine interest in the good of others.
On December 6th 1927 The Irish Times reported that Colonel Ryan of Merton was present when, on behalf of the Royal Aid Fund, a flag was presented to the Wexford branch of the British Legion of ex-Service men. This ceremony was witnessed by over two hundred men. The inscription "Major Willie Redmond Branch, Wexford" was on the flag. Tom Ryan may well have entered the British army at 20 years in 1893 as a means of a livelihood but he became intensely convinced of the honour of fighting in war for a just cause. In his prolific out-put of poems there is a core message: an ethic of honour was inculcated into him in his childhood play along the Poulder's Banks, at Poul Alley and on Codd's Sandhole. The latter poem opens with the line-"It was there in early boyhood that we learned the manly code." He rooted this code of honour in the traditions of the society around Tinnebarna; passed from the elders by silent signs, to the young.
In another of his poems he thanks God:--
"For the steadfastness and courage that such qualities promote
To preserve out Christian principles tho' the sword is at our throat."
His rationale of war was that in the absence of a capacity to resist them, the stronger and bullying powers would tyrannise all others. His mindset in regard to Irish politics may, due to his long sojourn in England, have remained fixed in the paradigm of a Home Rule settlement, within the overall context of the British connection -as sought by Parnell and John E. Redmond. Such a mindset was still predominant in Ireland until the Easter Rebellion of 1916. My former mentor Professor Pat O'Farrell of Sydney wrote that Maffey of Trinity College's rude reference to "a man called Pearse" would have been an accurate description of the leader of the Rebellion at that time. The Rebellion, plus the executions of the sixteen leaders of it, electrified Irish opinion into a near absolute embrace of the Republican separatism of Patrick Pearse-the objective of Irish public opinion was now an Irish Republic outside the British Empire. In the time of Tom Ryan's childhood and adolescence it would have been difficult to imagine an Ireland apart from Britain.
The Agricultural Credit Corporation in a letter addressed to The Secretary, Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London indicated that Lt Col. Ryan had left Merton; it stated-"In 1937 we were informed that he was living in Kilnamanagh, Oulart, Gorey." The obvious deduction is that he went to his sister Julia and her husband Ned Kavanagh. They had no family. One man that I spoke to claimed that he remembered Lt Col. Ryan living in a cottage at Medcot, Blackwater. We are sure that he was settled on the farm in Castleboro in 1942; this had previously been the holding of William Levingstone who-I believe-sold it to the Land Commission.
On Sunday April 6th 1958 Lt Col. Tom Ryan fell at his home at Castleboro and sustained injuries to his hip; he died at the County Hospital on the following Wednesday. He was aged 85 years. His obituaries introduce new themes in the story of his life. Those in The People and The Echo both stated that he was a keen follower of sport, especially boxing and champion of his regiment in the British army. His poem Codd's Sand Hole seems to celebrate competitive boxing between youngsters as a grounding in the ethics of honour. There were references to his having most successful race horses, especially, one named Poul Alley but I have failed to find any account of this activity of Lt Col. Ryan. Some of those who remembered him spoke of this horse, Poul Alley. He spoke with a half-English/half-Irish accent, and in his latter years wore a knitted cap or balaclava that covered his face:--maybe the war wound was paining him in bad weather. He was said to have used herbs for medicinal purposes and this sentence in a letter dated 12th of September 1950 to his sister Kate Prendergast from Castleboro seems to confirm that:--
"I'm glad I haven't to go down before the month's end-as I am laid up with "neuritis" again and I think I can cure it before then." In the letter he refers to Ned Kinsella doing an operation on a pony and says that Andy did not come yesterday. Who is Andy? The letter is written in an affectionate and respectful tone; at the bottom of it is a sketch of himself, done in fountain pen but showing artistic gifts. Neuritis was a colloquial term for a form of arthritis that flared up periodically.
The People simply stated that Lt Col. Ryan, at the end of World War I, returned to Ireland where he joined the Irish army as a Commandant. Factually, he was not in the Irish Army at the time of his father's death in December 1920. The Echo related:--
"He joined the army of Saorstat Eireann with the rank of Commandant on the day that General Michael Collins was killed and organised the National Volunteers in Enniscorthy." The probability is that he joined in response to the efforts of General Dick Mulcahy to attract experienced officers and ex-officers to join the Free State Army to provide military expertise. Men like Lt Col. Ryan, who were of the Parnell/Redmond mode of thinking on Irish independence, in the new Ireland after 1922 would instinctively align with the Free State, Cumann na nGaedhael and later Fine Gael: that seemed the less intense version of the new separatist nationalism and a better prospect for national stability than-as they saw it-the more mystical variants of it.
A tricky problem in researching Lt Col. Ryan's career in the Free State Army is that a man with the same title and name was a leading officer in the Free State Army: Lt Col. Tommy Ryan of Tipperary, perhaps by some strange symmetry, was in charge of the Free State forces in the Co. Wexford during the later phases of the Civil War. In late March 1923 the Irish Army announced in a comprehensive list of changes and promotions that "Commandant Thomas Ryan (Merton) to be Officer Commanding 25th Infantry Battalion." This would seem to be part of the Dublin Command with headquarters at Gorey. By March 1924 the army was drastically reduced in numbers both of officers and men; in the new arrangements published in The Weekly Irish Times March 15th 1924 there are these entries: 19th Battalion Commandment T. Ryan [to be Battalion Officer] and Waterford Command-Commandant Thomas Ryan to be officer Commanding 25th Infantry Battalion with rank of Commandant.
Tom Ryan, like all poets and literary persons lived imaginatively, in a parallel universe that both represented and re-ordered his life experience: the homely places, the touching scenes and drama of his childhood memories of Tinnaberna. There is an ambiguity is the basic message of his poetry: it may be a means of providing an ethical rationale to his military career but conversely it may be that the stellar success of many of his playmates on the strand at Tinnaberna, and indeed his own success, are meant as mere adornments to his poetic wonder-world of Tinnaberna by the sea.
His poems depict a close proximity at Tinnaberna to the sea; "Poulder Banks", published on June 21st 1947, is in its imagery most poignant with the sea, a symbol of emigration and tragedy. He recalls the May bush in "dear Poul Alley", the bonfire night on Kelly's Hill and the "Patron" day at Killincooley but his mind was alert to scenarios of heroism and sacrifice as in these lines:--
"Yet other scenes in my memory lingers to replace my sadness with an honest pride
The monuments to our gallant forbears may yet be seen at the ebbing tide
The ribs of wrecks, from the strand protruding mark well the noble in their ancient ranks
For on each occasion their gallant action made glorious history round Poulder Banks."
The imagery of the ribs of wrecked ships as, almost, natural, monuments to heroism is masterly.
Tom Ryan was born in an era not far removed from the wars, massacres, famines and exterminations of mediaeval history and indeed early modern history. It was not improbable in those times for a youngster to assume that he could have to make the supreme sacrifice in defence of his country, his faith, his home and his community. The sheer surplus of young men relative to economic needs may have encouraged Governments to think in terms of war as a feasible policy. The great problem of Europe in his lifetime was that Germany was too strong for the neighbouring countries; its militarism, according to Professor Norman Stone, was the basis of ongoing tension-- that erupted in World War I. Tom Ryan did not write an autobiography of his life nor did he pen articles outlining his experience of the three wars he fought in. His poetry became the medium of his interpretation of his life. In a more incidental mode he articulated complaints against the blight of emigration from Ireland and denounced the demagogues and their false promises.
Poetry is a form, or maybe an illusion of, magic, wrought by an interaction of words, sounds and variants of meaning. In Tom Ryan's lifetime many people published poems in the local newspapers but Lt Col. Ryan differs from them in one basic aspect: he sought to use the more sophisticated techniques found in the works of the better poets. He measured the number of syllables and had an equal number of syllables in the corresponding lines of each stanza. He employed metaphor, analogy (that is the structured metaphor), memorable turns of phrase, ironies, deftly sketched images and artistic repetition, if appropriate. His poems generally are primed to move at a rapid pace denoting action and forcefulness; in "Poul Alley" there is not only an arresting eloquence but this eloquence is controlled, almost reined in. The best tribute that I may pay to Lt Col. Tom Ryan and the finest evocation of his spirit is to recite "Poul Alley"