Ryan surname history

Ryan is today one of the commonest surnames in Ireland. The vast majority of Ryans today are descended from the family of O Maoilriaghain, meaning "descendant of a devotee of St. Riaghan". The anglicisation "Mulryan" began to fade as early as the seventeenth century, and is today virtually unknown apart from a few pockets in counties Galway and Leitrim, possibly derived from a different family. As Mulryan it has also been recorded in Spain, among the descendants of Irish emigres. The surname first appears in the fourteenth century in the barony of Owney, (formerly Owney O?Mulryan) on the borders of counties Limerick and Tipperary, where the O Maoilriaghain displaced the O'Heffernans. Even today the surname is highly concentrated in this area.

In Carlow and adjoining areas, Ryan may also derive from O Riaghain, sometimes confused with Regan. From their origin in the barony of Idrone in Carlow (they were chiefs of the Ui Drone) this family spread widely into the adjoining counties of Wexford and Kilkenny. Members of the Ryan family of Tomcoole in Wexford have been prominent in Irish politics for almost a century, over three generations.

The surname was ranked 7th most common in 1890 and 6th in 1996. An educated guess at the total of Ryans in Ireland at present puts their number at something over 28,000.

Patrick J. Ryan (1883-1964) emigrated to the U.S., won a gold medal for hammer-throwing for that country in the 1920 Olympics, and then returned to farming in Pallasgreen in Limerick. The record he set in 1913 stood for 25 years.

Tony Ryan (1936 -2007 ) had mixed fortunes as one of Ireland?s leading businessmen. His aircraft leasing company Guinness Peat Aviation was one of the most successful in the world until its virtual collapse in 1992. His legacy continues in Ireland?s only independent airline, Ryanair.

Richard Ryan (1946 - ) is a distinguished poet and currently Ireland?s ambassador to Korea.

John Ryan (1925-1992) had a long and varied career as a broadcaster, painter, publisher and owner of the famous Bailey pub in Dublin, but will be remembered best for his association with Flann O?Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan.


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