Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin will step forward into history today, Thursday, when he is nominated as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position that puts him third in line for the Presidency.
He is the youngest speaker since before the Civil War and a frequent guest at Irish events, including those at the Irish Embassy and the American Ireland Fund.
Ryan, as we learned during the 2012 Presidential race when he ran for VP on the Romney ticket, has strong Irish roots.
In Ryan's office is a Kilkenny jersey and a hurling stick, presented to him by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform when he was their breakfast speaker a few years ago. At that breakfast, he took out a Famine document from the 1850s and spoke movingly about his ancestor's trek across the Atlantic.
Ryan arrived at the breakfast with no aides and quickly demonstrated a grasp of Irish issues that was very impressive. With Joe Biden and Ryan second and third in succession to the Presidency, the Irish issues are in good hands.
At that breakfast I was seated next to Ryan and there was no denying that here was a very smart and capable politician, not self important in the least, but asking knowledgeable questions about Ireland and Irish America.
The then-Vice Presidential candidate’s elder brother spoke about the Irish-American family’s history to the La Crosse Tribune in 2012.
He explained that, being curious about their family tree, the Ryan family from Janesville, WI organized a kind of family reunion to find out just how many Ryans there were in the area.
Tobin said, “We decided to get together in Jefferson Park to see how many of us there were.
"We ended up with something like 65 of us. In a four square block area, I think we have 45."
This is hardly surprising in Janesville, a town of 65,000 people, which is dominated by Ryans, Fitzgeralds, and Cullens, known as the “Irish mafia.”
Happily, Tobin and the Ryans have been able to discover their own roots dating back to the Famine. The actual year was 1851.
He continued, “It goes back five generations to the potato famine.”
"James Ryan came over and settled in Rock County."
The elder Ryan brother went on to explain that their family hails from Kilkenny.
What they are certain of is that James Ryan arrived in the United States in 1851, just six years after the Great Famine in Ireland began, in search of the American dream.
It certainly seems that the Ryan clan achieved James’ goal.
BREAKING: House Republicans nominate Rep. Paul Ryan to be next speaker, hoping to end GOP disarray.— The Associated Press (@AP) October 28, 2015
By the mid 1880s, they had established what is now a national construction company called Ryan Inc. Back then it functioned as an excavation company.
James’ son Patrick had three sons, including Stan. Stan’s son Paul was the new speaker's father, Patrick.
However Patrick, like his son Paul, was not involved in the family business. Instead, they both entered the legal profession.
Tobin explained, “My grandfather, Stan, was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge as a federal prosecutor for Wisconsin in the 1920s. Our father was an attorney."
After the Ryan family’s examination of the Ryans of Janesville’s family tree, Tobin believes most of the Ryans in the area are related.
He said, “Concrete (Bill) Ryan, his son Terry Ryan of the Minnesota Twins, and all the rest are somehow related.”
Ryan was honored by the American Ireland Fund in 2012 and in the years since the 2012 election has made frequent reference to his Irish roots.