Irish derivation: Ó Riain
Name meaning: "Descendant of Rían (little red one/little king disputed)"
Counties associated with the name: Carlow, Tipperary, Limerick
Coat of arms motto: "I would rather die than be disgraced"
Interesting Facts: 1. It is just as popular a first name as it is a surname
Famous Ryans: Francis T. Ryan (1862 - 1927) American Medal of Honor recipient; Harold M. Ryan (1911-2007) US Representative from Michigan; Gerry Ryan (1956-2010) Irish radio personality; Meg Ryan (1961) American actress; Rex Ryan (1962) NY Jets head coach; TJ Ryan (1876-1921) Premier of Queensland; Kay Ryan (1945) American winner of 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; William Patrick Ryan (1867-1942) Irish author and journalist
The modern Ryan families of Ireland derive from two separate roots. The main one is from Maelruain, a 9th century chieftain whose descendants took the name O’Maelruain. This later became Anglicized to O’Mulryan and then to Ryan. This sept were the chiefs of the Barony of Owney in South Tipperary. The numerous Ryans of this country and the neighboring parts of Limerick and Claire mainly belong to that group.
The other major Ryan root is that deriving from Rian, the mid-10th century King of the territory Ui Cinsealaigh in South Leinster. His descendants were Ua Riain or O’Riain and this later also became anglicized to Ryan. The Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny Ryans are generally from this line. Many Ryans have made their names as writers. These include Cornelius Ryan (1920-1974). Born in Dublin, he became a journalist and in 1944 as a war correspondent he covered both the D-Day invasion and also the US Third Army’s campaign under general Patton. He major fame, and also a considerable fortune, came from his three boos on aspects of the history of World War II. The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, were best sellers and both became major films.
Abram Ryan (1836-1886) was also an observer of war but from a different perspective. Born in Maryland, he became a priest and served with the Confederate army as chaplain during the civil war. He showed incredible devotion and bravery in this role, even tending to smallpox infected Union prisoners when no others would do so. He is best remembered, however, for his poetry on the confederate cause which earned him the title of “Poet of the Confederacy” or even the “Tom Moore of Dixie.” Most famous of them are “The Conquered Banner” and “Sword of Robert Lee.” The flavor of the latter can be seen from the following extract: ”Nor purer sword led braver band, nor braver bled for a brighter land, nor brighter land had no cause so grand, nor a cause a chief like Lee.” After the war he continued his writing and his active support of charitable causes, including many children’s charities. A monument in his honor stands in Mobile, Alabama. Other Ryan writers include AP Ryan, editor of the London Times; and Desmond Ryan (1893-1964) who was secretary to the Irish Rebellion leader, Patrick Pearse, and who later wrote a series of historical accounts of the 1916 rising and its leaders. In the American Revolutionary Army there were 322 Ryan soldiers and 14 officers including Captain Philip Ryan of the Philadelphia City Militia; Major Robert Ryan of the Georgia Continental Brigade; and Lieut. Michael Ryan of the 1st regiment of the New York Line.
In business, the Ryans have also made a significant name for themselves. Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851-1928) epitomizes the American dream, having risen from a penniless orphan to become a millionaire. The major basis of his fortune was the New York Transport system. In a series of lengthy and notorious legal and publicity battles he and associates built up wide ownership of New York Cable Railroad franchises. In the process they formed the Metropolitan Traction Company which is said to be the first holding company in the USA. Among his other ventures was the American Tobacco Company and an involvement, by invitation of King Leopold of Belgium, in the development of mining and other businesses in the Congo. His personal wealth when he died in 1928 was some $200 million and he resided at 858 Fifth Avenue where a third of a block was reserved for his private garden. Another successful US businessman was John Dennis Ryan (1864-1933) who was born in Michigan and was responsible for the development of the famous Anaconda Copper Mining Company (founded by another Irishman Marcus Daly) into one of the greatest industrial enterprises of its time. In 1917 he reigned as head of Anaconda, and became a wartime director of aircraft production, and later Assistant Secretary of War. Under his direction $100 million was spent on aviation facilities by the US government. Another successful modern Ryan with aviation interests is Tony Ryan, the founder and chief executive of Guinness Peat Aviation. Based in Shannon, County Clare, this is the largest Aircraft leading company in the world. Ireland’s newest airline RYAN AIR is also associated with this Ryan family. Finally, the “shining light” of the Ryan family must be Water Darcy Ryan (1870-1934) who was born in Nova Scotia and worked as a Civil engineer with the General Election Company in Massachusetts. Walter Ryan is credited with turning electrical illumination into both a science and an art. His research laboratory and workshops developed the technology for a wide range of public illumination techniques, and also applied them to a range of imaginative uses. Globes, reflectors, floodlighting and high-intensity street lighting all derived from the work of Water D. Ryan.
Below, watch the now famous clip featuring Meg Ryan from 'When Harry Met Sally':