Canon M. K. Ryan’s Portrait
Rounding a corner at Lár na Páirce museum in Thurles, the visitor stands facing a portrait photograph of Canon M.K. Ryan. The canon with solemn demeanour is seated at his desk. The accompanying script explains that Ardán Ó Riain at Semple Stadium stands as a lasting memorial to Canon M K Ryan.
Michael Kennedy Ryan (Lacken) was born at Knockfune, Newport on 29 September 1868, into a family steeped in the Gaelic and national traditions of the country. He studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Thurles and at Maynooth, where he was ordained on 25 June 1893. Following a temporary mission in Westminster diocese, he was appointed professor at St Patrick’s, Thurles in 1901. In 1906 he was appointed to the Thurles parish, where he was very deeply involved in the community. As chairman of Thurles G.A.A. Club, from 1916 until 1924, he was their trusted guiding light. He regarded the cultivation of the games as the sheet anchor and salvation of young men .
While in Thurles, he founded a Brass and Reed band in the town, which survived until the instruments were smashed by the Black and Tans. Canon M. K. Ryan had been among the deputation of local Thurles Gaels that negotiated the purchase of Thurles Sportsfield, now Semple Stadium, from the Thurles Agricultural Show Committee, in 1910.
On his appointment as parish priest of Latin and Cullen, in December 1924, Canon M. K. Ryan resigned the chairmanship of Tipperary G.A.A. Board, a position he had held since 1917. These seven years were difficult years of trial and turmoil for Ireland. In a letter to Tipperary’s annual convention he expressed regret at having, unavoidably, to sever his connection with the board. He continued, ‘I will follow your every moment in the field, with close and anxious attention. Be Gaels in the council room. Be Gaels in the field, proud of the traditions that you have inherited and upholders of them, at their best. Keep at the game. Keep Knocknagow alive.’ Many glowing tributes were paid to him at the convention.
Three months later, Canon M. K. suffered a paralytic seizure and died without gaining consciousness, on 3 April 1925. Archbishop Harty, in paying tribute to M. K. said,’ He was a great man and a great priest…He spent nearly half of this life in Thurles. He had a big heart and he loved the people of Thurles, recognizing in them a good people and the people of Thurles loved him in return, as a priest, a true and big-hearted Irishman and great Tipperary man.’ At a specially convened meeting of Thurles G.A.A. members, it was proposed by Tom Semple and seconded by James Butler that, ‘We tender to the archbishop, clergy and relatives of the late Canon M. K. Ryan, who was hon. president of our club and through whose able counsel, the youth of this town and parish stood by the G.A.A. in trying times and under trying circumstances, our sincere sympathy.’
Newport GAA grounds, Páirc Cuimhneacháin Pádraig Uí Riain, are named in memory of Paddy Ryan (Lacken), Canon M.K.’s nephew. Paddy was a notable activist during the War of Independence.
When a new stand was completed at Semple Stadium in June 1980, it was named Ardán Ó Riain, as an enduring monument to Canon M. K .Ryan. He was interred in the grounds of Latin church.
The portrait photograph of Canon M.K. Ryan at Lár na Páirce was taken at the renowned portrait studio of Lafayette, Dublin.