Identity Statement for Desmond Ryan

  • Reference code: IE UCDA LA10
  • Title: Papers of Desmond Ryan (1893–1964)
  • Dates: 1909–64
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 20 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Biographical History

Desmond Ryan was born on 27 August 1893 in Dulwich, London, where his father William Patrick Ryan worked as a journalist. He was educated by the Christian Brothers until 1906, when his father moved the family back to Ireland to become editor of the Irish Peasant. When Pádraig Pearse opened St Enda's School in Dublin in 1908, Ryan became one of the first pupils. Pearse was to prove a dominating influence in Ryan’s youth. After he completed his studies in St Enda’s and went to study at University College Dublin, he maintained his association with St Enda’s, teaching classes, living in the school and acting as Pearse’s secretary.

This led to his involvement with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, as a member of the Mitchell Circle. He took part in the Easter Rising of 1916, serving in the General Post Office under Pearse. After the rebels’ surrender, Ryan was interned in Stafford Jail, Wormwood Scrubs and Frongoch internment camp. Following his release, he returned to UCD, where he took his BA.

Ryan then followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a journalist, working initially for the Freeman’s Journal. As Pearse’s literary executor, he wrote The Story of a Success, an account of Pearse’s educational experiment in St Enda’s. Despite writing about Pearse several times, he never wrote the definitive biography many expected him to complete. An admirer of Michael Collins, Ryan supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, but the horrors of the civil war turned him against nationalism and led him to pacifism. The anti-de Valera policy of the Freeman’s Journal and his general disillusionment caused him to leave Ireland for London in 1922, where he began work as a journalist on the Daily Herald.

During his time in UCD Ryan had become interested in the Irish labour movement, supporting the workers in the 1913 Lock-out, an interest which was to remain with him. During his time in London he became more involved in the theories and work of James Connolly, publishing his first book on Connolly in 1924. He continued to publish books on various aspects of Irish nationalism throughout the following years. These included books on Éamon de Valera, Seán Treacy, and John Devoy and Fenianism. Other areas of interest during this period included the Anti-Partition campaign, the experience of the Irish in London, and the Spanish Civil War.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Ryan and his wife Sarah (née Hartley, whom he married in 1933) returned to Ireland. He took up a position as editor of the Torch, a labour periodical. The publication ceased in 1944 however, due to a lack of support for his views from the Labour Party. He and his wife later moved to Swords, County Dublin, where they ran a poultry farm. Desmond Ryan died on 23 December 1964.

Archival History

This collection was donated to UCD Archives by Sarah Ryan, his widow, in 1978.

Scope and Content

Extensive general correspondence, encompassing historical, literary, political and personal topics. Listed alphabetically by correspondent or, where appropriate, by subject. Includes both holograph and typescript material.
Professional correspondence with publishers, organisations and periodicals.

Desmond Ryan’s writings, mainly published but including some unpublished material. Includes books, articles and short pieces, lectures, and scripts, as well as working notes.

Personal material relating to Desmond and Sarah Ryan.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in microform. 
  • Language: English, small amount of Irish.
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue
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