Dr Jim Ryan (1891 – 1970)

A Life of Public Service

Dr James Ryan - UCD Medicine 1917

Final year medical student and Irish Volunteer in the 1916 Rising, James Ryan was one of the last men to leave the burning GPO where he tended to the wounded rebel leader, James Connolly.  Although his medical career was brief, he had a long and distinguished career as a politician in the fledgling Irish Republic.

A native of Taghmon, Co Wexford, James Ryan was born in 1891 the second youngest of twelve children.  He was educated at St Peter’s College, Wexford and at Ring College, Waterford.  In 1911 he won a scholarship to study medicine at UCD.  Following his graduation in 1917, he opened a medical practice in Wexford town during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 before moving four years later to Dublin where he opened a practice at the Skin and Cancer Hospital, Hume Street. 

He married Kerry woman and a veteran of Cumann na mBan. Máirín Cregan.  Although he discontinued medical practice in 1925 when he purchased a large farm near Delgany, Co. Wicklow, he was known throughout his life as Dr Jim Ryan.

In 1916, while he was in his final year of his medical studies, Ryan was appointed as medical officer of the GPO garrison during the 1916 Rising.  He was one of the last men to leave the burning GPO where he tended to the wounded rebel leader, James Connolly.  After the Rising he was arrested by the British and was sent to prison initially in Stafford, England but subsequently Frongoch, Wales.  However, he was released in time to return to Dublin to sit his final medical exams in 1917 which he duly passed.  The following year he was elected first as a Sinn Féin MP for the Westminster seat of Wexford South in the 1918 general election (which like his fellow Sinn Féin MP’s he abstained from attending) and then as a TD for Wexford in the First Dáil.  He served as a Teachta Dála for a total of 47 years.

When the civil war broke out later in 1922, he picked up his medical kit once more and acted as medical officer in the Four Courts and O’Connell Street.  He was later interned and went on a 36-day hunger strike, which damaged his health and prompted him to abandon medicine in favour of farming and a business career.  He founded the New Ireland Assurance Co.  

He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and eventually became a founder member of Fianna Fáil.  During a long political career, he served as a cabinet minister for four decades, most notably as minister for agriculture (1932-1947) and minister for finance (1957-1965). He served in the governments of two taoisigh – Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass.

Although he had quit his medical career in the 1925, he was popularly known as Dr Jim Ryan, and, although a TD for Wexford, he bought and lived on a farm near Delgany, Co Wicklow.  Ryan retired as a TD in 1965 and was then elected to the Seanad, where his son, Eoin Ryan snr, was also a member. Dr Jim Ryan died in 1970.

In memory of his leadership and contribution to Irish Society, the School named its lecture theatre (C005), UCD Health Science Centre in his honour.

More about Dr Jim Ryan

Dr Jim Ryan was interviewed for the RTÉ Television project 'The Survivors' on 29th March 1965 as part of the 50th anniversary reflections of the 1916 Rising.