Clan History

A number of different clans make up what is now the modern surname of Ryan. The most prominent being the O’Ryans of Idrone and the O’Mulryans of Owney and Owneybeg. Other names that have changed to become Ryan include the O’Mulrennans of Roscommon, the O’Ruadhains / Ruans of Galway / Mayo and the MacRyans of Galway. The largest by number are likely to be of the O’Mulryans of Owney & Owneybeg (which is in modern day Tipperary and Limerick). So if you are a Ryan today it is likely that you are from this grouping.

Sources differ on whether the O’Mulryans of Owney & Owneybeg and the O’Ryans of Idrone are of the same stock.

“The O’Mulryans (O Maoilriain) originated in Leinster, but settled around the north Tipperary-Limerick border sometime during the thirteenth or fourteenth century. They become very numerous and powerful in their new home, the territory which is now the baronies of Owney in Tipperary and Owneybeg in Limerick. The name is numerous and respectable in Limerick and Tipperary.” (Cairney, 1989).

However Callinan 1938 contradicts this

“According to O’Donovan, the O’Ryans of Idrone are to be distinguished from the O’Mulryans of Owney. He states that both were of the race of Cathaeir Mór, King of Leinster and monarch of Ireland in the 2nd century, but their pedigrees are different. The Uí Drona descend from Drona, 4th in descent from Cathaeir Mór while the O’Mulryans of Owney descend from Fergus, son of Eoghan Goll, son of Nathi, son of Crimthainn, son of Eanna Ceimsealach, son of Cathaeir Mór”

Seymour (1907) in writing about Abbey Owney supports Cairney and even more interestingly suggests that when the O’Mulryans came to the Owney / Owneybeg area, they actually drove out some of the native tribes there.

“It can be seen from the above extract that the four tribes inhabiting Uaithne-Tire, or Owney, the MacKeoghs (whose name is still preserved in the townland of Ballymackeogh) and the Lynchs: in Uaithne-Cliath, or Owneybeg, the O’Heffernans and the O’Callans. These four tribes were driven out at some early period, possibly before the English invasion, by the O’Mulryans, a Leinster family, who possessed themselves of the whole district. They are consequently the family who come under notice during the period in which records deal with the abbey”.

Rev. John Gleeson (1915) seems to back this but suggests that they gained the lands by inheritance in stating

“It must have been after that time that the Ryans of Idrone, in Co. Carlow, obtained the lordship of Owney, probably by inheritance. O’Donegan’s ancestors had come from the same district in Carlow”.

The O’Mulryans formed their own tuath in Owney and Owneybeg often known as Owney O’Mulryan and they were Kings or “Captains” of their country. As part of this they would have had a Taoiseach or King elected from the derbfine or royal family of the O’Mulryans. This would have involved an inauguration had some place within the territory. This location unfortunately has been lost to the history but may be awaiting rediscovery through further research.

The O’Mulryans were part of the Gaelic revival in North Tipperary where Gaelic Chiefs reclaimed their lands and they held them down to the 1600s where we read of one of the last Chiefs of the O’Mulryans, William O’Mulryan, being buried at Abbey Owney. Callinan says this about the Ryans “In the insurrection of 1641, the O’Mulryans took a prominent part and as a result all their lands were confiscated under the Cromwellian regime and granted to soldiers, adventurers and others, the ancient proprietors being driven beyond the Shannon into the barren lands of Clare and Connaught”.

The O’Ryan clan of Idrone descend from Cathaoir Mor, 2nd Century King of Leinster, the chief of this clan was lord of Uí Drone, one of the seven baronies of Co. Carlow, Ireland. Following the Norman Invasion in 1172 the Kavanaghs, descendents of the MacMurrough clan, held this territory then known as Hy Cabanagh or Uí Cavenagh. The McMurrough Kavanaghs still live at Borris House and many of the descendents of the O’Ryans still live in the vicinity.

We hope to write more about the history of all the various families that now bear the Ryan name from all over Ireland.


The RYAN name in Ancient texts – O’Hart’s Pedigree No.1

In the first of a number of articles, here is one of the two Ryan pedigrees recorded by O’Hart in his book Irish pedigrees; or, The origin and stem of the Irish nation. This pedigree (Ryan No. 1) specifically relates to the Ryan’s of Carlow, the Lords of Idrone, as described by Woulfe, MacLysaght & O’Hart in…

The RYAN name in Surname Dictionaries

If you want to get some idea about the possible origin of a particular surname, a Surname Dictionary is a good place to start. There are several surname dictionaries that address the topic of Irish surnames, and perhaps the three most well-known are those of Woulfe, MacLysaght, and O’Hart.  The Rev. Patrick Woulfe (1872-1933), or as he…

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