In a recent post on our Facebook page, we explored the life of Josephine Mary “Min” Ryan, the sweetheart of Seán Mac Diarmada, whose story will be brought to screen in our upcoming film, the first full-length feature about the 1916 Easter Rising. Min was not just a bystander to Mac Diarmada’s revolutionary politics, and played an active role during Easter Week, as well as its aftermath on both sides of the Atlantic. For Min Ryan and many other men and women, the political became deeply personal. Here is the first entry in our two-part blog series on Min Ryan:
I was curious to find out a bit more about Min Ryan (1884 — 1977), who was romantically linked to Mac Diarmada starting in 1915. In one of his final letters written in Kilmainham Gaol, Mac Diarmada told his family that “if I think of any other things to say I will tell them to Miss Ryan, she who in all probability, had I lived, would have been my wife.” According to historian Lawrence William White’s entry about Mac Diarmada in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Min Ryan and her sister were his last visitors before his execution by firing squad in the early hours of May 12, 1916.
A member of Cumann na mBan (the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers), Min Ryan came from a prosperous farming family based in Tomcool, near Wexford Town, and was one of twelve children. Min and several of her siblings were active in Irish Republican movement and revolutionary circles — Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh (T.D. and the second president of Ireland) married her older sister Mary-Kate in 1918. After Mary-Kate’s death in 1934, Ó Ceallaigh married the youngest Ryan sister, Phyllis in 1936. Min’s other sister married Denis McCullough, the president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The National Library of Ireland houses a collection of original correspondence and related documents pertaining to the Ryan family, with a very helpful finding aid containing biographical information about Min and her siblings.
Min Ryan studied French, German and English at the Royal University in Dublin (later the National University of Ireland), and graduated in 1908. She became acquainted with Seán Mac Diarmada prior to relocating to London to study, teach and organize a branch of Cumann na mBan at London University. In January 1915, she returned to live in Dublin to teach German in Rathmines, and lived with her sister Mary-Kate at 19 Ranelagh Road. Their house became an important meeting place for Irish Republican activists, and she reconnected with Mac Diarmada in these revolutionary circles. During Easter Week, Min and her comrades in Cumann na mBan risked their lives acting as couriers for the Irish Volunteers, and she was later dispatched to New York City to provide the Irish-American Republican activist John Devoy an account of the Rising.
Lucky for us, Min provided a statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1950 as “Mrs. Richard Mulcahy.” (Min married Richard Mulcahy, who also fought in the Rising and became head of the pro-treaty side of the Irish Civil War after the death of Michael Collins.) In her witness statement, she describes her experiences with Cumann na mBan and her interactions with Mac Diarmada (referred to here as Seán Mac Dermott) during Easter Week, when she carried dispatches to Wexford. She also carried the countermand letter from Eoin Mac Neill to call off the Rising, in a last minute attempt to override the decision of the IRB Military Council on Saturday April 22:
I knew Sean Mac Dermott was at the back of that Rising. I had not had a talk with him for some days, but I felt he was a man who would not abandon it.
The Letters of 1916 Project at Trinity College Dublin has digitized a letter from the University College Dublin Archives written by Min Ryan to her brother James on May 29, 1916, just 17 days after the execution of Seán Mac Diarmada. James, then a medical student, was chief medical officer in the GPO for the Irish Volunteers. After the surrender, he was imprisoned with many other participants in Stafford, England and in the Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales, before he was released in 1916. In her letter, Min urged her brother to remain “happy if you can,” and referred to the personal possessions Mac Diarmada passed on to James before his execution:
My Seán sent you special messages & a cigarette case. We miss him dreadfully. I don’t know how long I shall remain in Dublin. I shall probably come home again in June for a while — or I may go to London for a time. In that case I will surely go see you. Of course we are expecting you & the others will get out soon.
Thanks for your support.