Research Notes :: John Ryan, born about 1854


(These notes by Don Stanley, based on those of John Stephen Ryan, and research done my myself)


John Ryan’s life falls into two distinct groupings. The split occurs in July 1886 when the first confirmed record of him appears in New Zealand. This is his intent to marry, and also his marriage certificate, both of which were made out on the same day, 4th July 1886. This document is concerned only with the period prior to that date (although there is an outstanding research point which is how he was able to sign an intent of marriage, and marry, on the same day – a Saturday – when officially the intent to marry had to be lodged with a government department prior to the marriage).


There are a number of stories about John Ryan that reference the period prior to 4th July 1886. These include::


  • That his father (also John Ryan) died from yellow fever while visiting the Americas (USA or Canada).
  • That John Ryan was left behind with his mother in Ireland and was 6 months old. It is not known whether this was 6 months at his fathers departure, or at his fathers death. It has been mentioned that he was an only child, whether this is correct or not is unknown.
  • That his godfathers name is Coffey
  • That John Ryan and his mother fled to Limerick, because the English dispossessed them of their lands upon hearing of the fathers death
  • That his mother opened a shop in Limerick.
  • That at some point his mother traveled to the America’s seeking proof of her husbands death
  • That he is a cousin of the Fitzgeralds, brewers, of Galway who descended from Francis Fitzgerald and Eleanor Joyes
  • That he apprenticed as a steam engineer
  • That is spent time as a youth in Blackrock (there are several Blackrock’s in Ireland, the most likely appear either Dublin or Abbeyfaele, Limerick)
  • That he was shipwrecked in the Atlantic in the early 1870’s upon a timber ship named General O’Neil.
  • That he was in the British Navy, and claims have been made that he deserted
  • That he was shipwrecked twice, the second time escaping in a lifeboat, finding the lifeboat to be holed (the bung was missing) and stuffing his singlet into the hole to prevent the lifeboat sinking.
  • He made statements that suggested he had been to New York and served in China Station , and it is believed that he arrived in New Zealand at Port Chambers
  • That his name is in fact not John Ryan


The bulk of the above have come to me from John Stephen Ryan (note – not the last point regarding his name). In his notes he states that most of this oral re-telling came from his own father and grandmother.


Nothing apart from the above is known about the father who supposedly traveled to the Americas.


Current research is largely based around the Castlebar area of County Mayo. Read further for the discussion about John Ryan (b 1853) possible connection to the Fitzgeralds of Galway for the reasoning behind this.


Taking each point individually. Remember when reading the following that St John is in New Brunswick, Canada, whilst St Johns is in Newfoundland, Canada.


That his father died from yellow fever while visiting the Americas (USA or Canada).


Family History

The story is related through John Ryans son Tim Ryan, to his son, John Stephen Ryan. It is probably safe to assume that Tim Ryan heard the story from his father.


John Ryan wanted to visit the Americas, possibly with a view to re-settling his family. He set out with an unknown cousin. The ship name is unknown, several John Ryans have been noted as traveling to New York in 1853 and 1854, but none immediately leaps out as our John Ryan. No obvious candidates for the “cousin” have been noted on sailings involving a “John Ryan”.


It is not known where he was going, but New York has been mentioned, whether by knowledge or assumption is not known. Neither is it known from where in Ireland he departed.


It is claimed that John Ryan did not return to Ireland. The story goes that the cousin arrived back at Dublin, dying from yellow fever. He died after a short period back, but told the family that John Ryan had died in St John or St Johns from yellow fever. These were both large settlements in Canada, but there were many other smaller settlements in USA named St Johns, one, in Pennsylvania, being a large concentration of Irish immigrants. Even in Limerick itself, one of the largest parishes at that time was St Johns.



I have done considerable research to try and find records in both St Johns and St John in Canada. No reference to the death of a John Ryan from yellow fever has turned up in either. Specific searchers I have commissioned include::


Having the New York Ryan Association search their death records for any John Ryan dying from yellow fever. None was found.

Receiving from Memorial University in Newfoundland the Births, Deaths and Marriages in Newfoundland Newspapers 1825-1889.This covers some 33 newspapers, but no reference to John Ryan was found


I have not specifically researched the possibility that John Ryan did not die whilst in the Americas, but chose not to return.


I have discussed with researchers in Ireland the possibility of searching Irish records of Dublin hospitals for references to deaths by Yellow fever between 1852 and 1856. Without exception they have told me that if the records exist, this will be very expensive exercise. A less expensive option is to search medical records relating the reporting of notifiable diseases, but no one has yet been able to confirm that yellow fever was notifable in the 1850’s in Dublin.



That John Ryan was left behind with his mother in Ireland and was 6 months old. It is not known whether this was 6 months at his fathers departure, or at his fathers death. It has been mentioned that he was an only child, whether this is correct or not is unknown.


Family History

The title really says it all. That he was left with his mother in Ireland is plausible if his father intended sending for the rest of the family.



As yet I have not had a chance to follow through looking at parish records of Limerick for a christening of John Ryan, from say, 1851 to 1856. It is my hope that he was christened after his fathers death, and that the christening record makes reference to this.


There are some possibilities from the Mormon Church International Genealogy Index::


§         John Ryan, christened 4 Jun 1854 in Limerick St Marys. Unlikely as it appears the parents, John Ryan and Margaret O’Brien apparently continued to have children until 1865, but it possible that there were more than one John Ryan and Margaret O’Brien having children in the period. Also unlikely because John Ryan appears to not be the first born. IGI batch number 7523736, sheet 74. On the other hand, if the family history is incorrect, this possible.

§         John Ryan, christened 9 March 1854 Limerick, St Marys, son of John Ryan and Mary Halloran. IGI batch number 7523736, sheet 71.

§         John Ryan, christened 2 Feb 1855, Limerick, St Marys, son of John Ryan and Margaret Cleary. IGI batch number 7523736, sheet 79

§         John Ryan, christened 1 Nov 1855, Limerick, St Michaels, son of Frances Ryan and Mary Ann. IGI batch number 7527314, sheet 96

§         John Ryan, christened 2 June 1854, Limerick St Marys, son of Patrick Ryan and Mary Ryan. IGI batch number 7523736, sheet 74.

§         John Ryan, christened 4 Jan 1854, Limerick, St Patricks, son of Michael Ryan and Johanna Walsh. IGI batch number 7525310, sheet 90.

§         John Ryan, christened 2nd June 1854, Limerick, St Michaels, son of William Ryan and Sarah Scanlan. IGI batch number 7523737, sheet 13

§         John Ryan, christened 31 Jan 1861, Doon Parish, Limerick, Ireland, son of John Ryan and Bridget, IGI Batch Number C701001

§         John Ryan, christened 24 Feb 1860, Limerick, St Patricks, Limerick, son of John Ryan and Mary Kelly, IGI Batch number 7514805, sheet 88



That his godfathers name is Coffey


Family History

This will only be proven correct by finding the correct baptismal records for John Ryan. As it stands, if we assume it is true, it is a useful aid to finding the correct baptismal record. On the other hand, if it is not true, we can never use it to reject any baptismal record as being the correct one. Since we do not know it is correct, it cannot be used to reject any given baptismal record.


John Stephen Ryan read this in a letter and distinctly recalls the name being Coffey or Coffee.



None done to date.



That John Ryan and his mother fled to Limerick, because the English dispossessed them of their lands upon hearing of the fathers death


Family History

The immediate conjecture if the statement is true is that the family did not originate in Limerick. Are we talking Limerick County, or Limerick City.



I posed the question to experts on Irish townlands and parishes on the IRELAND-L Internet group. The response was that the statement is essentially of no value. It makes no distinction over whether they fled to Limerick County, a rather large area, from some other county, or whether they fled to Limerick City. If the latter, they could have originated from within Limerick County, or anywhere else in Ireland.


As a clue to origins the statement is meaningless. As a clue to where records might be found for the period after they fled, it is of more use. The Irish experts did make a point that if the statement was made exactly as above and not modified in transcription over the years, then it probably means Limerick City, but gives no clue as to prior origins. The reasoning behind this is that in Ireland they often  referred to the city or parish or townland, rather than the county.



That his mother opened a shop in West Limerick.


Family History

No reason to not accept this at its face value.



West Limerick is a large area covering many parishes and townlands.


Have had a look through Griffith Valuation index and found nothing useful to date. There are some Ryan females running shops, but without knowing the type of shop it is difficult to take this further.



That at some point his mother traveled to the America’s seeking proof of her husbands death


Family History

This actually came later, a visitor to the Ryans in Westport made this statement. Evidently upon the statement being made, John Ryan refused to continue the conversation based around his relatives.



None done.



When did the visitor arrive? Who was it? How old was the mother when she traveled? Did she return? This appears to be old news (i.e. it occurred a while before the visitor made the statements), even if JR’s mother were, say 20 at his birth and this was in 1854 (i.e. she born about 1834), this makes her 66 by turn of the century. If this trip was made, surely it makes sense that it was done so much earlier, say in the 1870-1890 period.



That he is a cousin of the Fitzgerald’s, brewers, of Galway who descended from Francis Fitzgerald and Eleanor Joyes


Family History

It appears to simply be a statement made by JR. Whether he made further statement about particular members of the Fitzgerald family is not known.



This was a rather large family, many of who went on to positions of high importance in business and politics in Britain, India and Australia. The family is reasonably well documented in Burkes Landed Gentry of Ireland. Potentially interesting links include::


§               There is a BlackRock lighthouse near Castlebar

§               Ryan is not a common name in Mayo (not in the top 10 surnames in either North or South Mayo)

§               Francis Fitzgerald descends from the Fitzgeralds of Turlough, County Mayo. The family was centered around Castlebar.

§               In 1853, from parish records of Castlebar-Aglish Parish Births, a Richard Ryan and Rose FREANY had a son John either born or baptized 5-15-1853 in Cloonar which is part of Castlebar where Patrick Fitzgerald (see below) was resident. Were this our John Ryan, it would then verify that he did not know, or did not reveal, his fathers real name (Richard). Richard Ryan was a landowner of 136 acres in 1853, and there is also a John Ryan landowner the same year (from Griffith Valuation)

§               There were also Coffeys in Castlebar, one of whom, John Coffey, died aged 87 in 1905 (therefore born around 1818) – see


§               From Burkes we find Patrick Fitzgerald, one of Francis and Eleanors children, died in 1853, so is a candidate for the cousin who accompanied “John” Ryan. Patrick Fitzgerald, son of Francis Fitzgerald apparently had returned  to Castlebar by 1840. The following newspaper article is evidence of this::


The Connaught Journal

Galway, Ireland

Thursday, Feb. 6, 1840






To be Sold, within the Copperroom of the Commercial Buildings, in the City

of Dublin, on Friday, the 7th February, 1840, at three o'clock, P.M.


FIRST-That large and valuable Distillery Establishment at Nun's Island, in the Town of Galway, at presently occupied and worked by Messrs. James and Patrick JOYCE. Within the walls that surround the Distillery there is a mill to which there is attached a Store capable of containing several Thousand Barrels of Grain and Two Kilns, Queen's Warehouse, Spirit and Barm Store, with various other Offices and conveniences. The Distillery contains a Wash Still of 6,000 Gallons; a Low Wine Still of 3000 Gallons; Three Brewing Coppers, ** to contain about 200 Barrels each, Seven Fermenting Backs of 14,000 Gallons each; One Mash Kieve with Machinery capable of Mashing 200 Barrels of Grain, and a Mid capable of Grinding over that quantity daily. There are suitable Spirit and Low Wine Receivers, Store Casks; about 1000 feet of Cooling Pipe, placed in a rapid stream, and other Utensils complete-also, Utensils for making Buls and Barm. The yard is of ample dimensions capable of confining a sufficient quantity of Fuel. The whole machinery of the Distillery is propelled by Water, of which their is a sufficient supply during the distilling season of the year. This very valuable and well-circumstanced property, which is in perfect working order and repair, is held on lease for 300 (or 309) years, from ***** 1814, at a rent of £25 late Irish currency, or £24 1s 6d British.


SECONDLY-That large and commodius Store, Kiln & Yard, in Market-street, Galway, lately in the possession of Messrs. CONNELL & Darby DUGGAN. The inside Yards is 110 feet by 46. The Building Plot, attached has 67 feet in front-the mason-work of the first story of which is erected. The Store is 110 feet by 26, consisting of a Ground Floor and Four Lofts, capable of

containing 6000 barrels of grain. This property is held for a term of two lives & 99 years; to commence from the decease of said lives at the rent of £30 Irish or £27 13s 11d British.


THIRDLY-That property in Market-street, Castlebar, partly occupied formerly as a Brewery, consisiting of a large Malt-house, Store, Brew-house, and Dwelling-house with the Yard, Offices and Appurtenances-bound on the North by the River; on the South by market-street; on the East by James FARY's House and Garden, and on the West by a house in the possession of Ellen

M'AVEY, Widow. Held on Lease for Lives renewable for ever, at the rent of £65 per annum.


Mr. Francis FITZGERALD, Brewer in Galway, will show the Properties in Galway to intended purchasers, and Mr. Patrick FITZGERALD, Brewer, in Castlebar, will point out the premises there.


Further particulars may be learned by application to Messrs. James and John BLAKENEY, Solicitors, 2* Gloucester-street, Dublin and Galway; and of Mr John ROURKE, Solicitor, 23 Upper Temple-street, Messrs. BLAKENEY have in Dublin, plans of the different properties and concerns, which can be seen on application to them.



§               I have made contact with a person claiming to be a direct descendant of Francis and Eleanor. His descendency is through Patrick Fitzgerald’s son Robert who arrived in the Americas (Boston) on 26 June 1854. As yet he is unaware of any Ryan link and did not know about the 1853 death of Patrick Fitzgerald. I have no reason to doubt that this person’s research has correctly identified Francis & Eleanor Fitzgerald as the father of Patrick Fitzgerald.


§               To put the Fitzgeralds of Turlough into historical perspective, the following note is taken from an Internet site ( ) but parallels the information recorded in Burkes Landed Gentry of Ireland, 4th Edition 1958, Page 281. (nb the spelling is as on the internet page this was copied from)




Currahaun and the hamlets of Corefore and Gragenegihie, parcel of the aforesaid town; Lywghvonye otherwise Luff anie, and the hamlet of Ballivooly, parcel of the said town; and

of three-fourths of Rathpatricke, and of a yearly rent of 4s. out of the lands of Oneagh (elsewhere written Creyagh).  So seised, the said Nicholas died Sept. 29th, 16I7.  Patrick

Fitzgerald, son and heir of the said Nicholas, was 50 years of age at the time of his father's death, and married.  The premises are held of the King in free and common socage, and at a yearly rent Of 26s. 8d.


Under the Cromwellian regime, John Fitzgerald, the head of the family, forfeited Rathcleheene, Kilmurry, Gurteens,, Rathpatrick, Luffiny, Curraghmore, and Castlewood (which last is in the parish of Kilcolumb) ; Toby or Theobald Fitzgerald, at the same time, forfeited Nicholastown (otherwise " Ballinickoll ").


The following members of the family were transplanted to Connaught, Dec. 26th, 1653 :-John Fitzgerald, of Gurteenes ; Theobald Fitzgerald, of Ballywaring Nicholas Fitzgerald, of

Flemingstown ; and Walter Fitzgerald, of Gallestown.


John Fitzgerald, on his transplantation, was assigned the lands of Turlough and other lands in the Barony of Carra, Co. Mayo ; which lands were confirmed to him by Royal letters of May 3oth, 1677. He married Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Sir John Browne, of the Neale, Co. Mayo.  He must have lived to a very great age, as his will in which he is described as " late of Mohenny, formerly of Turlough, in the County of Mayo," is dated July 23rd, I717, more than 63 years after his departure from Gurteen.  Administration with will annexed was granted to his widow, Elizabeth, July 2ISt, I720.  He was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas Fitzgerald, born in 1661 died July, I747, from whom descends the present Charles Lionel Fitzgerald, of Turlogh Park, J.P. and D.L. for the Co. Mayo.


§               From an Internet page for Turlough (

Turlough History


The picturesque village of Turlough derives its name from the flash of lake that is situated below the village and in front of the present edifice of the remaining Fitzgerald Family. (The big house of the Fitzgeralds is to be turned into a heritage centre).


The village has historical links going back as far as the days of George Robert. Better known as "Fighting Fitzgerald", he was renowned for his equestrian prowess and having the finest horses competing in the races in the Towerfield, adjacent to the Round Tower. This racecourse was reckoned to be one of the finest on this side of the Shannon. The Land Commission eventually took over Towerfield and subsequent races were held on Vinegar Hill on the south side of the river.


The Turlough Round tower of the 9th century is one of the most complete and best-preserved round towers in Ireland. Round towers were built as places of refuge for the occupants of important Churches or Abbeys against the Vikings. From the windows near the top of the tower a lookout kept watch for the invaders and when they approached the occupants of the church moved in and brought their valuables with them. The entrance was high up on the wall so they would climb a ladder and pulled it in afterwards to get into the tower. The beautiful round tower is a splendid landmark and it reminds one of the golden age of faith.


Turlough is one of the ancient places associated with St. Patrick. St. Patrick's  Church was built in 441 but the Cromwellians, on the confiscation of the Burgo Estate in Turlough, destroyed it in 1654. The ruins of the old church are still to be seen, and it has very interesting stone sculpture. It was under the jurisdiction of the Primates of Armagh up to the 16th century. For almost a thousand years the Primatial See of Armagh continued to claim rights over the parish by reason of those early associations.


That he apprenticed as a steam engineer


Family History

He was apprenticed to an engineering firm in Limerick.



None to date


Possibly can get at apprenticeship records, would need (expensive) Irish researcher and fingers crossed the name is John Ryan! Also possibility of Mormon Church having filmed records needs to be researched.



Apprenticeships were often required to be brought. If so for engineering then this would have been an expensive business.



That he spent time as a youth in Blackrock (there are several Blackrock’s in Ireland, the most likely appear either Castlebar, Dublin or Abbeyfaele, Limerick)


Family History

Not known which Blackrock was referred to. A lot of speculation has been made that John Ryan came from Abbeyfaele in Limerick, and the presence of Blackrock close by could lead credence to that.



Research has been done in Ireland by our cousin Michael Ryan that suggests that the Ryans of Abbeyfaele are not our Ryans. So does this suggest the Blackrock is the Mayo or Dublin one? If he was in Dublin why come back to Limerick for an apprenticeship?



That he was shipwrecked in the Atlantic in the early 1870’s upon a timber ship named General O’Neil.


Family History

Exactly as stated above, plus he claimed one death among the crew for a crew member who would not go into the rigging with the others.



A lot has been done. See separate document about “General Neil”, owned by Spaight & Sons.


The statements about 1 crewmember dying who did not go into the rigging may be correct. One crewmember, the cook, did die, but by exposure, no reference has been found to not going into the rigging.


However no evidence of a John Ryan has been found on any crew list for 1871 and 1872. The wreck was end of November 1872. Aboard (signed on in Limerick) were a Michael Joyce. James Joyce, John McInerney, Patrick O'Donnell, John Callaghan, William Malony of about the right age (19-21). On a previous voyage we find of about the right age John Bouchier, Robert Fitzgerald, Richard Blight, Maurice Connell. All were born in Limerick except Patrick O'Donnell born Kilrush and John Callaghan born Tipperary. Callaghan, Maloney, Bouchier and Connell all deserted in Quebec. Michael Joyce went on to become the major of Limerick 1905-1906 and was also a Shannon Pilot. He served on a total of 8 ships (including the General Neil).


I have just recently made contact with a relative of the family who purchased Spaight & Sons, and who still own ship companies in the Limerick docks. He had some info on the General Neil, including that the ship was near-wrecked in 1868 also. See separate document about “General Neil”. The 1868 near sinking needs follow-up, there were 3 deaths and its not impossible that John Ryan was referring to this event, although the ship was not “wrecked” as such.



That he was in the British Navy, and claims have been made that he deserted


Family History

The claim is that he served in Aden and China Station. Also, possibly in New York. Claim is that service was terminated “unofficially”.



I have found a reference in the London newspaper The Times to the sinking of the Calypso. This was a British navy ship sunk off the American coast. The article was written by a John Ryan. To be checked. Article appeared 20 April 1880  and is on page 1.



The Notes of John Stephen Ryan.


John passed these notes onto me. Most is handed down oral history from his grandfather via his father, with some research suggestions from John. We have no idea of the correctness of any of this, John recorded these as faithfully as he recalled.


“My great grandfather and a cousin being men of some wealth decided to go on a holiday tour of the United States

                        about which much was being heard and to which many of their compatriots had fled during and following the great

                        famine in Ireland. My great grandmother and infant son (my grandfather was an only child) remained at home in



                        North America at that time – about 1854, was subject to cyclic outbreaks of yellow fever. Both travelers contracted

                        the fever and my great grandfather died from it. His cousin (name not known to me) managed to get back to Ireland

                        but wa ssuffering from well advanced yellow fever by the tim ehe reached Dublin and died three days later.


                        The only information obtained from him before he died was that his cousin (my great grandfather) has died of the

                        fever in a place called Saint Johns.


                        When news of my great grandfathers death became know the English overlords descended in force on my ancestral

                        home – wherever that was and dispossessed my great grandmother and my grandfather who was said to be then 6

                        months of age. Whatever it was, wa sgiven to some English who were promptly shot by some of our relatives.

                        Unfortunately there wer enot enough of ours to beat the English and it was not long before some others moved in.


                        Meantime yet other relatives came on the scene and took my great grandmother and child into Limerick where they

                        acquired a shop of some sort and it to my great grandmother. It was only in this last few years that I found that this

                        shop (and residence) was somewhere in West Limerick. The man from whom I got this information knew my

                        grandparents well and regrettably was killed in Ireland by a motor car a few years ago.”



End of John Ryan Research Notes