Friday 9 December 2016

Min Ryan, the woman who 'would have been my wife'

Published 26/11/2015 | 02:30

Richard Mulcahy and Min Ryan, Mac Diarmada’s former partner.
Richard Mulcahy and Min Ryan, Mac Diarmada’s former partner.

Sean Mac Diarmada's last letter to his brothers and sisters contains a poignant aside. He tells them that if he has any more messages for them, he will convey them through "Miss Ryan, she who in all probability, had I lived, would have been my wife."

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Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan was from a prosperous family who farmed at Tomcoole, near Taghmon, Co Wexford. A founder member of Cumann na mBan, she and several of her 11 brothers and sisters were active in the Rising and the conflicts that followed.

During the Rising Min and Phyllis acted as couriers to the GPO garrison.

In July 1916 Min Ryan wrote about her last visit to the man with whom she had been romantically involved for less than a year.

It was reproduced in Erins's Tragic Easter: the Irish Rebellion of 1916 and its Martyrs, edited by Maurice Joy:

"The last time I saw Seán McDermott was in a prison cell at Kilmainham Jail at 3 o'clock on the morning of May 12th. He was shot at 3.45 the same morning…

"The cell was small, black and white were the colours... As he came to the door with both hands extended to welcome us, with a smile on his face that seemed to transcend this brutal place, one felt fortitude and confidence in oneself once more and a strong desire to show no surprise at this unusual scene.

"We sat on the plank bed beside Seán. We discussed many of the events of the revolution. He told us of what had happened to them after they had been burnt out of the Post Office, the insults hurled at them by the most 'civilised' of armies when they had laid down their arms…

"He preferred to talk of all sorts of casual matters, asking about different people we knew, referring to various happy events of the past and enjoying little jokes and jests almost as naturally as if we had been in Bewley's."

Mac Diarmada cut buttons from his jacket and scratched his name upon them and some coins to pass on to friends as keepsakes.

"As one looked at his beautiful head bent over his work in the dim candlelight, one could scarcely keep one's feelings from surging over at the thought that beautiful head would be battered by four bullets…"

"At 3 o'clock, on the arrival of the Prison Chaplain, we bade farewell to Seán and left him to spend his last three-quarters of an hour in prayer and in preparation for a more lovely world."

In 1919 Min married Richard Mulcahy, who took command of the pro-Treaty forces in the Civil War after the killing of Michael Collins. He was leader of Fine Gael 1944-48.

Her elder sister Kit - a lecturer in French at UCD - married another 1916 veteran and future President of Ireland, Seán T O'Kelly who, after her death in 1934, wed her sister, Phyllis. Yet another, Agnes, married Denis McCullough, President of the IRB. Their brother, James was a minister for almost 30 years.

Min Ryan died, aged 92, in 1977.

Gerard Siggins

Irish Independent

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