Monday 5 December 2016

A princess's 'man about town' gets royal send-off

Barry Duggan

Published 16/11/2010 | 05:00

Countess of Wessex
Sophie Rhys-Jones
(middle) attends the funeral of
antique dealer and
property developer
Ned Ryan
Countess of Wessex Sophie Rhys-Jones (middle) attends the funeral of antique dealer and property developer Ned Ryan
Ned Ryan
Mr Ryan pictured with his close friend Princess Margaret, attending a play in London in 1987

ROYALS and billionaires mixed with mourners yesterday when a country village bade farewell to a former close confidant of Princess Margaret.

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The late Ned Ryan, from Upperchurch, Co Tipperary, got an emotional send-off in his home village from all sections of society including the Countess of Wessex, Sophie Rhys-Jones, who attended on behalf of the British royal family.

Security was tight on all approach roads to the Sacred Heart Church in Upperchurch where up to 400 people including Ms Rhys Jones, who is married to Prince Edward, gathered to pay their respects to Mr Ryan. He died last week at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London surrounded by family and friends following a long battle with cancer.

A former property developer and antique dealer from a farming background, Mr Ryan left Ireland at the age of 17 for the UK where he soon established himself as a shrewd businessman and had many high-profile connections. In the 1970s, Mr Ryan found himself sitting beside Princess Margaret -- who was the younger socialite sister of Queen Elizabeth -- at a dinner party given by the actress turned hotelier, Anouska Hempel. At that time, Mr Ryan had a stall at a London antiques market.

He invited the princess to Bermondsey market where he scouted for bargains. She duly arrived early one morning so as to avoid crowds and Mr Ryan gave her a tour. While it is understood the event was supposed to be private, at one stage Mr Ryan placed his cloak over a puddle so that Margaret would not get her feet wet and all stall holders soon realised who his guest was was. Photographs were snapped and Mr Ryan made national press.

Distinguished

The pair became close friends and remained so for more than 30 years with Mr Ryan regarded as her "man about town" in London.

On one occasion, Mr Ryan escorted the late princess to a Rolling Stones concert in Earls Court and to a party held by Joan Collins on another occasion. He was a regular attendee in the royal boxes at Wimbledon, Ascot and York.

Mr Ryan returned home to Upperchurch regularly and was in constant contact with family.

Armed gardai supported by local officers were keeping a close watch at yesterday's funeral where the billionaire owner of the Brown Thomas franchise, Galen Weston, also paid his respects.

All pews inside the church were taken before the Mass began and mourners -- including Tipperary All-Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy -- continued to arrive throughout the ceremony.

Fr Lottie Brennan -- first cousin to the deceased -- told the congregation that Ned did not die alone and was with the people he loved most.

"At 78 years of age, I would have wished him a longer life, but couldn't have wished him a better life," Fr Brennan said.

The priest recalled a visit he made to Ned while working as an emigrant chaplain in London in 1988 and said he was "an extremely generous host".

A photograph of Ned was placed on his coffin, while brothers Tommy and Packie and sister Chris sat close to the casket.

Mr Ryan's sister-in-law Joan Ryan thanked all who had travelled from near and far including the many "distinguished people".

A large marquee was erected in the village for the mourners to gather after the burial.

Irish Independent

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