Legendary jeweller to the Celtic Tiger

W hen Thurles jeweller Matty Ryan topped a list of Ireland's Top 100 Party Animals in 2001 he embraced the accolade with the glee of one who'd truly earned it. Then in his mid-fifties, but with no intention of slowing down, he announced: "I get home at six in the morning and am at work at nine. I couldn't give a damn if I went two weeks without sleeping. Enjoying oneself is far more important than sleeping."

Ryan, who turned a small-time Tipperary jewellery business into the boutique service of choice for Europe's bluebloods, possessed both a natural talent and a ravenous appetite for social networking. As he explained himself: "I try to accept every invitation because one invitation is the making of another three. Life is for living. There are too many people going around with long faces. We should all be making hay while the sun shines."

He declared that Thurles was the ideal HQ for Ireland's top party goer, contending: "It's perfect living here because I'm only an hour and a half from any point in Ireland." Picking up his award with the Celtic Tiger's roar at its most thunderous, he noted acute changes in his merry-making since he first stepped onto the social scene in the 1960s. He quipped: "I go abroad to a lot of parties these days, as my friends who used to have bicycles now have aeroplanes."

On Wednesday, the many good friends Matty Ryan made, in his richly lived 65 years, arrived by private jet and by bicycle for his funeral service in the town. They came from the rolling private estates of Britain and beyond, and the nearby council estates of Tipperary.

One acquaintance says: "Matty's jewellery store was like no other because there was always a warm welcome for anyone who crossed the threshold. Despite all his friends in high places he never forgot his roots, and he knew the name of everyone who came in, no matter what their status in life."

His childhood friend Pierce Molony, now manager of Thurles Racecourse, confirms that Matty was a people person. Molony recalls: "Around 30 years ago, one of the guys at the track asked Matty if he could repair a cherished piece of jewellery which his mother wanted to wear to a dance. He examined it and said there was no way it could be repaired on time. But then, on the evening of the dance, he drove out to the woman's house and presented her with the piece, repaired so she could look her best for the big occasion."

Matty spent his entire life living above the family store overlooking Thurles' main square. He took over the business from his late father and worked a magic transformation by combining his love of the horses with a gift for his calling. Molony says: "He had a mobile jewellery stand which he took to Goffs and other bloodstock sales. There, his fantastic taste got him noticed by that social set. He just had an instinct for jewellery and its design. People trusted his taste, which is a rare thing.

For instance, if you couldn't get to a wedding, you could ring up Matty and he would have a present delivered which would be absolutely perfect."

Another friend remembers: "He'd have a jewellry kiosk at Leopardstown and other meetings, where he'd serve up sound professional advice, Pimms and strawberries."

When the business of the day was put away, Matty Ryan shone by night as the host with the most.

Molony said: "He loved to entertain above the shop, where his dining room was a treasure trove of all things silver. No one ever turned down an invite to Matty's because you never knew who you were going to meet from every walk of life, from sports to the arts to aristocracy."

Early last year when he threw a wake for his late friend, the Earl of Harrington, Bill Stanhope, his guests included Viscount Linley, plus an array of other aristocrats.

Matty was friendly with Linley's mother, the late Princess Margaret, and with Princess Di.

When he threw a big bash to mark his 65th birthday before Christmas, the guests included Lord Inchiquin, Lord Hemphill, a galaxy of home-grown socialites and the cream of the horsey set including Edward O'Grady, Aidan O'Brien and Charlie Swan.

Matty's love of horses was a lifelong affair. As a child he began hunting with beagles, on foot. In his teens he graduated to horseback, but it was aged 35 that he had his finest hour in the saddle, winning a two-mile 'bumper' flat race at Thurles.

The other great passion in his life was raising cash for the North Tipperary Hospice of which he was chairman. He held regular fundraising events for the hospice on the customised vehicle presented to him for his 60th birthday.

As he told RTE television: "The phone rang one morning and I was instructed to get up and look out the window. There, below me on the square, was a garda, a piper, and a red London double-decker bus."

While Matty never married, he doted on his nieces and nephews who loved to ride on his bus.

Summing up a life lived to the full, Molony says of his friend: "He didn't just burn the candle at both ends, he burned it right through the middle."

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