Thursday 18 January 2018

Obituary: Patrick Ryan, son of Dublin 'Gravy Joe'

Liam Collins sees a forgotten son of Dublin - 'Gravy Joe' - buried at Glasnevin

FORGOTTEN MAN: Ryan and Ballads & Balance. Photo: Carrick-on-Shannon Library
FORGOTTEN MAN: Ryan and Ballads & Balance. Photo: Carrick-on-Shannon Library

Thousands lined O'Connell Street for his father's funeral procession to Glasnevin Cemetery in 1933, but all those years later less than 20 watched in silence as his son's Tricolour-draped coffin, accompanied by a basket of turf, was borne to that same graveside last Wednesday.

Patrick Ryan was last but one of the gilded family of Senator Seamus Ryan, a founder of Fianna Fail and his wife Agnes Ryan, matron of the Monument Creamery shops that flourished for generations in Dublin and made her the richest business woman in the city.

He was the third child in a family of eight. His sister Kathleen went on to find fame as a Hollywood film star and his elder brother John was an artist, writer and patron of Paddy Kavanagh, but "dark silent Paddy", as he was described by his surviving sister Ide, ended up on Skid Row, Los Angeles, an alcoholic bum living on the streets off the scraps from the tables where once he used to dine.

But there was redemption. Patrick was brought back to Ireland and spent his declining years in a nursing home near Portlaoise, where he died on April 29 at the age of 90.

So it was that on Wednesday he was buried with his mother and father and one of his sisters beneath the statue of an angel in the Republican plot, within spitting distance of the last resting places of the Fenians John O'Leary and O'Donovan Rossa.

Despite the fame and fortune of the Ryan family in Dublin for over half a century, little is known about the second son, except what he tells us in a slim volume of poetry which goes by the title of Ballads & Balance or The Ballad of Gravy Joe's. Born in 1926, Patrick lived through an era of opulence as his mother's fortune mushroomed and the family moved into Burton Hall, a large manor house near Sandyford filled with the paintings of Jack B Yeats, antique furniture, and with all sorts of artists and writers in residence.

"I was born to a silver spoon

Now I scribble leaden runes

Chippendale and Meissen then,

Now I bench with Gravy's men"

The Ballad of Gravy Joe's - the nick-name for a mission house for down-and-outs in Los Angeles - tells his life story eloquently.

Expelled from three schools, the last being Clongowes Wood, he spent two years idling in UCD before joining the RAF, where he spent the last two years of the Second World War "scanning radar screens".

Back in Dublin with "horses' cards and stout" he became one of the McDaid's set, mixing with the Behan clan, Tony Cronin, Sean O'Sullivan, Harry Kernoff, Paddy Swift (who married his sister Oonagh), living a life of "sadness masked by drink".

After a sojourn in Spain where he "learned the use of brothels", Patrick came back to Dublin and became a director of his mother's firm, the Monument Creamery, got married and had two children - but he was drawn to Jack O'Rourke's pub where he spent his time with Gainor Crist and Flann O'Brien.

"Mother died we parted friends

Time all lesser grievance mends"

He then left for LA to try to become a script writer, but ended up on Skid Row.

"Common sense or self interest couldn't keep me in line with fashion, was there some suicidal instinct?" he asks in the introduction to his epitaph.

Before his coffin was lowered into the grave there was a reading of one verse from his poem:

"Clothe me in a linen sheet

Celtic from O'Connell Street

Set the parcel down six feet....

Throw some cuts of Irish peat,

Nothing lavish or elite."

And so, as school tours bustled around Glasnevin Cemetery and the odd passer-by cast a curious eye at the Tricolour-draped coffin, the Ballad of Gravy Joe's came to a conclusion and the sods of hard turf thumped on the coffin lid before the grave of this forgotten son of Dublin was filled in.

Sunday Independent

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