A devoted man of God with a cheeky lust for sport, Barry Duggan remembers the heart of Cappamore
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Maynooth NUI Fr Liam Ryan - a hurler, theologian and proud Limerick man - passed away on Wednesday but not before his county had defeated Clare in the Munster hurling championship.
Liam (79) holds the distinction of being the youngest ever winning captain of a Munster senior hurling championship team. Like last Sunday, Limerick defeated their Shannonside rivals 60 years ago with the 19-year-old Cappamore hurler lining out at wing forward. His younger brother, Seamus (18), also played that day with the team famously remembered as 'Mackey's Greyhounds'.
A graduate of St Flannan's College and also highly successful in athletics, Liam was ordained a priest on June 18, 1960 after studying in St Patrick's College in Maynooth. His devotion to the church impacted on his sporting career, as a priest was not then permitted to play hurling.
However, it didn't stop a man named 'Tom Ryan' with a very similar appearance to Liam from hurling, and at a match in Cork, renowned commentator, Micheal O'Hehir delightfully broadcast, "Unless my eyesight is failing me, that's Liam Ryan down on the field".
Following ordination, he remained in Maynooth for two years of post-graduate studies and then went to the University of Saint Louis, Missouri where he received a PhD in Sociology.
Liam held a conversation with ease and his wit brought a smile to many. While in Saint Louis, he said, "Before I came to the USA, I had heard it was the land of the free, now that I have studied the high rate of remarriage, I know it is also the land of the brave."
On his return to Ireland, he became a lecturer in sociology in University College Cork and was then appointed Professor of Sociology at Maynooth NUI where he remained until retirement.
He completed and published the first critical study of the sprawling estates being built by Limerick Corporation. A respected scholar across the country, Liam correctly predicted in his 1960s work entitled Social Dynamite - A Study of Early School Leavers, the future chaos and problems that would develop in Limerick deprived suburbs. His work has been held to widespread acclaim by numerous researchers.
Cappamore was always in Liam's heartbeat and after leaving Maynooth, he retired home in 2003 to the parochial house.
In 2005, Liam and Cappamore Parish Priest Fr Dick Browne - originally from Tipperary - brought their hurleys and sliotars to the local GAA field for a puck around days before their counties clashed in the hurling championship.
Two hours later, with numerous goals scored and light fading, the two laughing pastors had to be summoned off the field by concerned parishioners who feared neither would have the energy to oversee weekend masses or make the big game.
Always active at home, Liam wrote a song to celebrate another famous Cappamore man and Irish rugby player - John 'The Bull' Hayes when he won his 100th international cap. He served as vice-president of the local GAA club and President of the Historical Society. In recent years, he toured with the society to Rome, Berlin, Nice, Prague, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, St Petersburg, Istanbul, Sorento, Brussels, Flanders Fields and all corners of Ireland.
Quoting Martin Luther King, Liam spoke of how the quality of a person's life could be measured "by the length of it, (what they made of their lives), by the breadth of it,(how they reached out to others), by the height of it (how they gave time to God)."
"A good life should be equal in all three," he quoted. If Liam's life was measured by these standards, then all qualities were equal and in abundance.
Earlier this month, he took his final holiday to Bere Island, Co Cork, where along with Fr Gerry O'Connor of Cherry Orchard, he concelebrated the wedding mass of his neighbour Colin Duggan and Fina Dalton.
In Milford Care Centre last Sunday, Liam watched Limerick beat Clare for the final time in his colourful life. Yesterday, his family, neighbours, teammates and friends gathered in St Michael's Church in Cappamore to pay their final respects to a much loved and cherished man.