Well-known Enniscorthy CBS secondary school principal John Ryan who has died at the age of 58 had many passions and interests in life but his greatest love was reserved for his family and he was happiest enjoying time with them.
Standing at 6ft 4in tall, he had a a strong physical presence with a big kind smile, a genuine interest in others, a reassuringly calm demeanour and a gift for making people feel valued and listened to.
He was an educationalist who never stopped learning, a family man with a forensic passion for genealogy and a proud Corkman who loved travelling abroad but above all, he was a gentleman, thoughtful, caring, patient and slow to anger even in the face of serious illness.
He loved the diverse duties of being a school principal, a role that benefited from his meticulous talent for organisation and oversight and he leaves behind a proud legacy of progress and achievement at Enniscorthy CBS where he was a happy man going to work every day.
When he was diagnosed with cancer last July, John approached his illness with characteristic courage and optimism, maintaining his usual attention to detail, diligently keeping a record of all his consultations, hospital visits and medications.
He attended his son Sean’s wedding to Gemma McGuire on October 22, a day of great joy for the family which has left them with many treasured photos of him smiling and dancing.
Unsurprisingly, he made a great top table speech.
While he remained positive and hopeful to the end, his illness progressed and he died in Waterford University Hospital on February 9, surrounded by his heartbroken family.
John Ryan was born in Mount Alvernia Hospital in Mallow, County Cork on May 2, 1964, the eldest son of Nora and the late Sean Ryan, and grew up on a dairy farm in Coolmona, Donoughmore, which left him with a life-long fascination for farm machinery and agriculture.
He attended Firmount national school and Coachford Vocational School where he not only excelled academically but also in practical subjects such as woodwork, metalwork and engineering, which he was to greatly value.
After his Leaving Cert, he studied History and Anthropology, then a new subject, at Maynooth University, securing a research position on graduation, with an American institute conducting a worldwide study of the role of ageing in society. He spent 18 months interviewing and recording interviews with elderly people in Blessington, County Wicklow, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.
He returned to Maynooth to do his H Dip, graduating with top marks in 1988, before taking up a post teaching religion in Nutgrove Avenue school in Dublin, and he studied catechetics for two years at night in UCD, moving to Balally Community School to teach history and religion. He later studied for a post-grad in Education through Trinity College.
He met Eilish Grouden from Moate in County Westmeath when he was in third year in Maynooth and she in second year. They were married in August 1990 and honeymooned in Scotland.
In 1991, John secured a job in Wexford CBS school where he worked happily for nine years, teaching History, English, Religion and Computers as part of the LCVP programme. He and Eilish bought a house in newly-constructed Pineridge on Summerhill, moving in on August 1, 1994.
In 1999, at the age of 35, John successfully applied for the job of Acting Principal in Enniscorthy CBS, later becoming Principal and using his leadership qualities to steer the school through constant expansion and change for more than two decades.
John loved to sing and was a member for over 25 years of Bride Street Church choir which sang at his funeral Mass. He enjoyed listening to music including classical and opera and attended Wexford Festival Opera productions.
Travelling was a favourite escape and he and Eilish travelled extensively throughout Europe, enjoyed camping holidays with their children in France and a family holiday in America and also visited Russia.
John travelled to Sierra Leone on a teachers’ immersion programme with the CBS.
He loved a hike and found it hard to pass a hill or a mountain without climbing it, with Forth Mountain being a favourite place to go walking with the family dogs Izzy and Archie. He also visited most of the islands off Ireland.
Sport was a great passion with Cork football and hurling top of the list. Of course he also supported Wexford but only when they weren’t playing Cork. Munster was his rugby team and Liverpool his soccer club.
He was an avid reader of books, political history, biographies, historical fiction and more recently crime fiction. He couldn’t go to sleep without reading a book.
Genealogy was a life-long interest that he dipped in and out of, researching his family history with great success, unearthing connections abroad, interviewing grand uncles, visiting the National Library, devouring documents and later enjoying the availability of census documents and records online.
In a eulogy written by Eilish which was read during the funeral Mass in Bride Street Church by her brother-in-law Ray Walsh, a lecturer in DCU, she said the most important thing in John’s whole life was his family and he was happiest in the midst of everyone he loved, telling stories, listening and laughing.
Whenever he was asked what he would like for a Christmas or birthday present, he would simply reply “I’m a man of few needs.”
She described him as the love of her life and she was his. They never fought. He never raised his voice or shouted at anyone. Whenever she got worked up over something he’d say “calm down now, we’ll put the brakes on.”
She wanted everyone to know how brave, accepting and positive John was throughout his illness. He never became angry or cross over getting cancer. Following his diagnosis, he decided not to look too far into the future, telling her “we’ll take it day by day”.
The Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr Pat Mernagh, a friend of the family, assisted by Fr John Gallagher SMA, a friend from Maynooth. Bishop of Ferns, Ger Nash and retired Bishop Denis Brennan were in attendance along with a large number of local clergy.
Acting principal Brendan O’ Sullivan spoke on behalf of Enniscorthy CBS, paying tribute to a much-loved principal and colleague.
Gifts brought to the altar symbolising John’s life included a a book on 150 years of the CBS in Enniscorthy, a combined Cork and Wexford jersey, his choir book, his dog Izzy’s lead and a family tree scroll.
Family, friends and neighbours walked through Pineridge behind the hearse as John left home for the last time on Monday morning, with the the cortege pausing at Wexford CBS before entering the church grounds where uniformed students from Enniscorthy CBS formed a guard of honour.
He was buried in Barntown cemetery, in the shadow of Forth Mountain where he always enjoyed the walking trails, fresh air and panoramic views of the Wexford countryside.
John is survived by his beloved wife Eilish, his children Seán and Aisling, his mother Nora, daughter-in-law Gemma, Darragh, sisters Ann O’Driscoll and Tess Jones, brothers Michael and David, father-in-law Tommy Grouden and his extended family, colleagues and a large circle of friends.