‘They did the State some service’

The Tragic Story of the Ryan Brothers of Cashel

By Pat Poland

Older readers will recall the classic black and white movie, The Fighting Sullivans. It tells of the five Sullivan brothers (of Irish descent) from Waterloo, Iowa, in the United States, who all died after their warship, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific in November 1942.

Of more recent vintage was the acclaimed 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, part of which was filmed at Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe, Co. Wexford. It recounts the (fictional) tale of a squad of US Army Rangers as they search for an American paratrooper, ‘Private James Francis Ryan’, lost behind enemy lines in Normandy in 1944.

He is the last surviving brother of four servicemen. The picture is loosely based on the true story of the Niland brothers who all served in the US Army during WWII.
As a direct result of these events, particularly the Sullivan family calamity, the US War Department adopted the ‘Sole Survivor Policy’. These regulations were designed to protect members of a family from the draft or from combat duty if they had already lost members in military service.

Nearer to home, the poignant story of the four Shea brothers from Co. Kilkenny – John, Richard, Patrick, and Joseph – all of whom perished in the First World War, has, with the recent centenary of the end of the war book-ended, been belatedly, but deservedly, remembered on RTÉ’s Nationwide.

It goes without saying that the loss of their sons was an unspeakable personal tragedy for the Sullivan, Niland, and Shea families.

This short article considers the no-less heart-rending narrative of the three Ryan brothers (all commissioned officers in the Irish Defence Forces) of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, who, although not falling in combat, nonetheless made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

The officers who died, 2nd Lieut Michael J. Ryan (19) (Air Corps), Lieut Thomas A. Ryan (22) (Army), and Capt. William J. Ryan (36) (Air Corps) were sons of Mr and Mrs W. P. Ryan, owners of Ryan’s Central Hotel, Cashel.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own