Michael Ryan: A Biographical Summary
Ryan's birth and early life remain mysterious. Many authors continue to give his dates as 1800–1841, following the Dictionary of National Biography. The 1841 date for his death is demonstrably incorrect, as his death certificate shows that Ryan died on 11 December 1840.63 His death certificate also indicates that he died in his 40th year, but an anonymous obituary, which appears otherwise to be reasonably accurate, states clearly that he died in his 46th year.64 We believe Ryan to have been admitted as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1819.65 The official rules of the college in those days required a minimum age of 22, so that would seem to argue against a birth date of 1800.66 Adrian Desmond, in his study of radical reform in British medicine, accepts the obituary account and gives Ryan's dates as 1794–1840.67 The records of the Royal College of Surgeons and of the University of Edinburgh Medical School agree that Michael Ryan's address in 1818–1819 was Barris O'Leigh (today Burrisoleigh) in County Tipperary, Ireland. Ryan dedicated his M.D. thesis at Edinburgh to a clergyman at Glankeen, which is near Burrisoleigh, and he returned to that locale for at least a year following graduation from Edinburgh. We conclude that Burrisoleigh, Tipperary was most likely the location of Ryan's birth and family home. All contemporary birth records for that parish have been destroyed, so it may be impossible today to trace any further information about Ryan's origins.68 When Ryan was brought to insolvent debtor's court in London in 1836, he was reported to have previously had income from land in Ireland to the sum of about £150 annually, raising the possibility that his family was of the landowning class.69 Ryan once referred to the “views of his relative, Dr. O'Ryan, on ‘Consumption,’ ” suggesting that other members of his family may have practiced medicine.70 Ryan also at some point became sufficiently well versed in both French and Latin so as later to be able to translate volumes written in those languages.71 These characteristics would be consistent with higher rather than lower class origins.