Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ryan, John Tighe (1870–1922)

by Michael McKernan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Tighe Ryan (1870?-1922), journalist and editor, was born at Miltown, Clonoulty, Tipperary, Ireland, second surviving son of nine children of Phillip Ryan, landowner, and his wife Margaret, née Tighe. After her husband's death in 1881, Margaret Ryan brought her children to Queensland, settling eventually at Ipswich. Tighe, as he was known, was educated at St Joseph's Christian Brothers' School, Brisbane, and worked on newspapers there and on the Queensland Times at Ipswich.

In Sydney by 1893, Ryan joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph, contributed to the Review of Reviews and met leading politicians and Federationists. He corresponded with Alfred Deakin in 1893 about Federation and requested copy for the Antipodean (1893, 1895), an illustrated annual that Ryan edited with George Essex Evans and to which he persuaded Robert Louis Stevenson to contribute. Later Ryan was Australian representative for the Pall Mall Gazette and the Westminster Gazette. Accepting the editorship of the Gundagai Times about 1895, Ryan moved to the Irish heartland of southern New South Wales.

Recommended by P. J. O'Donnell, a local grazier, Ryan in 1897 was appointed editor of the Catholic Press, founded in 1895 by Sydney priests who desired a cheap, effective newspaper for laymen who could not afford the sixpenny Freeman's Journal; the paper sold for threepence. Ryan followed the standards and tone set by its first clerical editors. The Catholic Press met its readers' expectations, supporting Home Rule for Ireland, Australian Federation and protection for local industries. He opposed Britain's role in the South African War, as did many Irishmen who chose to see the Boers fighting for self-determination.

As the Bulletin put it, although Ryan 'was extremely combative he was physically frail, so that he had to do all his fighting with tongue or pen'. The fight against conscription in 1916 and 1917 became his great crusade. When war broke out he adopted the Christian consensus view that saw the war as necessary, and likely to produce a world-wide religious revival and show Australia as loyal to the Empire. More inclined to print articles from Catholic thinkers such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc than to concentrate in detail like the Freeman's Journal on local matters, Ryan nevertheless reprinted many of Archbishop Kelly's loyal and platitudinous war sermons and in mid-1915 gave qualified support to compulsory enlistment, arguing that the burden of war should be apportioned equitably.

By June 1916 sentiment at the Catholic Press was changing, perhaps as a reaction to the Easter tragedy in Dublin. Arguing that it was neither the shirker nor the worker who was impeding the war effort but the commercial system, Ryan called for fairer distribution of wealth and political justice for the Irish nation. In July he depicted the 'heroes' of the uprising in Dublin.

By September the case against conscription was being forcefully made in editorials, letters and news reports, despite Kelly's support for W. M. Hughes's and the Freeman's Journal's enthusiastic pro-conscription stance. Articles included 'Conscription: the racial and industrial suicide of Australia' and 'Conscription is slavery'. Ryan also became Archbishop Mannix's Sydney champion and led the cult of personality that enveloped Mannix during his public appearances in Sydney in 1918. In 1917 the Catholic Press's circulation had doubled over the past year, indicating how well it was satisfying Catholic readers.

The degree to which Ryan's advocacy of the anti-conscription cause influenced lay Catholic opinion must be a matter for conjecture, but he certainly showed the depth of Catholic feeling and in this, perhaps, educated his archbishop. A close friend suggested that his health was undermined by the pressure of the conscription campaigns. He died of cerebral haemorrhage on 20 September 1922 in St Vincent's Hospital and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. The bulk of his estate, valued for probate at £4459, was bequeathed to the poor schools in the Sydney archdiocese. Three of his sisters had entered the religious life and the Bulletin regarded Ryan as 'a priest in all but ordination'; he never married and lived with his mother until her death in 1908.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 5, part 1, 1976
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 5 May 1894
  • Catholic Press, 21, 28 Sept 1922
  • Bulletin, 28 Sept 1922
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Michael McKernan, 'Ryan, John Tighe (1870–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryan-john-tighe-8315/text14583, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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