Friends and Relations
Picture of Thady Ryan.

Thady Ryan, who has died aged 81, was for almost 60 years Master of the Scarteen Hounds, Ireland's most famous pack of foxhounds.

The Ryans have run the Scarteen Hunt (named after their house in Knocklong, on the Limerick-Tipperary border) since the late 18th century. The hounds, with their high dome and long low-slung ears, are believed to have originated in Spain; they are popularly known, because of their distinctive colouring, as the Black and Tans – a name later given to the notorious paramilitary force sent to Ireland to combat republican terrorists in 1920.

Ryan took over as master, owner and huntsman in 1946, and, with his lovable personality and dedication to his pack, attracted a host of foreign visitors, such as Lord Diplock, Lord Oaksey (The Telegraph's racing correspondent) and the trainer Fred Winter, as well as Americans such as the film director John Huston.

He was considered unique among the breed of masters after an American asked him in the field how he blew "that horn thing"; Ryan not only listened to the question but stopped to show him how to do it. In addition, he took great trouble to find suitable outcrosses who would preserve the essential character of his pack and its hunting abilities.

The grandson of a general in the British Army, and the son of an officer who served in the Boer War and the First World War, Thaddeus Francis Richard Ryan was born in Dublin on September 23 1923. Although the family was in straitened circumstances, he was sent to Ampleforth, where he was master of the school's beagles. One of his contemporaries was George Hume, the future Cardinal, who, one St Patrick's Day, snatched from Ryan's lapel a shamrock sent by his parents from Ireland and stamped it on the ground.

At 18, Ryan decided not to follow most of his schoolfellows into the colours. He was clear that his first duty was to return home to help his 70-year-old father on their farm in southern Ireland, which was neutral; but this was a choice about which he confessed to feeling a twinge of guilt in later life.

They were uphill days in Irish farming, and it was difficult to keep the hunt going. After the war, however, there was an influx of upper-class Englishmen on the run from heavy taxation and the deprivations of post-war Britain; some wags called it "the retreat from Moscow". They bought up country houses and joined in the hunting, although few achieved the easy rapport with the local people that was Ryan's inheritance and peculiar strength. He was regarded by all classes locally as one of their own and, if he was sometimes hasty, he also knew how to apologise and to calm ruffled feelings in the wake of hunting days.

To make ends meet, the cash-strapped Ryans had to take in paying guests from abroad for the hunting. Several of these were wealthy Americans who acted as Joint Master, thereby enabling the Scarteen Hunt to survive as a celebrated feature of the Irish countryside.

Although the campaign against field sports has never attained much momentum in Ireland, Ryan was occasionally called upon to defend foxhunting against critics. He made his case well, maintaining that it was the least cruel method of killing a fox. But he foresaw a rift between town and country with the growth of urban populations which had never experienced rural life at first hand. He believed that city-dwellers should be invited to visit hunt kennels, where their children could play with the puppies.

For many years Ryan was chairman of the equestrian committee of the Royal Dublin Society, and he introduced a relay race for different hunts with their hounds in the riding arena. As a huntsman with a silken thread, he was immensely proud of the rapturous reception he received on one occasion for getting all his hounds to follow him up on to the double bank at the Ballsbridge show grounds.

Foreign travel became a bigger part of Ryan's life as the years passed. He was invited to hunt in England, the United States and in many European countries. He went on trips sponsored by the Irish Tourist Board, but resisted their suggestions for mass tourism from America linked to hunting, as he was convinced that this would change the whole character of the sport in Ireland. He came to England not only to hunt but also as a judge. He was once slated in Horse and Hound when, in the hunter class at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley, he marked down a gelding that had been placed first by his fellow judge, the Duke of Beaufort.

Ryan was chef d'équipe of the Irish Olympic team that competed in the three-day event at the Tokyo and Mexico Olympics in the 1960s. He was a founder-member of the Horse Board, set up in 1972 to promote better horse-breeding in Ireland. When he thought that funds were being squandered on administration, and that travel and other privileges were being abused, he resigned. He was a straightforward man of high principles rooted in deep religious beliefs that were of a very conservative character.

Having survived a heart by-pass, Ryan handed over the hunting of the hounds to his eldest son, Chris, in 1986 and emigrated to his wife's homeland, New Zealand, where two of his children had settled; however, he continued to return home to hunt. The Ryans brought with them several Irish draught horses who contributed greatly to the breeding stock in that country.

Those who heard Ryan recount in a lilting voice his repertoire of tales about a vanished rural Ireland, and his anecdotes about the people he had met, urged him to write everything down. In 2002 he published My Privileged Life with the Scarteen Black and Tans. This portrays a sunny man of great humanity who is essentially untouched by the modern world.

Thady Ryan, who died in New Zealand on January 9, married Anne Peter. She survives him with his daughter and four sons.


Added by: Pollyanna Russell-Stower on 23rd February 2006.





Joann Stoll writes [8th July 2013]:

I had the pleasure of meeting Thaddius Ryan on one of his trips to the US visting the Spring Creek Equestrian Center in Jackson Hole,Wyoming. We had a wonderful visit and I enjoyed meeting him. He came to my home just to see my Jack Russells and was very taken with Woody.



William Gammell writes [3rd February 2013]:

I been a follower of scarteen for manny years and one thing I always remember thady Ryan for a nice person he was and brilliant hunts man he be well proud of his son chris and the good work he doing with scarteen today my name William Gammell from nicker and is in Sydney and miss the hunting I love looking at your pictures and stories on here reminders me of home and the hunting kind regards William



Angela O Dwyer writes [27th January 2011]:

I am the ward of Josie Ryan who brought me up when i was seven to ten. Josie Ryan who was a cook for the Ryans of Scarteen in 1958. I have been back it is a wonderful place. Also Annette O'Dwyer was my first cousin Tom O'Dwyer wife he worked at Scarteen.

angela o dwyer



Raymond Barlow writes [2nd January 2011]:

how wonderfull to opened this site and see Master Thady in familar pose on Jacko as i glance to reasure myself at peter curling painting at knocktoran bog,a great and humble gentleman whom is held in great & very found esteem in our household.thank you for so many great memories and stories still shared. as children we often fought over who was hunting and who got big days out in emly kilross knocklong and of course knockcarn on stephens day, thanks for all the good memories and love of horse and ... [read more from Raymond Barlow]



Danielle Tuck writes [4th May 2006]:

I am writing to say that my mother who died in 2002 was named Una Ryan. All my life she told me that my family lived in Tipperary and that one day I should visit the place where my ancestors grew up. My grandmother is named Violet Ryan and my grandfather was named Edward to the best of my knowledge as he died before I was born (but I will check that). They had children named Edward, Delorise, Josephine, Mary, Anne, Paula and my mother Una. They also had another daughter who died at a young age in ... [read more from Danielle Tuck]



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Picture of Thady Ryan.
Picture of Thady Ryan.