Anthony Ryan’s, a one-hundred-year-old family business

Anthony Ryan came to Galway from Craughwell to work as an accountant in Donnellan’s hardware shop at number 16, Shop Street. While he was there a new apprentice named Katherine Morrisson from Drumfin in County Sligo came to work there. They started going out together and later married. They decided to set up their own business and they managed to lease number 18 Shop Street.

They opened for business on Friday August 27 1909 and advertised as follows.... “ANTHONY RYAN, that’s the name; 18, SHOP STREET, that’s the address,” then he showed a photograph of himself announcing “that’s the man; THE NOVELTY WAREHOUSE, that’s the house to buy your new suitings, your new dresses, gloves, corsets, blouses, umbrellas. Everything to suit you in fashionable and up-to-date. Novelties in all departments, specialists in Ladies outfittings; Irish manufacture a special feature”.

Before Ryan’s took over the building it was known as Hibernian House and the name over the door was ER Sweeney. It was also a drapery and it had an attractive arched facade to match the entry into Buttermilk Lane. Donnellan’s Hardware was on one side and Cannon’s pub (now Taaffe’s ) was on the other. Among the shops opposite were Stewart’s Market Fent Stores (or ‘the Brace Factory’ ), Glennon’s cobbler shop, Freeman’s Restaurant, Mrs Gavin-Higginston’s “Select Domestic Servants Registry”, and Daddy Borkin’s shop. Today Ryan’s is that rare thing, a family business in the midst of large chain stores.

In those early days money was scarce but Katherine was famous for fixing up old dresses to make them look like new. Ladies would bring in last year’s Easter bonnet and she would add trimmings and make it look new. She travelled to London, Manchester, and Liverpool to buy the latest fashions. Anthony advertised for tall girls who paid to do their apprenticeship there.

Katherine and Anthony had five children, Maisie, Leo, and Paddy and two who died in infancy. Paddy did his apprenticeship in Roche’s Stores, Henry Street, Dublin, and joined Ryan’s about 1940. During the war, when fuel was scarce, he used to cycle to Limerick and get the train from there to Cork to buy the best available product from Sunbeam Wolsey. He took over the business when his father died, aged 56, from pneumonia.

One day when Paddy was dressing the window he saw the beautiful Breda Fitzsimons cycling past in a yellow dress, and ‘that was that’. They married in April 1953 and had six children. Paddy was very committed to improving the quality of life in Galway and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Tidy Towns committee. He served two seven-year terms as a member of Galway Corporation and was mayor at the time of John F Kennedy’s memorable visit here in 1963. He was very progressive in business— he bought Glenarde House, known locally as Boland’s house on Taylor’s Hill, and converted it into the Ardilaun Hotel. It opened with 18 bedrooms in 1962. Ten years later he bought Donnellan’s and greatly extended the drapery business. Today Ryan’s has a homestore in Lombard Street, a man’s shop in the Eyre Square Centre, and a ladies’ wear business in Eglinton Street.

So today, to celebrate the fact that Ryan’s is about to celebrate a centenary, we have for you a photograph of the founder, Anthony with his staff in 1932. They are, from the left, Bill Allen, Johnny White, Paddy Murphy, Madeleine Nestor, Kit Ryan, -----------, Anthony Ryan, May Keane, Baby Carrick, Baby Dolly, Ms McCann, Annie McDonagh, and Bridie Carter. Staff seemed to invariably work for Ryan’s for a long time. Incidentally this photograph, together with many others, graces a beautiful calendar which Ryan’s has published. It shows how Ryan’s has changed with the times, indeed how the face of Shop Street has changed. A Galway collector’s item.

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