Dermot Ryan, businessman who recorded Seán Lemass tapes, dies aged 95

The 23 interviews over 22 hours of tape are closest thing former taoiseach left to an autobiography

The death has taken place of the businessman Dermot Ryan who conducted a series of interviews with former Taoiseach Seán Lemass in the 1960s.

Mr Ryan (95) was born in Dublin to a family from Co Limerick and founded the Ryan Group, which had substantial interests in hotels, caravan parks, car hire and insurance. He was also a member of the Fianna Fáil national executive.

He stood for election for Fianna Fáil in Dublin North-Central in the 1969 general election, but was unsuccessful.

In a profile that year, in The Irish Times his wealth was estimated at IR£2.5 million (€35 million today).


He was a long-time admirer of the former Taoiseach Seán Lemass, who retired in 1965. Mr Ryan said in that interview with The Irish Times: “That man could have been a millionaire many times over if he had devoted his talents to business but he and his contemporaries did not seem to care about money.

“I have never known a man with such intelligence, judgment, integrity as Lemass and who made such little money from his activities.”

Instead, Mr Ryan carried out a series of interviews with Mr Lemass which he had intended to turn into the book. The first interview was conducted on April 22nd, 1967 and the last on January 9th, 1969. They cover Mr Lemass’s career from 1923, after the Civil War, to his retirement from politics in 1965 after serving six years as Taoiseach.

The Lemass Tapes: Lemass on His Own Leadership

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There are 23 interviews in total consisting of 22 hours of recordings and 1,200 pages of transcripts. They are the closest thing that Mr Lemass left to an autobiography.

The tapes were deposited in the UCD archives by the extended Lemass family in 2018 and published as a supplement that year in The Irish Times.

Speaking at the time that the tapes were deposited, UCD deputy president Prof Mark Rogers said the excerpts from the tapes published in The Irish Times showed the range of the interviews were “extraordinary and provides substantial insight into our understanding of Ireland since 1922 but particularly from the 1930s to the 1970s”.

In them, Lemass spoke of his difficult relation with Éamon de Valera who he believed had gone on too long as Taoiseach.

Lemass noted that after 1948, de Valera became unfocused and lost a lot of his old drive. In 1948, he was 66, but remained on as Fianna Fáil leader until 1959.

Lemass was 17 years younger than de Valera and his natural successor. There was “never any question in anybody’s mind that when Dev went I was going to step into his place”, he said, yet he felt unable to remove the great totem from office.

“In the 1950s, I began to realise that Dev was losing his grip, that he was no longer the man he had been,” Lemass recalled. “I sometimes got impatient at the incapacity of the government under his leadership to do things that had to be done, the defects of co-ordination in government.

“But, insofar as I had any desire, on my part, to become taoiseach, it was just a conviction that, where the organisation and administration of the government was concerned, I could do a better job than he was doing at the time.”

He also made prescient comments about the UK, which then along with Ireland, had applied for membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).

“I do not think that either Macmillan or any member of the British government ever fully understood that they could not be half in and half out of the EEC.

“They had to make up their minds whether Britain was to be a part of a united Europe and, if so, they would have to resign themselves to the fact that they could not have a special relationship with the US which would give them rights and privileges against their Common Market partners or try to maintain the Commonwealth preferences.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times