Jeweller, fundraiser and stylish socialite

Matty Ryan: 'Life is for living,' he once wrote. 'We should all be making hay while the sun shines'

Matty Ryan: 'Life is for living,' he once wrote. 'We should all be making hay while the sun shines'


Matty Ryan:MATTHEW (Matty) Ryan, who has died aged 65, was a jeweller based in Thurles, Co Tipperary, who built up an international clientele that included royalty, and a network of friends that stretched from his home town to Cape Town, taking in London, Paris, New York, Dubai, Delhi and the Greek islands.

An astute businessman who developed the family shop on Liberty Square, Thurles, into a magnet for diamond lovers while also supplying trophies to race courses across Ireland, Ryan was a generous contributor to local causes and a tenacious fundraiser. As chairman and chief fundraiser of the North Tipperary Hospice Home Care, he raised almost €1.5 million through an endless round of social events, many of them held aboard a red London bus that he was given as a present by his friends Louis and Kate Ronan.

His social skills were not focused on the rich or famous; he enjoyed connecting with people of all ages and types and had the widest array of friends. When diagnosed with testicular cancer in late 2008, he received 795 letters wishing him well, and he responded to each one in his famously fine handwriting.

At his funeral Mass in Thurles Cathedral on Wednesday, a fountain pen was laid on the altar along with a Hermes tie, one of the hundreds in his collection that earned him the reputation as an extremely natty dresser. The ties and the matching handkerchiefs were worn with beautifully tailored suits that many assumed had come straight from Savile Row but which in fact were made for him by the hunting man’s tailor, Frazer of Hospital, Limerick.

The finishing touch was invariably a diamond tie pin that, however brilliant, was nothing compared to the colossal diamond Matty wore on his pinkie finger, to the distraction of other players at his weekly bridge evenings with the 1974 Club.

Matty Ryan was born in 1944 and while at the CBS primary school showed artistic talents and organisational abilities by helping to run the weekly draw. At secondary school, again at CBS, he displayed an interest in hunting, racing, and also a keen interest in photography and handwriting competitions.

As a teenager he won numerous competitions at fairs for making jam (his secret was alcohol) and he also grew prize-winning parsnips. He was academically successful, too, coming first in Ireland in algebra in his Leaving Certificate in 1962.

On leaving school he initially considered a career in banking but decided to join his parents, Tommie and Gay, in the family jewellery and watchmaking store. A year later he was offered an apprenticeship with Marian Horst Kneisel, German jewellers based in Waterford, and he remained there until 1967.

Finally taking over the family business, he developed the Matty Ryan name into a brand before such things were much thought about in Irish retailing. His signature green and gold wrapping paper bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Harrods of Knightsbridge, and gifts were tied up in gold ribbon and accompanied by a card in Matty’s calligraphy hand. Princess Margaret was a customer, among others connected to the British royal family who caught up with him on his annual visits to Royal Ascot, Cheltenham and Henley.

Matty was a racing enthusiast who acted as a steward at many racecourses, including Thurles, Tipperary and Clonmel, and was a member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. He also hunted with the Tipperary and Golden Vale hunts.

At age 36 he rode his mare, Frescobaldi, to victory in a bumper at Clonmel in August 1981.

In 2001 he topped a poll in Social and Personal magazine of Ireland’s top party people. He explained his philosophy in an article in The Examiner following the award. “Life is for living,” he wrote. “There are too many people going around with long faces. We should all be making hay while the sun shines. I get home at six in the morning, and am at work at nine. I couldn’t give a damn if I went two weeks without sleeping – enjoying oneself is far more important than sleeping.”

He entertained lavishly in his home over the shop. His drawingroom was like “a mini Clarence House” according to one friend, “stuffed with beautiful artefacts and comfortable places to sit”.

After treatment for cancer, he was given the all-clear last November and he celebrated with a 65th birthday party for 200 friends in the Dunraven Arms. But soon after he received news that the cancer had returned, although he refused to let it affect his busy social schedule. He died early last Sunday morning.

He is survived by his brother Thomas and sisters Gladys, Anne, Phyl and Mary.

Matthew Ryan: born November 29th, 1944; died January 24th, 2010