Death Of Oonagh Swift (Nee Ryan)

Oonagh Swift (1929 – 2012)

With the exception of the Irish Times & a small paragraph in the Sunday Independent newspapers, other media services failed miserably to report or even notice her passing. Looking to our future, one is sadly reminded of the lines of that great anti-war ballad written by Eric Bogle, “And the band plays Waltzing Matilda, and the old men still answer the call, but year after year, their numbers get fewer, someday, no one will march there at all.”  I am of course referring to the death of Oonagh Swift, whose spirit moved on recently at her home in the Algarve, at the fine old age of 83 years.

Oonagh Swift, who was born May 13th, 1929 and who died on October 25th, 2012, was a cultured, charismatic Irish figure whose life was steeped in the arts and in literature and who embraced so many other nationalities. One feels that her life perhaps should have received at least some larger recognition here in Ireland and particularly in South Tipperary.

Born in Dublin, Oonagh was the third youngest of eight children born to Séamus Ryan and Agnes Ryan, (née Harding,) from Tipperary.  She was christened initially Agnes Mary, but from an early age her family chose to adopt the name Oonagh, latter the Gaelic variation of Agnes.

Her parents were both Irish Republican activists during the War of Independence. Her father, a successful businessman, active supporter of the old IRA, & also a Fianna Fáil Senator, during the leadership of Éamon de Valera, helping to found the Party.

Oonagh’s father, Séamus Ryan was born in 1895 in Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary and while early in his life he had been a supporter of the moderate Irish nationalist John Redmond, strong emotions and deep family convictions soon made him increasingly sympathetic and eventually committed to the Irish Republican cause.

Séamus would eventually marry Agnes Harding a native of Solohead, Co Tipperary in 1918. In that same year they both would open a shop in Parnell Street, in Dublin. This business would be the first of 33 outlets for this company, which they now named “The Monument Creameries,” named after the famous monument erected to the Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell and which was located close to their shop premises. Séamus Ryan and his wife Agnes reared eight children, many of whom made significant contributions to the Arts, stage & screen and to Irish public life.

Oonagh’s sister Kathleen Ryan (1922–1985) was an international motion picture actress. Regarded as one of Ireland’s most beautiful women, she was the model for one of Louis le Brocquy’s striking portraits, “Girl in White,” which he painted in 1941 and later entered in the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA,) exhibition of that year. The portrait, an oil on canvas, can be seen today in the Ulster Museum collection. She later died in Dublin from lung disease, aged just 63 and is buried with her parents, in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, in Dublin.

Kathleen starred with such screen stars as Dirk Bogarde in ‘The Sins of Esther Waters,’ and with James Mason, Cyril Cusack, Robert Beatty, and Dan O’Herlihy in “The Odd Man Out.” She also starred in other well known films such as ‘Captain Boycott,’ (1947), ‘Christopher Columbus,’ (1949), ‘Give Us This Day,’ (1949), and ‘Captain Lightfoot,’ (1955).

Cora Ryan (Born 1922) attempted unsuccessfully in 1969 to enter the Irish Parliament in a bye election caused by the death of her husband Seán Dunne TD.
John Ryan (1925–1992) was an accomplished painter who inaugurated the literary magazine Envoy, latter a Review of Literature and Art and was one of the instigators of Bloomsday commemoration of the work of Irish writer James Joyce.
Patrick Ryan (Born 1926) joined the Royal Air Force before returning to Dublin to manage the aforementioned Monument Creameries. He later moved to the USA where he published a book of poetry, before returning to Ireland in retirement.
Máire Ryan (1928–1966) married an RAF officer.
Oonagh Swift (nee Ryan, Born 1929-2012) married Russian Prince, Alexis Guedroitz and their daughter Princess Ania Guédroïtz is a Belgian actress. Oonagh would later married Irish author Patrick Swift. Their youngest son, Séamus (1930–2005) became Dom Vincent, a Benedictine Monk at Glenstal Abbey, in Limerick.
Íde Ni Riain (Born 1933) became a nun at the Mount Anville Convent in Dublin and authored a number of religious and historical works including some translations of Medieval Latin works into the English language.

During the Irish War of Independence the family business premises was used as a regular “Safe House,” for members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who often sought refuge from British “Black and Tans” and later on from Pro-Treaty Republicans during Irish post Treaty conflicts. Among the Irish nationalists who sought refuge within “The Monument Creameries,” in Parnell Street, were Tipperary born Seán Treacy, (Latter leader of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the IRA,) and plasterer and later linesman on the Great Southern Railway, the Grange, Donohill & Tipperary born native Dan Breen, (Latter who fired the first shots which began the War of Independence at Soloheadbeg, Tipperary, on January 21st, 1919.)

Seán Treacy would go on to establish a workshop at these same premises, which would fit false bottoms to their butter boxes, thus enabling necessary dispatches, hand guns and ammunition for IRA operatives to be easily concealed & quickly transported. Séamus Ryan would then transport these same boxes using a horse and cart which he drove to Kingsbridge Railway Station. It was stated at this time that Ryan had “The face of such truly angelic innocence, that God himself could not have guessed the subversive nature of his freight.” Cash from his business interests were given to part fund the then Republican Movement and later the new Fianna Fáil Party.

Séamus Ryan’s political career was cut short when he died suddenly at his residence, “Rockdale” in Rathgar, Co Dublin on  June 30th 1933. The now late Senator was given a state funeral with An Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera and the majority of his cabinet in attendance. History recalls that the centre of Dublin came to a standstill as his forty vehicle cortège passed thousands of sympathisers which had gathered in Parnell Street, before his tricolour draped coffin came to paused for two minutes outside the head offices of Monument Creameries, now in Dublin’s Camden Street. Ryan was carried to his final resting place, situated close to the grave of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, in the Revolutionary Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.  Amongst the pallbearers was Dan Breen TD, close friend and Irish Parliamentary colleague.

Perhaps the people of Kilfeacle & Solohead are preparing a plaque or something for “The Gathering 2013” to commemorate her passing and disproving Gabriel Byrne’s theory that Ireland is not a nation of marketeers with little content of value to offer our visitors from abroad.

Perhaps Éamon de Valera’s grandson, Mr Eamon O’Cuiv TD will refer to the name ‘Oonagh Swift,’ tomorrow, Sunday, here in the scenic Glen of Aherlow in Co Tipperary, where he is expected to deliver an oration at 2.00pm, on the 92nd anniversary of the Lisnagaul Ambush of British Crown forces, during that same War of Independence.

Then again perhaps I am just talking to myself!


5 comments to Death Of Oonagh Swift (Nee Ryan)

  • Maire Casey

    Excellent article. I am looking at my family tree and came across your great piece. My grandmother was Annie Harding whose sister Agnes was married to Seamus Ryan.

  • John Ryan

    I recently read the book about Agnes Ryan’s life and found it to be one of the most interesting and beautiful books I ever read.
    The sacrifices made by people of her generation should never be forgotten.

  • B. Ryan

    Great article, thank you.
    To Marie Casey – I’m also researching the family trees of Agnes Harding / Seamus Ryan. I have lots of data but can’t find anything for Annie! If you see this message and you have no objection, please post Annie’s husband’s name (D. Casey?) and place of marriage.
    B. Ryan

  • George Willoughby

    To B. Ryan,
    Your message /request has been forwarded to Maire Casey as per your wishes. Regards George

  • B. Ryan

    Thanks George, for passing that on.
    I have since found some information for Annie Casey nee Harding, but I may have some useful info for Marie Casey on the Ryans and the Hardings, if she is interested.
    Kind regards,

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




20 − 19 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.