Ryan, Mark Francis (1844-1940), Fenian, was born 10 November 1844 near Kilconly, Co. Galway, eldest among eight children of John Ryan (d. 1882), tenant farmer, and Bridget Ryan (née Mullahy; d. 1880). He received his initial education at a hedge school and his spoken tongue was Irish. Until his mid teens he worked on the family farm, but his family was evicted from three different farms between 1847 and 1859. In 1860 they were forced to emigrate to England, and opened a small, unsuccessful shop in Stacksteads, Lancashire. To support his family, Mark worked as a labourer in a woollen factory, and in 1865 was sworn into the IRB by fellow labourer Michael Davitt (qv). He served for two years in a Lancashire volunteer force, though he refused to take the required oath of allegiance to the queen, and won first prize in a shooting competition. On hearing of the attempted rising in Dublin and Cork (March 1867) he returned to Galway, armed with his rifle and hoping to take part in an insurrection, but saw no action. Thereafter, to improve his very limited formal education, he enrolled (age 23) at a CBS in Tuam. In 1869 he became a student at St Jarlath's diocesan college, Tuam, and began serving as the sacristan of St Jarlath's cathedral, while at the same time taking part in IRB arms importations and some electoral campaigns. His IRB membership became known to the president of the college, Fr Ulick Bourke (qv), who tolerated it since he had befriended Ryan. Before leaving St Jarlath's, however, Ryan had secretly sworn many other students into the IRB.
Entering QCG in the autumn of 1871, he studied anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and botany. Before he completed his degree, he moved to Dublin, trained in the Coombe and Jervis St. hospitals, and was awarded a certificate in gynaecology. Moving to Liverpool around 1875, he worked for a time as a chemist's assistant and also smuggled arms for the IRB. Around 1876 he began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh. While a student, he served as a doctor's assistant in rural Lancashire and Wales and, between 1878 and 1882, worked as the resident medical officer at St George's Retreat, a catholic psychiatric hospital near Brighton. By now an honorary member of the IRB supreme council, he was one of the fiercest critics of the ‘new departure’ proposals of John Devoy (qv) at the important supreme council conference of January 1879 in Paris. Although sympathetic to the Land League as an instrument of popular politicisation, he refused to support Irish MPs at Westminster under any circumstances. During this time he also bought his parents a new home in Co. Mayo and met his future wife, Louise Van Pee, a Belgian woman whom he married in 1883. She was the niece of the reverend mother who ran St George's Retreat.
On completing his medical degree in 1882, he set up medical practices in London's west end. His first practice at 51 Exmouth St. (where he also lived) remained in operation until 1889, while a surgery he established in 1885 at 150 Drury Lane continued until his retirement some forty years later. He resigned from the supreme council c.1882 owing to the pressures of work, though he still collected funds and recruited for the organisation (including several fellow London-Irish doctors), mostly through the medium of a London branch of the Young Ireland Society that he founded in the autumn of 1882. Its eventual headquarters at 55 Chancery Lane would serve as the home of all Irish nationalist societies he founded over the next twenty years. During the Irish-American ‘dynamite war’ (1883–5), Ryan's house and business were watched constantly by the London CID (Criminal Investigation Department). This made it very difficult for him to organise the London IRB, and he began distancing himself from the ‘rank and file’, although he performed occasional missions for the supreme council, being sent to New York in 1886 and again in 1888 in (mostly) futile efforts to heal the split in Clan na Gael.
Like most IRB men, he believed that the Irish party split of December 1890 offered an opportunity to revive Fenian influence, and so he rallied to the minority ‘Parnellite’ side. In January 1891 he closed down the Young Ireland Society to form a branch of the Parnell Leadership Committee, of which he became vice-president and where he befriended R. B. O'Brien (qv), who introduced him to Parnell (qv) for the first time. Appointed treasurer of the minority Parnellite wing of the Irish National League of Great Britain (INLGB) in April 1891, Ryan assisted in organising Parnell's few public lectures in London that year. After Parnell's death, he remained associated with the Parnellite wing of the Irish party owing to its role in forming the Irish National Amnesty Association in Dublin on 26 August 1892. He responded by forming his own London branch of the association and encouraged the INLGB to form branches elsewhere in England. This led to the formation of the Amnesty Association of Great Britain in August 1894, by which time he was also chairman of the INLGB. With the assistance of John Redmond (qv), he was granted permission to visit both John Daly (qv) and Thomas Clarke (qv) in prison that year, thereby giving much greater publicity to their cases.
During the summer of 1895 Ryan resigned from the Parnellite INLGB on learning that a wing of Clan na Gael intended forming a new, transatlantic federation known as the Irish National Alliance (INA) to give a boost to Irish separatist propaganda. After the formation of the American INA in October 1895, Ryan attempted to launch a UK wing. He hoped to use the INA as a recruiting ground for a new IRB-style organisation, under his own command, called the INB (Irish National Brotherhood), funded by the Americans. This initiative led to bitter conflict with F. J. Allan (qv) and the IRB supreme council, which did not trust Ryan's backers and saw no need for a new organisation. Although neither the INA nor the INB proved a success, they served a useful purpose. The INB experiment helped Ryan revive the fading revolutionary enthusiasms of several key IRB activists, most notably John MacBride (qv). His short-lived London INA federation gathered together various talented figures associated with local branches of the Gaelic League (of which he later became vice-president), the Young Ireland Society (which he revived in September 1896) and the Irish Literary Society, most notably W. B. Yeats (qv), Maud Gonne (qv), F. H. O'Donnell (qv), and T. W. Rolleston (qv).
Following the collapse of the transatlantic INA during 1898, Ryan formed the pro-Boer Irish National Club in London (January 1899), which was funded generously by the Boer government. As the IRB supreme council was bankrupt, this allowed Ryan effectively to become paymaster of the Irish pro-Boer movement, as well as the chief financial patron of virtually all Irish separatist activities, including the United Irishman of William Rooney (qv) and Arthur Griffith (qv). He also helped to finance the Gaelic League, having befriended Douglas Hyde (qv) in 1893. After a number of abortive efforts, in October 1902 Clan na Gael reunited for the first time since 1884, and thereafter the IRB reunited as well, appointing Ryan to its supreme council for the first time since 1882, as treasurer, a position he held for about two years. By 1905, however, he had effectively retired from revolutionary politics, though he remained an honorary vice-president of Cumann na nGaedhael (est. September 1900). In recognition of his past services, he was made president of the first London branch of Sinn Féin (1908), though the real leader of both the London IRB and Sinn Féin was P. S. O'Hegarty (qv).
Ryan welcomed the formation of the Irish Volunteers (25 November 1913) but took no active part in politics because of his advanced age. Seán Mac Diarmada (qv), however, informed him of the plans for the 1916 rising. Ryan was bitterly disappointed by the ‘treaty split’ of 1921–2 but refused to condemn either side. Retiring from his medical practice, he sold his home (since 1907) at 53 Pembridge Villas, West Kensington, in 1924 and moved to Dublin, where he lived, until his death, with his sister Margaret at 132 Lindsay Road, Drumcondra. Except for the state funeral of John Devoy (16 June 1929), which he helped organise, he did not take part in public functions. As he was the last survivor of the original IRB organisation of the 1860s and an active republican for over forty years, on 3 March 1936 a function in Ryan's honour was held in the Mansion House, Dublin, where tributes were paid to him by Eamon de Valera (qv) and W. T. Cosgrave (qv), and a portrait by Leo Whelan (qv), RHA, jointly commissioned by all parties in the dáil, was donated to the Municipal Gallery. He died 17 June 1940 at his Drumcondra home, not long after dictating his recollections (Fenian memories, published 1945) to T. F. O'Sullivan (qv). His wife died in 1920; they had no children. Two of his three brothers, Michael and Patrick, had also been doctors and members of the IRB, first in London and then later in Galway. His sister Margaret (d. 1943) was the last remaining member of his family.