Ryan, Matthew (1844–1937), catholic priest, agrarian agitator, and Gaelic Leaguer, was born at Kilduff, Pallasgrean, Co. Limerick, in September 1844, a son of Matthew Ryan, a farmer and a native of Ballyluddy. He learned Latin from an itinerant teacher and was educated at St Patrick's College, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. He studied for the catholic priesthood at the Irish College, Paris, where an uncle, the Rev. T. H. Kinnane (1835–1913), was professor of theology (1862–65). Ryan was ordained there (1871) and remained as a professor before returning to his Cashel diocese as a curate in Co. Tipperary, in the parish of Lattin and Cullen (1876–86). While at Lattin he established a small classical school for aspirants to the priesthood, and was charged by Archbishop T. W. Croke (qv) with clearing the debts of St Patrick's College, Thurles. His next move was back into his native county to be curate at Herbertstown (1886–90).
In carrying on the agrarian agitation known as the Plan of Campaign (1886–91) tenant farmers entrusted him with rents they were withholding from their landlord in an attempt to bring about a reduction. For refusing to reveal a confidence to the bankruptcy court in Dublin, Ryan was arrested for contempt and taken by train from Holycross to Dublin (28 March 1887). Thousands of well-wishers were at stations en route and after his conviction Croke accompanied him to Kilmainham jail, where he spent the next two months. He was imprisoned again before the year was out (22 December) for taking part in a criminal conspiracy to refuse rent on the O'Grady estate: in a speech to local tenants he had stated ‘I tell the government reporter that I believe in my soul that no rent is a fair rent’ (Beathaisnéis, i, 98). Held in Limerick jail, he refused to wear prison clothes, and was released 18 January 1888. Croke supported him until the papal condemnation of the Plan of Campaign in April 1888, but after this informed him that he would be expelled from the diocese unless he gave up involvement in the agitation. For his flair for leadership he was known as ‘The General’. Unlike most country priests, he was also a friend of the agricultural labourers.
After the Parnell split (December 1890), he vigorously supported the anti-Parnellite faction. Five years later he was closely associated with Timothy Michael Healy (qv). Already he had moved back into Tipperary as curate in Oola and Solohead (1890–97). For the last 40 years of his life he was parish priest of Knockavilla and Donaskeigh. After the land purchase acts he played a role in dividing up the De Montalt estate. An enthusiast for the Irish language (which he only began learning at the age of sixty), he introduced to his parish Irish-speaking teachers from the Gaeltacht who had considerable success in teaching local children. He became vice-president of the Gaelic League in 1908. In 1910 the League's paper, An Claidheamh Soluis, warmly praised his efforts as proof that Irish could be successfully revived in English-speaking districts. During the war of independence he supported the IRA and seems to have been an associate of Dan Breen (qv). After the Treaty he sided with Éamon de Valera (qv) (who attended his funeral), and he later became a member of Fianna Fáil. He continued to use a bicycle on parochial business into his nineties until his parishioners bought him a donkey and cart. He died 21 October 1937 aged 93 at the presbytery at Knockavilla, and was buried nearby. One of his brothers was a priest in the diocese of Limerick; another was a doctor.