Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Brendan Smith was first to congratulate Mr Ryan, presenting him with an attractive statuette of a plough and horseman. Appropriately enough, the minister recalled asking the Co Cork man a few years ago about his eventual plans to retire.
“Ray made a promise that he wouldn’t retire until the Cork footballers had brought home the Sam Maguire,” said Cavan-born Mr Smith. “In fairness, his sense of timing was always impeccable.”
Mr Ryan quietly retorted: “For a minute there, minister, I thought you were going to steal my thunder and promise not to retire until Cavan had won the All-Ireland.”
The minister went on to praise “a truly great man from Sliabh Luachra” who is departing from the world of journalism. “Everyone in the department agrees that he has always been very fair and accurate. He’s a lovely, free-flowing scribe. His stories always read very well. We will all miss his work, but we hope that he will still offer us his wisdom and regale us with his great stories on social occasions.
“We would like to congratulate him for everything he has done for the farming community, and we hope that he finds some time to put pen to paper to save some of his marvellous anecdotes for future generations.”
Indeed, Ray’s anecdotes won a phenomenal public response during a recent appearance on RTÉ Radio 1’s Countrywide show.
The show’s presenter, Damien O’Reilly, recalled: “We got a huge response in terms of texts from listeners. One woman who owns a shop stopped listening to him, standing there in her kitchen with her hair wet. She was 15 minutes late opening the shop, with a bunch of people outside waiting to get in. He’s a wonderful raconteur. If you mention any politician or any sports personality, Ray will have a story about them.
“He has a clean, genuine way of telling the stories, in a way you’d be happy for your children to hear them. He doesn’t add or sensationalise. He’s a real old school journalist, and we’ll all miss him very much.”
The same warm sentiments were evident at subsequent presentations during the morning. Martin Territt, director of the European Commission in Ireland, presented Mr Ryan with a framed painting, and said: “Ray has made a unique contribution to Irish agriculture and Irish rural living. His reports on daily activities and his comments on developing issues have been invaluable.”
Equally warm tributes were given to Mr Ryan at two special functions held in his honour last night, a reception hosted by Macra na Feirme and a special dinner hosted by the Irish Farmers’ Association in the Clanard Court Hotel in Athy.
Mr Ryan has also received recent awards from the North Cork branch of the IFA, another from the Agricultural Science Association and the Royal Dublin Horse Show. The National Ploughing Association is to deliver its tribute to him during today’s ploughing in Athy.
Mr Ryan started off as a reporter in The Kerryman in 1963, and joined the then Cork Examiner in 1972 as a North Cork regional reporter. He covered stories such as the Pope’s visit to Limerick, the Buttevant train crash, the Eurovision Song Contest in Millstret and US President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ballyporeen.
He also covered the shooting dead of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare, the crash landing of Mexican jet on Mallow Racecourse, and 13 general and four by-elections in North Cork constituencies. Since his appointment as agribusiness correspondent in 1994 he has covered 13 national ploughing championships.
“I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodwill for me and for the Irish Examiner on the occasion of my retirement. I have greatly enjoyed working with the agricultural and farming sectors, and have made many friends over the years. I am very privileged to have worked with so many loyal and excellent colleagues in the media,” said Mr Ryan.