If a nun living in Cork doesn’t hold the key to identifying relatives of a Private Ryan who won two World War One medals, those searching for them fear they are heading into no man’s land.
The medals belonging to a Private William Patrick Ryan were found in the pocket of a jacket handed into a charity shop in West Cork a few months ago.
Since then those involved in the shop in Kealkil, near Bantry, and members of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre have been working around the clock to try and identify Ryan’s descendants so they can unite them with his medals.
Ed Smith, treasurer at the shop, said staff had recently received a letter from a person living in Nottingham, England which suggested that an elderly nun living in Bessborough, Cork, may be related to the soldier.
Mr Smith said he had since spoken to the nun, who is in her 90s, who has confirmed that her father was a former soldier by the name of Patrick Ryan, who was originally from Co Tipperary.
Mr Smith said:
We need to get more information on this to be sure. She is contacting other relatives
It could be a breakthrough because an eminent British military historian believes the Ryan they are looking for came from Co Tipperary.
Military historian Richard Moles trawled archives to show Ryan joined the 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers in the summer of 1915, when they were then based in Aghada, Co Cork.
He would have fought soon afterwards in the abortive Gallipoli campaign, which foundered when British and Commonwealth troops were hemmed in on the beaches by dogged Turkish resistance. At the time the Turks were allied with the Germans.
On February 25, 1916, his battalion received orders to move to France. Embarkation began in March and they disembarked at Marseilles between March 15-29.
Ryan and his comrades would later be involved in the Battle of the Somme, Battle of Guillemont and the Battle of Ginchy.
Remarkably he survived the bloodshed. However, after being demobbed he volunteered again to join up and exhume the dead at Western Front battlefields for Christian burial, though he could have been blown to pieces by unexploded shells.
The trail went cold after that because, as Mr Moles explained, “regrettably” some other records relating to Ryan may have been destroyed, along with those of many others, during the Blitz on London in 1940.