Tony Ryan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tony Ryan
Born(1936-02-02)2 February 1936
Limerick Junction, County Tipperary, Ireland
Died3 October 2007(2007-10-03) (aged 71)
Known forCo-founder of Ryanair, part-owner of Tiger Airways, multimillionaire and benefactor

Thomas Anthony Ryan (2 February 1936 – 3 October 2007) was an Irish billionaire, philanthropist and businessman who co-founded the Ryanair airline.

Through his establishment of Guinness Peat Aviation in 1975 he began a course of events which ultimately led to the development of the international aircraft leasing industry, although he was best known in the public mind as the founder of the eponymous Ryanair with Christopher Ryan and Liam Lonergan.[1] Ryanair was believed to be the main source of his wealth in later life: the company became one of the biggest airlines in Europe and was valued at over 15 billion Euros as of December 2019.[2]

Early life[edit]

Ryan was born at Limerick Junction, County Tipperary on 2 February 1936; his father was a train driver. Around 1945 the family moved to Thurles in the same county, and he attended the Christian Brothers school there.[3] His hopes of attending university were ended by the death of his father, and instead he joined Aer Lingus as a dispatch clerk, and was selected as a management trainee.[4]

Business career[edit]

Ryan progressed through station manager roles to become, in 1968, Aer Lingus station manager at JFK Airport, New York.[3] The family returned to Ireland in 1972, where by chance he filled a vacancy in aircraft leasing, finding uses for aircraft that were surplus to the airline's requirements during the cyclical downturn.[4]

In 1975, with financial support from Aer Lingus and the Guinness Peat Group, he founded the aircraft leasing company Guinness Peat Aviation (later GPA Group), raising $5,000 for his 10% shareholding.[3] GPA grew to be the world's biggest aircraft lessor, its activities including wet leasing. The company was worth $4 billion at its peak, but its value dramatically collapsed in 1992 after the cancellation of its planned IPO.[5] Ryan made €55m from the sale of AerFi (the successor to GPA) in 2000.[6]

Ryan was a tax exile who lived in Monte Carlo,[7] but also owned a stud farm near his home in Dolla, County Tipperary.[8] He was the 7th wealthiest individual from Ireland in the Sunday Times Rich List 2007 with over €1.5bn (£1bn).[9]

Ryan over the years helped nurture two successful business protégés – Denis O'Brien and Michael O'Leary – both of whom became billionaires.[10]


Ryan was an active and innovative funder of university education in Ireland. He donated a marine science institute to NUI Galway in 1993 which was named the Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute in honour of his father.[11] He showed interest in marine science and aquaculture development in the west of Ireland. He also funded The Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship at the Citywest park, that is run by Dublin City University.[12][13]

In 2001, Ryan acquired Castleton Farm near Lexington, Kentucky from the Van Lennep Family Trust. Ryan renamed it Castleton Lyons and undertook renovations to the property while returning to its original roots as a thoroughbred operation.[14]

At the time of his death he owned 16% of Tiger Airways, a discount carrier based in Singapore which was founded in December 2003.[15][4]

Personal life[edit]

Ryan married his childhood sweetheart, Mairéad, in 1958 and they had three sons together.[3] The couple separated while the boys were young but they were not divorced.[16]

Ryan then began a series of affairs with well-connected women, beginning in the mid-1980s with Lady Miranda Guinness, who had earlier separated from her husband Benjamin Guinness, 3rd Earl of Iveagh.[16] Miranda tutored him in matters such as art collecting, fine wines, interior decoration and formal entertaining, and they worked together on redesigning the interior of a Georgian house which Ryan had bought in Pelham Place, South Kensington, London.[17] The relationship ended around 1991 but they remained close friends.[17]

Later relationships included the Irish fashion designer Louise Kennedy, and the interior designer Tiggy Butler, who oversaw the redesigns at two of Ryan's properties: Lyons Demesne (County Kildare) and Castleton Farm (Lexington, Kentucky). His last partner – up to the time of his death – was Martine Head, daughter of French horse trainer and breeder Alec Head; together they shared a passion for horse-racing.[17][16]

Awards and honours[edit]

  • 1994, Order of the Aztec Eagle[8]
  • 2002, Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement – presented at the International Achievement Summit in Dublin, Ireland[18][19]
  • 2012, National Aviation Award: the inaugural award was presented to his family by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar[20]

Ryan held honorary doctorates from several universities, including Trinity College, Dublin, the National University of Ireland, Galway and the University of Limerick.[21][22]


Ryan, who lived at Lyons Demesne in Ardclough, County Kildare, died on 3 October 2007, aged 71, following an 18-month illness with pancreatic cancer. He had other homes in London, Castleton Lyons stud in Kentucky, Château Lascombes near Bordeaux and on Ibiza.[23] He left more than €20 million to his estranged wife Mairéad.[24]

His eldest son, Cathal, died three months later, aged 48, after being diagnosed with cancer.[25]


  1. ^ "Tony Ryan: Founder of Ryanair, the budget carrier which transformed European air travel". The Sunday Times. London: News Intl. 3 October 2007. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  2. ^ "Ryanair Holdings PLC". Bloomberg.
  3. ^ a b c d Clavin, Terry (June 2016). "Ryan, Tony (Thomas Anthony)". Dictionary of Irish Biography. doi:10.3318/dib.009851.v1. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Adeney, Martin (5 October 2007). "Obituary: Tony Ryan". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  5. ^ "GPA soared before crash-landing". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  6. ^ "Tony Ryan to pocket $47m as former GPA sold off". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  7. ^ "Tony Ryan, Who Founded Discount Airline, Dies at 71". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Tony Ryan: wizard of the skies". Royal Irish Academy. 15 July 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Declan and Shane Ryan and family". The Sunday Times. 27 April 2008. ISSN 0956-1382. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  10. ^ Independent Woman. "Ireland's Rich List: 31–40". Irish Independent.
  11. ^ "Over €1m donated for marine and energy research". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  12. ^ "About Us - Ryan Academy". Ryan Academy. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  13. ^ Colley, Elaine. "Official Opening of the Tony Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship at the Citywest Business Park on Monday, 24 October, 2005". Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Castleton Lyons | Thoroughbred OwnerView – Thoroughbred Owners, Thoroughbred Trainers, Thoroughbred Partnerships, Thoroughbred Retirement". Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Tiger Airways offers low-cost flights from Singapore". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Hourican, Emily (10 July 2011). "Beauty and bounty at Renaissance prince Tony Ryan's court". Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  17. ^ a b c "'Somehow he managed to leave them still loving him anyway'". 7 September 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  18. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  19. ^ "The Summit". American Academy of Achievement.
  20. ^ "National Aviation Award honours founder of Ryanair". Irish Times.
  21. ^ "Visionary whose passion for business took off". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  22. ^ "FACTBOX - Ryanair founder Tony Ryan". Reuters. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  23. ^ "1936 – Birth of Tony Ryan, aviation entrepreneur, in Co. Tipperary". Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. 2 February 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  24. ^ Collins, Liam (14 December 2009). "Ryan wills millions to wife and his lover". Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  25. ^ Hancock, Ciarán (12 December 2007). "Cathal Ryan (48), son of Ryanair founder, passes away". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Aldous, Richard (30 August 2013). Tony Ryan: Ireland's Aviator. Gill & Macmillan Ltd. ISBN 9780717157839.