On 14 September chairman Ian Wilson welcomed a good attendance of members & visitors to the opening meeting of the new season of Bangor Historical Society. He began by paying tribute to valued society member Ellen Elder who had recently died. She had a keen interest in local history and for some years had looked after our website. She will be much missed.

Our speaker was Jennifer O’Leary who talked about her recent book The Padre. This was the story of Patrick Ryan, a priest who became involved with the IRA.

She began by explaining how she had first encountered his story. She worked for the BBC on its series “The Secret History of the Troubles”. Patrick Ryan featured in one of the programmes. He was born in 1930 to a farming family in County Tipperary. He was the second eldest son and as a child he decided to join the priesthood. He later entered the Palatine order and trained to become a priest. In those days it was a mark of a family’s respectability if they had a son in the priesthood. It also showed that they could afford to pay for an education in a seminary.

Patrick was ordained in 1954 and was sent abroad to work in the mission field. Later he moved to Tanganyika[now Tanzania in east Africa]. He enjoyed the engineering challenges there more than preaching. When he returned to Ireland for respite, he learnt to fly a plane. On his return to east Africa he persuaded the Bishop to buy a plane so that he could fly medicines to areas of need. He then served for a short time as a priest in east London.

When the Troubles began in Northern Ireland his life changed. At that time he was raising money for the mission field in east Africa. His mother had a strong influence on his outlook. She had told him that during the War of Independence she had kept a watch for the Black and Tans. Her home was a safe house for the republicans fighting against them. He decided to send the money collected for the mission field to the nationalists in Ireland. When his superiors queried the fate of the money, he turned his back on the church and became a militant nationalist.

He was already in contact with the IRA in Tyrone and now he met Joe Cahill of the IRA. They flew to Libya and met its leader Gaddafi who promised the IRA money and arms. They were shipped in the Claudia, but it was intercepted by British intelligence services. Ryan continued as the IRA link man with Libya. He set up a Swiss bank account and a network of sleepers to get the money back to Ireland. One day he was in Geneva, waiting to meet a banker, when he saw a timer in a shop window. It had an innocent use, but Ryan saw its potential for use with bombs. He bought 100s of the timers and re-engineered them. He trained bombers to use them so that they could plant bombers more safely. They were used at explosions such as those in Brighton & Warrenpoint.

Ryan had used a camper van to travel all over the continent, but in 1988 British intelligence alerted the Belgian authorities and asked them to keep a watch on him prior to a visit by the Queen. He was arrested, but the Belgian authorities refused to extradite him to England, instead sending him to Dublin. The Irish authorities also refused to extradite him to England. In the 1990s he fell out with the IRA leadership and walked away from the republican movement. He was no longer a priest and retired to Tipperary.

Jennifer O’Leary met him several times when researching his story. He was always very careful in what he said and showed no remorse for the result of his actions. She stressed that she does not romanticise him in the book and she also writes about the victims of his actions. She leaves the readers to make up their own minds about him. The chairman thanked her for a very interesting talk. There was an opportunity to buy copies of her book, which she then signed.