Mr Edward (Eddie) Ryan was born as Edmond Ryan in Ballynaveen1 in the townland of Emly in Co Tipperary, Ireland on 28 January 1888.2
Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, he was the youngest of four children born to Daniel Ryan (b. circa 1839-1923), a farmer, and Alice Power (b. circa 1847) who had married on 17 February 1881 and he was named for his maternal grandfather.
His three siblings were: James (b. 14 March 1882), Bridget3 (b. 6 July 1883) and Helena4 "Lena" (b. 14 June 1885).
Ryan appears on the 1901 census with his family living at house 3 in Ballynaveen when he was described as a 13-year-old scholar. The home address would be house 9 in Ballynaveen by the time of the 1911 census but Edward was not present there and was listed elsewhere as a boarder at 18 Hume Street in Mansion House, Dublin where he was described as an unmarried motor engineer.
Ryan boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third-class passenger (ticket number 383162 which cost £7, 15s). His destination was the home of his sister Bridget Welch in Troy, New York. Although on the passenger list he had been listed as a general labourer, when he arrived in New York he gave his occupation as chauffeur. Before he left home he stated that his mother lit a candle for him beside a statue of Christ.
On the evening of 14 April Edward recalled the gaiety and fun times they had in steerage, many singing and dancing with some people playing accordions and piccolos, among other instruments. That night he went to bed at eleven o’clock and, according to one version of events, soon fell asleep, later being awaked by a “long, grinding noise and a great shock” that caused him to jump from his bunk and stand in the middle of his cabin for a time to gather his wits.
In another version of events recalled many years later Edward said that he bunked with two other men who, at the time of the collision, were fast asleep. He was still awake and trying to clean his smoking pipe, hunting for a piece of wire to unclog the piece but being unable to find anything when the ship struck the iceberg. He immediately woke his cabin mates and informed them that something had happened; apparently, they took no notice and went back to sleep. Ryan reported that he never saw them again after leaving his cabin.
Edward Ryan survived the sinking and over the following days and weeks, various fantastical tales of his survival emanated from the press.
Leaped Into Lifeboat With Fainting Woman.
Edward Ryan, a Tipperary man, told me at the hospital of a remarkable leap for life he made with a fainting woman in his arms. Ryan was helping to load the boats on the promenade deck. When this woman, a first cabin passenger, became hysterical and fainted. It had been his turn to enter the boat, now being lowered. Ryan seized her and jumped into the boat after the officer in charge had ordered it lowered. Fortunately, he landed in the boat without injury either to the woman or himself, after dropping a distance of more than twenty feet. - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 23 April 1912
"The conditions became became awful. Men and women were fainting away and some killed themselves. I saw a man climb half way up the main mast, shriek ‘Jesus have mercy on me’ and then fall to the deck where he was killed. I saw an Italian strike another with what appeared like an iron bar, killing him instantly. People were actually crazy. They would weep and laugh, shriek and moan, pray and curse, and several committed suicide. A man I had never seen before so far as I can remember, grasped my hand and holding it firmly sang a verse of ‘Goodbye, Dear Heart’, and followed with a few lines of ‘We Shall Never Meet Again’. I believe his prophecy came true, for I could find no one who recalled this incident among the survivors on the Carpathia.” - Utica Saturday Globe, unknown date, 1912
Another story, related via his sister said:
Edward Ryan told his story to his sister, Mrs Welch. He said he was the very last man to climb into the last lifeboat to leave the doomed Titanic. He did not have on a lifebelt. He told Mrs Welch of having rescued a girl after the ship sank. She was on the ship when the waters closed over it and was struggling about in the water among the ice when he reached far out, grasped her by the arm and dragged her to the lifeboat in which he had been assigned to an oar. He said he could recall little else at this time of what transpired on board the ship during Its last hours. - Knickerbocker Press, 22 April 1912
In any case he managed to escape in a lifeboat, although which one is unclear. In a letter to his parents dated 6 May 1912 he freely conceded to covering his head with a towel like a shawl and briskly walking into a lifeboat, unnoticed by the crew.
"I stood on the Titanic and kept cool, although she was sinking fast. She had gone down about forty feet by now. The last boat was about being rowed away when I thought in a second if I could only pass out [i.e. get into the boat] I'd be all right. I had a towel round my neck. I just threw this over my head and left it hang in the back. I wore my waterproof overcoat. I then walked very stiff past the officers, who had declared they'd shoot the first man that dare pass out. They didn't notice me. They thought I was a woman. I grasped a girl who was standing by in despair, and jumped with her thirty feet into the boat."
Edward may have been the man whom Officer Lowe pitched violently into another lifeboat during the operation to empty lifeboat 14 of its passengers and distribute them to other boats, discovering a much too agile occupant too eager to slip pass undetected. Once safe Edward discovered that he still had his pipe with him and made a search for tobacco in his trouser pockets, managing to pull together a few scraps that he was able to light, much to the chagrin of a first-class lady in the boat who asked him to stop smoking, she perhaps thinking that he was acting too unconcernedly. Recalling that exchange in later years, Edward admitted that he was "scared stiff" at the time. He took to an oar and rowed throughout the night, although he later stated that they spent more time drifting than actually rowing.
Arriving in New York aboard Carpathia Ryan was described as a 24-year-old chauffeur and gave his destination as the home of his sister Bridget in Troy. After spending time in hospital for recuperation he travelled to Troy with fellow Irish survivor Bridget Moran, both arriving on the evening of 21 April 1912 and he immediately going to the home of his sister at Eagle Mills in that city.
Following the disaster, Edward lived in New York but would only spend the next three years there. He later returned to Ireland before settling in Hull, Yorkshire, England in 1916 where he worked as a fitter for the engineering firm Rose, Downs and Thompson Ltd and later again for Ideal Standard Ltd.
He was married in 1916 to Gertrude Annie Glave (b. 6 January 1887 in Newington, Hull), daughter of gardener William Glave and the former Kate Hoyland.
Edward and Gertrude had three children: Norman Frederick (b. 31 January 1917), Monica (b. 21 January 1923) and Kathleen (b. August 1924, later Mrs William Meek). By 1939 the family were living at Clifton Terrace in Beverley and Edward was described as an engine fitter.
During the 1950s and with the renewed hype around the Titanic disaster Edward got the chance to become reacquainted with several other survivors and he was a special guest at a screening of A Night to Remember in 1958.
Edward Ryan was widowed when his wife Gertrude died in 1970(5) and he also suffered the loss of his youngest child Kathleen (later Mrs William Meek) in 1952 aged 27. He resided for several years at Welwyn Park Road in Hull before transferring to Kingston Old People's Home in Pearson Park, Hull where he died on 5 November 1974 aged 86.6 He is buried in Northern Cemetery, Hull, Yorkshire (Compartment: 363, plot: 75).
He was the last surviving Irish male Titanic survivor, the last surviving female being Ellen Shine Callaghan who died in 1993 aged 101.
His son Norman died in 2003 and his daughter Monica (later Mrs David Bannister) in 2005, both in East Yorkshire.