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Ryan Settlement

A Long Way from Tipperary

 
By James M. Whalen
 
Early in September 1847 – the year of the Irish potato famine – the New Brunswick Courier carried an obituary of an elderly Irish gentleman of an enterprising nature who died from apparent natural causes.
“At Ryan Settlement, in the Parish of St Martin’s … on the 25th ult. Mr. Thomas Ryan, aged 72 years. Mr. R. was a native of Tipperary, Ireland, and emigrated to this Province twenty-seven years ago, where with a numerous family, he formed a settlement…”1
Mr Ryan was one of several Irish immigrants who came to New Brunswick in the pre-famine period and was spared the dreadful consequences of hunger and disease that caused the death of so many of his countrymen in the 1840’s.

The rural community of Ryan Settlement was located in Saint John County about six kilometres southeast of Barnesville. In addition to Thomas Ryan, the founders – all of whom acquired land from the Crown – included John and Michael Ryan, also from County Tipperary.2

The number of Irish Catholics who settled along the Quaco Road at or near Ryan Settlement gradually increased and by 1850, a small chapel dedicated to St Joseph was erected there. The exact date the Diocese of Saint John had it built is uncertain but when fire destroyed it in August 1914, it was said to be 65 years old.3

For decades, especially in the nineteenth century, the people of Ryan Settlement – a farming and lumbering area – supplied timber for the local sawmills, for export or for the shipyards in St. Martins, about twelve kilometres away. But, as iron and steel-hulled ships with steam engines replaced wooden sailing vessels, St. Martins needed considerably less timber for shipbuilding and the lumbering industry at Ryan Settlement slowly went into decline. Then in 1878, a post office established at the back of Harding’s general store resulted in an unexpected change. Ryan Settlement was suddenly renamed Hardingville and got its new name from its first postmaster, John H Harding.4 From then on, Hardingville appeared on all maps and effectively replaced Ryan Settlement, some three kilometres distant, as the principal place-name of the area.

About the same time as the post office opened, the Hampton and St. Martins Railway went into operation. Although the railway did not go through either Hardingville or Ryan Settlement, it passed within a few kilometres of them. The railway was not enough to revive the area because the small population there and elsewhere along or near the line did not generate enough industry to make it profitable. Nonetheless, the railway continued in service for several years but was finally closed in 1940.

After Hardingville was established in 1878, the name Ryan Settlement lingered on but once the Catholic chapel there burned down in 1914, it was all but forgotten. It is believed that the fire was deliberately set. Father William P Hannigan, who said mass at Ryan Settlement – a mission of St. Williams in St. Martins – just the day before the incident – was very upset over the loss of the church. According to a report in the New Freeman, it “…appeared to have been nothing more than wanton and wilful destruction.”5 The estimated value of the building was said to be $1,200. The church was not rebuilt after the fire because it was not insured and the Catholic population was not large enough to support a new one. Just too many people had moved away and made a new start in life in Saint John or the “Boston states”. According to Mr. Craig Chouinard, who authored a booklet on the history of the Catholic churches in the vicinity, after the fire most of the remaining parishioners of St. Joseph’s at Ryan Settlement “would now probably be absorbed by St Anthony’s” at Upham some seven kilometres away and that is basically what happened.6
 

 
A gravestone at Ryan Settlement dedicated to Rody Ryan (c. 1798-1840), his wife, Julia Dwyer and various members of their family
A gravestone at Ryan Settlement dedicated to Rody Ryan (c. 1798-1840), his wife, Julia Dwyer and various members of their family
Today, at the site of the former Catholic chapel is the long abandoned Ryan Settlement Cemetery that predates the chapel by at least twenty years. The cemetery is indisputable evidence of a once thriving Irish-Catholic community that existed on the now deserted lots nearby. It is said that this pioneer cemetery – the care of which is sporadic – contains the remains of upwards of one hundred persons, including several from County Tipperary. Possibly the first burial took place there as early as 1828 and the last over 100 years later – in 1935. The names found on the tombstones that remain appeared in Generations, No 22, in 1984.7 The surname Ryan, of course, is very much in evidence but Broughill, Cusack, Dunn, Flannigan, Hurley, McGrath, Murphy as well as other mainly Irish names are included.

One way to reach the old graveyard is by going out to Loch Lomond Road to Baxter’s Corner. You then turn up the Quaco Road and go about five kilometres past the last house until you come to the Hardingville Road and the burial ground is right on the corner.
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Note: the author is a descendant of Hugh and Catherine Ryan as well as Peter and Johanna (Ryan) Broughill, all of whom are buried at Ryan Settlement along with some of their children.

 

[1] New Brunswick Courier (Saint John), 3 September 1847.

[2] Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) RS108, Land Petitions, Thomas Ryan et.al. 1821, Saint John County, Microfilm F-4191.

[3] New Freeman (Saint John) 8 August 1914.

[4] Library and Archives Canada, Records of Canada Post, Postmaster, John H Harding, Hardingville, Federal Electoral District, Saint John, Appointed 01 November 1878.

[5] New Freeman (Saint John) 8 August 1914.

[6] Craig Chouinard, People, Priests and Parish: The History of St Joseph’s, St William’s and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish from 1847 to 1994, Saint John: St. Joseph’s Parish Council, 1994, p. 21.
[7] New Brunswick Genealogical Society, Generations, No. 22, 1984.