James Ryan, Ireland captain with a rebel heart

London (AFP) –


James Ryan will add another storied chapter to his family's rich history when he leads Ireland out for their Autumn Nations Cup match with England at Twickenham on Saturday.

There could be no more appropriate an opponent for the 24-year-old's first taste of captaining his country at senior level after getting the chance due to Johnny Sexton being injured.

For the second row forward's great-grandfather, also called James Ryan, was a medical officer for the Irish Volunteers who rebelled against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising.

He survived and was briefly imprisoned although many of the rebellion's leaders were executed.

"Since he was one of the younger men in the GPO (General Post Office in Dublin) and given the fact he was a doctor as well, they thought if the British guards stormed the building they might spare him," Ryan recalled in 2018.

"So, Thomas Clarke (one of the leaders who was subsequently executed) was kind of telling him the story of why the Rising took place and who was a part of it so if they were all killed and he survived he'd be able to tell that story.

"I always found that fascinating."

So fascinating that Ryan's history project for his school leaving exams was on him as he interviewed his grandparents, parents and others who had known him.

"I love Irish revolutionary history," said Ryan.

"I love learning about the Easter Rising and the Troubles.

"I was also learning about Irish emigration during the famine, that was fascinating too."

His great-grandfather went on to enjoy a highly successful political career serving as a minister in several Fianna Fail governments.

A photograph of his great-grandfather, lined up with the first members of the Irish Parliament in 1919, hangs in the family home.

- 'A pretty unique man' -

The Leinster second row forward -- who studied for a History and Politics degree -- is immensely proud of his ancestor.

Had his great-grandfather lived, the feeling would have been reciprocated.

For Ryan has led from the front since he captained the Ireland Under-20s to the 2016 world championship final, their best ever showing.

Joe Schmidt capped him for Ireland in 2017 before he had even played for Leinster and it took 24 matches for province and country before he tasted defeat.

"Probably the one silver lining (of defeat) so that all that malarkey would stop," Ryan said of the continual questions about the golden run after Australia ended it in 2018.

Ryan shows enormous maturity beyond his years but whilst he engenders huge respect from coaches and team-mates alike he is reticent about talking himself up.

"I have observed his maturing over the past nine months," said Ireland coach Andy Farrell on Wednesday.

"There has been a lot of talk about James and his potential for being captain.

"I saw something change in James nine months ago where he woke up to the fact this was being talked about and him saying to himself 'I should do something about it'.

"He has developed his curiousness of what it takes and I have been very impressed in how he handles himself and interacts with others."

James Lowe, Ryan's Leinster and Ireland team-mate, says he has no doubts about his leadership qualities.

"Last night (Sunday) when I was sitting in my bedroom, he's walking around, he's knocking on people's doors making sure everything is sorted, that everyone knew what they needed to do," Lowe said.

"The leadership, he's such a calm head, man," said Lowe.

"The fact that he's only just got his driving licence baffles me because he's mature on the rugby field.

"But man, don't tell him this but he's a pretty unique man, that's for sure."