Dr. Denis Ryan
Doctor of Letters, honoris causa
Today, Cape Breton University confers the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on a man who saw world-renowned success in both the music and business sector and whose dedication to his community’s well-being makes him a true role model, Dr. Denis Ryan.
Born in Newport, County Tipperary, Ireland, Dr. Denis Ryan immigrated to Toronto in 1969. He formed the Irish-Canadian folk group, Ryan’s Fancy, in 1970 with fellow members Fergus O’Byrne and the late Dermot O’Reilly. Dr. Ryan moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1971 to attend Memorial University, where he graduated with a degree in Folklore. Ryan and his family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1980 and have been residing there ever since.
Dr. Ryan’s career has spanned more than 40 years, and he has played all over the world to the delight of his dedicated fans. He has appeared in over 200 television shows in Ireland, the United States and Canada including 78 television shows with the Ryan’s Fancy Tommy Makem syndicated series. The group also had a national television series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1976. Another popular television show was Ryan’s Fancy on Campus in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ryan’s Fancy recorded 13 albums, and in early 2011, they released their 40th Anniversary Collection.
Songs that Ryan’s Fancy made popular in Ireland and Canada in the 70s and 80s include Newport Town, Logy Bay, Sweet Forget Me Not and Now I’m Sixty Four. Dr. Ryan’s versions of Dark Island and Let me Fish off Cape St. Mary’s were, to many, the group’s most popular songs and became Ryan’s signature pieces. As a singer, he has performed for former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, United States President Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II and has sung with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
In 1983, Ryan’s Fancy disbanded, and Dr. Ryan has since been working in the Investment Management business. He is involved with numerous community projects including serving as the national chairman of the fundraising committee of the Darcy McGee Chair of Irish Studies at St. Mary’s University and was also on the Board of Governors for St. FX University. Dr. Ryan also served on the Shannon School of Business Advisory Board at Cape Breton University.
In 1994, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Letters, from St. Mary’s University. Dr. Ryan was the founder of Nova Scotian Crystal, Canada’s only hand-cut, mouth-blown crystal manufacturer. Dr. Ryan recorded various solo CD projects, including Mist Covered Mountains, Newport Town, Here and There and Cape St. Mary’s.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Ryan hosted the CBC television series, Up on the Roof. He played the role of a Judge in the Trailer Park Boys movie, Live in Ireland. He became notorious in 2010 thanks to his appearance in a popular, viral YouTube video about bankers. In October 2015, he hosted a television documentary regarding the Canadian painter, Tom Forrestall.
Dr. Ryan received the Tipperary Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 in Dublin, Ireland, for his contributions to Irish culture.