Frank Ryan was born in Co Limerick, in 1902. After leaving university he became an active member of the Irish Republican Army and fought in the Irish Civil War. In 1929 Ryan was appointed editor of An Phoblacht, the IRA newspaper. He was imprisoned several times over the following years for publishing seditious articles and for contempt of court.
In 1931 he helped to organise the short-lived radical group Saor Éire. He was aware of the growing wave of fascism in Europe and wanted to build up a united front in Ireland against it. Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore and others withdrew from the IRA when their call for a Republican Congress, a successor organisation to Saor Éire, was narrowly defeated at an Army Convention. They founded the Congress outside the Republican Movement in October 1934 but within a year it had foundered. The atmosphere of clericalist anti-communism which made it, like Saor Éire before it a non-runner, was to find its fullest expression with the outbreak of civil war in Spain on 17 July 1936.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Frank Ryan devoted himself to publicising the Spanish Republican cause in their fight against Fascism and its leader in Spain, General Franco. Ryan led a contingent of almost 200 hundred Irishmen to Spain to fight in the 15th International Brigade for the Republic against Franco. He was captured by Italian forces fighting for the nationalists in March 1938 and was sentenced to death. In July 1940, following negotiations between the Spanish and German governments Ryan was released and brought to Berlin.
Frank Ryan died on the 10 June 1944 in Germany. In 1979 he remains were repatriated to Ireland and buried in Glasnevin cemetery.