Galong, as we know it, would never have been but for the events of the night of Thursday, 7 September 1815 in far off Ballagh, Co Tipperary. Farmer Edward 'Ned' Ryan was convicted and transported for his part in the destruction of an infirmary, which had been requisitioned by the militia for use as a temporary barracks. Fourteen men were brought to trial. One, Patrick Keogh, was hanged, and the other thirteen, including Ned Ryan and his cousin Roger Corcoran, were transported on the Surrey 2, arriving in the colony in December 1816.
Ned's employers after his arrival were the surveyor James Meehan of Liverpool and William Crowe at Appin. From 1816 to September 1825, until he received his ticket of leave, he faithfully served his masters, who described him as being 'honest, sober and of industrious character'. Ryan family tradition has it that he squatted at Illalong, near present day Binalong, in 1826 but within a short time moved on to present day Galong, even further removed from civilisation. Three years later Governor Ralph Darling redefined the boundaries, setting up nineteen counties as the limits of lawful occupancy of land. Supported by a veritable Who's Who of respected settlers, Ned petitioned for a grant of land in 1830, but was refused due to a change in official policy. Unperturbed, he illegally squatted on huge acreages 'beyond the limits of location', taking up Galong, Gungewalla near Burrowa, Berthong and Nubba west of present day Murrumburrah and Geraldra near Wallendbeen.
The presence of the Catholic Church was evident from the early days of Galong. On one of his several visits, Bishop Bede Polding climbed Bushranger's Hill to erect a cross and bless the surrounding countryside. To mark the occasion he left his rosary beads on a she-oak atop the hill, which then became known as Rosary Hill.
Just over thirty years after his arrival, Ned's wife Ellen and their children Anastasia and John joined him at Galong in 1847.The present day homestead was erected during the 1850s and a two-storey extension, complete with crenellation, at the eastern end about 1860. These stone embellishments no doubt caused Galong to become known locally as the 'castle'. The Ryans themselves always referred to it as Galong House. By then Ned had secured from the Crown the 640 acres on which his homestead stood, and successfully alienated most of his land to his son John, and others. By 1866 Ned's holdings stretched across nearly 41,000 acres.
With enterprise and determination Ned earned the reputation of being a hardworking but fair man who gave selflessly to nearly every cause. Various family members migrated from Tipperary to the Galong area, including his brother's children the Barry Ryans. Ned served on committees, his name appeared on almost every public subscription and his presence was noted at community events. Despite his gruff exterior he was without question an extremely generous man who was known to have supported some individuals for almost thirty years.
Ned Ryan, whose wife Ellen, predeceased him in 1856, died at Galong on 26 February 1871 and was buried in the cemetery for which he had given the land many years before. By the time of his death such was his reputation that he had acquired the sobriquets 'Patriarch of the Lachlan' and 'King of Galong Castle'. Ned's unmarried son, John Nagle Ryan, in addition to managing his own properties, took over the management of his father's holdings after Ned's death. John had been appointed a magistrate in 1854 and was elected as the member for the Lachlan in the Legislative Assembly in 1859, a position that he held until his resignation in 1865. During his lifetime he did much to further the interests of the residents of the Galong-Binalong-Burrowa area.
His sudden death in January 1887 and the terms of his will set the future direction of Galong. In his will he bequeathed Galong House to his sister Anastasia Barry Ryan during her lifetime and upon her death the homestead and 800 acres of land to the Cisterian Monastery at Mount Melleray, Waterford, Ireland. If not accepted by them it was to pass to the Redemptorist Fathers at Waratah, NSW on the condition that it always remained the property of the Catholic Church. Ballyryan, his Boorowa property, was subsequently sold.
As instructed in John's will, a family vault was constructed in Galong cemetery, as was the stone wall surrounding the cemetery, and in late May 1887 the remains of Ned, Ellen and John were re-interred there. The three Ryan cousins Anastasia, Lawrence and Edmund Barry Ryan continued to live with Anastasia at Galong.
Anastasia Nagle Ryan carried on her father and brother's tradition of offering hospitality to strangers, providing substantial sums to the church and various charities. A second two-storey extension was added to the homestead in 1889 to provide a chapel and accommodation for a visiting priest. Deeply religious, she also followed Irish customs particularly in relation to the observance of wakes for the dead. She passed away in July 1900. With no definite decision as to the future of the property, Ned's nephews, Edmund and Laurence Barry Ryan, who died in 1905 and 1910 respectively, and their sister Anastasia Barry Ryan, who passed away in 1914, continued to live there.
After the death of Anastasia, the last remaining Ryan at Galong, the property became the subject of a 'friendly' court case. After the Cistercians declined the bequest, the Court decided in favour of the Redemptorists and the property was transferred to them. The Order established a monastery dedicated to St Clement Hofbauer in 1918 and later a boarding school for boys.
The monastery is a large two-storey brick building, which with later additions, now holds within its embrace the original and unpretentious, pioneering homestead built by Ned Ryan in the 1850s. With the addition of the Retreat Centre, the site has been much altered since it began life as Ryan's squattage. The college closed in 1975 and its doors reopened as a popular Retreat Centre.
Since 2005 the Galong site entered a new phase with the overall refurbishment of the monastery and the addition of new accommodation and modern conference facilities. The most significant improvement was the restoration work undertaken on Galong House, which now houses a dining/conference space, museum, archive and library. The approaches to the homestead have been re-landscaped with plantings appropriate to the period of occupation by the Ryan family.
The rural landscape is also undergoing rejuvenation through the work of the Friends of St Clement's, who have established a sponsored tree planting program, to create an environmental sanctuary and reduce the dryland salinity that affects parts of the property.
A new exhibition An abiding presence: Galong's land and people was officially opened by His Excellency Mr Noel White, Ambassador for Ireland in April 2013. The exhibition illustrates three periods in the life of Galong - pre-European, the Ryan occupancy and theat of the Redemptorists who have occupied the site for almost a century. Paramount in the Galong story has been the role that the land has played in sustaining a great many people.
St Clement's Retreat and Conference Centre is a ministry of the Redemptorists, who have now occupied Galong for ninety-nine years and continue the Ryan tradition of hospitality to all who visit St Clement's which is very much the heart of the Galong community providing nourishment for body, mind and soul.
Publications by Fr Max Barrett:
King of Galong Castle
'The very dawn of setlement' surveyed from Galong cemetery.
Because of These
A Riot of Ryans
Exhibition publication by Canberra Museum and Gallery: Galong Paradise of the Ryans
Exhibition catalogue by St Clement's Historians: An abiding presence; Galong's land and people.
This page last updated: 11 June 2013