Riordan Family history

William & Catherine Riordan, with Adrian & Dick

About 1906

Skeletons in the family cupboard.

(Originally written as a note for the files.)


I had long felt that there was some dark secret in the Riordan family history, as there was always a sense of tension in the family home, and my mother was wont to speak contemptuously of the Riordans. I knew that the Riordan family information was notably brief, but thought that all branches had been traced back to their arrival in Australia, and I had been told the Irish records had been destroyed when the Dublin registry office was burnt down in one of the troubles. I knew Timothy Riordan had been born in Ireland, and, having not checked the dates, assumed that his wife, Rose Grady, had come out with him. However in March 1981 my daughter wanted to know where her ancestors were born, for a school project, and in looking out this information I noticed that Rose Grady was shown as having been born in Sydney.

I realised at once that if this was correct there should be records, and if there were my father would have had them, so there must have been a good reason why they were absent without leave. As I owed one of my cousins a letter, I wrote to her, asking if she knew anything about Rose, with the surprising results shown in her reply, and in her Father's followup. I feel this discovery cast considerable light on the family environment. Clearly my parents deliberately concealed the information (I suspect my mother destroyed the records after my father died), but it is an interesting question as to when each of them knew of it. A note placed on the Riordan sheet, some time after 1937, suggesting that Timothy's parents had disapproved of his wife, implies that my father did not then know of it, as I feel that if he had he would not have added the note. *


RH Riordan. 19.4.1981


* My father had always wanted to go into the law, but his father [William Bede Riordan] was "unwell" (which, it has been hinted, may not have been unconnected with a fondness for the bottle) and the family finances were severely strained. Family pride demanded that he should take up a profession, but the family could not afford to send him to the University, so he was forced to go to the Royal Military College at Duntroon, where he was paid as a cadet. He hated the brutality of the military life, but he was brainwashed to believe that to be anything he had to be “an English gentleman”. This was diametrically opposed to all his Irish instincts, and left him with a severe inferiority complex.

The events described in these letters represented a double blow to his pride. Firstly one of his ancestors had been a convict, and this was a severe embarrassment in the society of the day, and secondly his father was illegitimate. I don't know when he discovered all this, but I suspect it was somewhere around 1939. He had always been a hypochondriac, but he became much worse about this time.

As an officer in the Australian Army he was desperate to take part in the war, but, probably as a result of his difficult personality, he spent the first few years festering as an instructor in military training camps in NSW, and then at Duntroon, and was eventually invalided out of the army in 1944. He did a law course at Melbourne University as a Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme student, and practised for a few years, but then tried unsuccessfully to move to the Bar, and finally retired to Mount Dandenong where he lived almost as a hermit until he died in 1966.

 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019

Skeletons in the family cupboard