Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Railway and hydraulic engineer, of Cork. Joseph Ronayne was born in Cork in 1822, the youngest son of Edward Ronayne, owner of a large glass works in the city. He was educated at Porter and Hamblin's school and then worked with 'a practical surveyor of the old school' named O'Neill(1) before entering the office of the railway engineer,Sir JOHN MACNEILL JOHN MACNEILL . He then became principal assistant to CHARLES NIXON CHARLES NIXON , who replaced EDMUND LEAHY  EDMUND LEAHY as engineer in chief of the Cork & Bandon railway in or soon after1846,(2) and was given charge of the construction of a stretch of line which included a viaduct, a bridge, deep cuttings and a tunnel. In 1854 he published a pamphlet recommending a gravitation scheme of water supply for the city of Cork which involved the construction of a reservoir near Blarney.(3) The scheme was not adopted, but the publication of his proposal may perhaps have been connected with his being invited to California in the same year to superintend the construction of a water supply scheme for the goldfields using water brought down from the Sierra Nevada. He remained in California until 1859 and then returned to Cork.

Soon after his return to Cork, Ronayne set up in business as a railway contractor. He carried out the Queenstown branch of the Cork & Youghal Railway, and laid out and constructed the Cork & Macroom Railway, for which he was paid largely in shares. 'Thus', his obituarist notes, 'he occupied the unusual position of being engineer, contractor, and the largest proprietor in the undertaking, a combination which led to the line being designed with economy, well executed and carefully managed'. In the 1870s he was engaged on the construction of the Clonmel to Thurles line for the Great Southern & Western Railway. When the Government proposed building the naval dock near Haulbowline Island in the mid 1860s, Ronayne put forward an alternative proposal for a site at Monkstown, arguing that it was better protected from the elements and from enemy attack and was close to the existing railway. The Government decided nevertheless to proceed with construction on the Haulbowline site.

A leading member of the Home Rule party, Ronayne became MP for Cork in 1872. He died on 5 May 1876. According to his obituarist, he 'was endeared to all … by a noble generosity, a genuine spirit of self-abnegation, a modesty which could conceal neither his remarkable powers not the brilliancy of his wit, a gracious manner, open-handed charity, and a kindly heart'.

ICEI: member by 1872.
Inst.CE: elected member, 4 March 1856.
RSAI (Kilkenny Archaeological Society): elected member, 7 March 1852, having been proposed by James S. Blake.(4)

Address: Rinn Ronain, Cobh, 1874.(5)


All information in this entry not otherwise referenced is from the obituary of Ronayne in Min.Proc.Inst.CE 46 (1875-76, Pt. 4), 274-276 and from a brief biography in IB 14, 15 Dec 1872, 343.

A Cornelius O'Neil is listed as a surveyor in Co. Cork in 1805 in Peter Eden, ed. Dictionary of land surveyors and local cartographers of Great Britain and Ireland 1550-1850 (1979), 194.
Colin Rynne, The Industrial Archaeology of Cork City and its Environs  (1999), 207.
For further details of this scheme, see Rynne, op. cit., 230.
(4) JRSAI 2 (1852-53), 188.
Information from Ronayne's application for membership of ICEI, 1874, ICEI Membership Applications, II, 11 (microfilm in NLI, Pos. 9384).