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Joseph Philip Ronayne

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Joseph Philip Ronayne (c1820-1876)


1876 Obituary [1]

MR. JOSEPH PHILIP RONAYNE, M.P., son of Mr. Edmond Bonayne, the owner of large glass-works in Cork, was born in that city about the year 1820.

His early education was pursued at the school of Messrs. Porter and Hamblin, many of whose scholars obtained distinguished honours at the Universities, and reached the highest positions in the Church, at the Bar, and in the medical profession.

Subsequently he made himself thoroughly acquainted with fieldwork under Mr. O'Neill, a practical surveyor of the old school, and soon after entered the office of Sir John McNeil, M. Inst. C.E., who was then engaged in the design and construction of the main arterial lines of railway communication in Ireland.

On these lines Mr. Ronayne was employed until under the late Mr. C. Nixon, M. Inst. C.E., he took charge, on behalf of the company, of the execution of the works on one-half of the Cork and Bandon railway. Although a short line, the works comprised a viaduct, a bridge, deep cuttings, and a tunnel upwards of a mile in length, all of which were successfully completed.

Up to 1853 the city of Cork was most inefficiently supplied with water. A small company furnished water to a few subscribers, but the Corporation bought up the company, and obtained am Act to levy rates, to procure a more abundant supply.

In 1852 Mr. Ronayne published a pamphlet, in which he recommended a gravitation scheme. He proposed to form, near Blarney, at a distance of 4 miles from the city, a reservoir, 350 acres in area, and 80 feet deep. The nature of the ground was such that only a short embankment was required to impound the waters of this inland lake, of which the lowest point was 100 feet above the level of the city. A short cutting through a side valley would: have opened an outlet for the waters. The reservoir would have. contained sufficient for four months consumption in the driest weather, and was to be fed, successively or simultaneously, by canals from the Blarney and Shournagh rivers, as well as by another important stream. The quantity of water to be delivered by this scheme was 50 million cubic feet per diem; which in addition to supplying the city with a sufficient quantity for. domestic and ordinary manufacturing purposes, would yield from 3,000 HP. to 6,000 HP. available all the year round.

Unfortunately, other counsels prevailed; the gravitation system was rejected, and, instead of the natural head being utilised, the water is allowed to fall to the lowest possible level, whence it is pumped up by the expenditure of imported fuel, thus being a wasteful consumer, instead of being a source, of mechanical power.

About this time Mr. Ronayne was invited to proceed to California, to superintend some large hydraulic works to bring down the waters of the Sierra Nevada to the gold fields. He remained in that country from 1854 to 1859, where reservoirs and several miles of canals and aqueducts were executed from his designs and under his superintendence.

Soon after returning to Ireland, Mr. Ronayne became a contractor, and executed the Queenstown branch of the Cork and Youghal railway.

On the completion of that work he laid out the Cork and Macroom railway, the Act for which was obtained in 1861, after a contest with a competing scheme which lasted eleven days in the House of Commons, and was fought again in the House of Lords. Subsequently he entered into a contract for the execution of this line, for which he took payment to a large amount in shares, all of which he retained. Thus 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, so that at present it probably earns a larger percentage than any other Irish line with a single exception.

Later Mr. Ronayne took a contract for the Irish Southern line, joining Clonmel and Thurles, which is at present in course of execution.

Some years since, when the Government proposed to construct a dock for vessels of the Royal Navy near Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour, Mr. Ronayne called attention to the great expense of constructing a dock in such a position, surrounded by water and much exposed to the weather, and pointed out that it was also within reach of the guns of an enemy’s ships. He contended that, by an easily constructed embankment, a land-locked bay near Monkstown could be converted into a dock of immense area, with deep water up to its gates, in a position completely protected from the fire of an enemy, surrounded by extensive quarries of limestone and sandstone, supplied at one end by a stream of pure fresh water, and within a mile of existing railway communication. He suggested that the railway should be continued to the dock, and beyond it to Haulbowline, Spike Island, and Camden Fort, so that all the forts and stores of the harbour (except one) might be brought into connection with the barracks at Cork and Ballincollig, and with the general railway system of Ireland. Although looked upon with favour by some Engineer officers, this plan was not destined to be carried out, and the Haulbowline site was finally adopted.

In 1872, a vacancy having occurred in the representation of Cork, by the death of Mr. J. F. Maguire, Mr. Ronayne was returned to Parliament for his native city ; and again at t.he last general election he was placed at the head of the poll by a large majority. He was a leading member of the Home Rule party, and was looked up to by his colleagues for rare sagacity and unflinching honour. Clear-sighted, and of the strictest integrity, he was as much respected by his political adversaries as by his supporters. In private life he was endeared to all who had the privilege of his acquaintance by a noble generosity, a genuine spirit of self abnegation, a modesty which could conceal neither his remarkable powers nor the brilliancy of his wit, a gracious manner, open-handed charity, and a kindly heart.

Mr. Ronayne was elected a Member on the 4th of March, 185G, but his pursuits, and distant residence, prevented him from taking any part in the proceedings of the Institution.

He died on the 5th of May, 1876.


1877 Obituary [2]

JOSEPH PHILIP RONAYNE, M.P., was born about 1820 in Cork, his father being the owner of large glassworks there.

After learning surveying under Mr. O'Neill, he entered the office of Sir John McNeil and was engaged under him on some of the main Irish railways then in course of construction, and afterwards under Mr. C. Nixon in the construction of one half of the Cork and Bandon Railway.

In 1854 he prepared a scheme for the supply of the city of Cork with water by gravitation; and from then to 1859 he was in California, superintending the construction of reservoirs, canals, and aqueducts, which were executed from his designs for bringing down to the gold fields the waters of the Sierra Nevada.

Returning to Ireland he became a contractor, and executed the Queenstown branch of the Cork and Youghal Railway, and also laid out and executed the Cork and Macroom Railway; and commenced the construction of the Irish Southern Railway from Clonmel to Thurles, at present in course of execution.

In 1872 ho was elected Member of Parliament for his native city Cork, which he continued to represent till his death on 5th May 1876.

He became a Member of the Institution in 1853.



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