Born into a Catholic family at Gurtrue, County Cork County Cork, Ireland, Ronayne claimed in his autobiography to have taught school in 1849. He renounced Catholicism in 1851, graduating the same year from a Protestant teacher training college and marrying Margaret Lynch. On 13 June 1856 they and their two sons arrived in Quebec City where he taught in Protestant acadamies and was master of his own school in Upper Town. Known for his delivery of a number of anti-catholic lectures, in the spring of 1858 he joined the Loyal Orange Order and in December was installed as master of his lodge.
He left the Anglican Church in 1859 over what he saw as its "Romanist" leanings, and severed his ties with the Orange the following year. He then joined a masonic lodge, Harrington Lodge No. 49, but withdrew when he left Quebec for Stevens Point, Wisconsin, around 1 July 1865 possibly because of the discovery of his membership in the illegal Fenian Society. He was then employed briefly as a clerk for Pinkerton's Detective Agency. Relocating to Chicago, by 1870 he owned several city lots and ran his own private school. That year he rejoined Freemasonry and affiliated with Keystone Lodge No. 639, soon becoming the lodge secretary. He lost all of his posessions in the Chicago Fire of 8 September 1871 but managed to rescue the lodge paraphernalia.
He was elected Senior Warden of the lodge in December 1871 but was soon disenchanted with the lodge's indifference to the shooting of a Catholic Irish labourer by a police officer who, together with the coroner and several members of the coroner's jury, were Freemasons. By that summer Ronayne was so disillusioned with the failures of masonic charity that he briefly joined the Odd Fellow's Home Lodge No. 416, because of the latter's perceived more equitable distribution of fire relief. Regardless, later in the year he accepted election as master of the masonic lodge.
In 1873 he accused Grand Lodge officials of misappropriating two-thirds of the $91,000 donated by American brethren for relief after the fire, using it to rebuild lodge halls rather than feeding and clothing the needy. And on 31 May 1874 he published a letter in the Chicago Times denouncing Freemasonry as a "grand humbug", signing it anonymously as "A Freemason". Ronayne was outraged that the city's Freemasons were to lay the cornerstone of the new Chicago customhouse and post office on 24 June 1874, although he subsequently marched with his lodge, wearing full masonic regalia and trying, in his own words, 'to appear as proud and consequential as possible'.
Later in 1874 he renounced Freemasonry to become an anti-masonic lecturer, re-enacting the degrees of initiation to paying audiences, a role later strengthened by a revived Christian zeal he experienced during a gospel meeting part of Dwight L. Moody's Great Western Revival held on 15 January 1877. In the 1880 census schedule, Ronayne was no longer listed as a schoolteacher but rather as a public lecturer.
Ronayne was later associated with the National Christian Association (NCA) and the Free Methodist Church, both of which, unlike Moody, were stridently anti-masonic. By the 1880s his personal crusade was flagging and his lectures were more witnessing for Christ than anti-masonic.
Ronayne authored at least three anti-masonic books, which he revised and republished throughout his life: Handbook of Free Masonry (Chicago, 1876; rev. and enlarged ed., Chicago, 1902); The Master's Carpet; or Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical (Chicago, 1879; reissued 1887); and Masonic Oaths Null and Void (Chicago, 1880; reissued 1919). Also, published after his death was Ronayne's Chapter Masonry: Being the Opening, Closing, Secret Work and Lectures of the Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch Degrees (Chicago, 1924). Between 1917 and 1943 these works were reprinted by E.A. Cook of Chicago.
His wife died on 3 April 1897 and Edmond soon married Ellena Darwood. The same year he saw an upturn in his anti-masonic crusade when he lectured before Dr. John Alexander Dowie's congregation in Chicago's recently built Zion Tabernacle. Dowie's millennial church and Ronayne's lecturing career were short-lived. Relocating to Colorado in 1908 Ronayne and his second family worked a chicken farm outside Boulder until his death. The Free Methodist Church published his autobiography, Ronayne's Reminiscences in 1900.
Harrington Lodge No. 49, Quebec City
Worshipful Master: 1871
Keystone Lodge No. 639, Chicago
Source: Ireland's Great Famine and Popular Politics, edited by Enda Delaney, Breandán Mac Suibhne. Oxon : Routledge, 2016.